You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Mittelrhein Museum of Koblenz: Pfalzgrafenstein (left, on an islet) and Gutenfels (right, on the hill) Castles in a XIXth century painting (and as they are today in the introductory page)
Immediately above Coblenz the
Rhine loses its cheerful and tame
appearance - the mountains close in
upon it, and on entering the contracted gorge, extending as far as
Bingen, the mind is as it were transported back to the gloomy days of
the middle ages. The dark shadows
of the mountains, the numerous feudal castles in ruins, frowning upon
walled and turreted towns, are the
prominent features of its unrivalled
scenery, the effect of which is heightened by historical associations, and the
charms of romance and chivalry. (..) In the middle of the river rises the quaint castle
called the Pfalz, built by the Emperor Lewis the Bavarian, previous
to 1326, as a convenient toll house;
it now belongs to the Duke of Nassau.
According to a popular tradition it
served, in former times, as a place of
refuge and security whither the Countesses Palatine repaired previous to
their accouchments, which, were it
true, would be a proof of the insecure life led by princes, as well as
peasants, in the turbulent times of the
middle ages. Such an occurrence
may have actually taken place in a
single instance, but it is very unlikely
that a rude toll house should repeatedly have served as a princely abode.
There are dungeons below the level
of the river, in which state-prisoners
of rank were once confined. The
castle is accessible by means of a ladder, and the entrance is closed by a
portcullis. The well which supplies
it with water is said to be filled from
a source far deeper than the bed of
John Murray - A Hand-Book for Travellers on the Continent - 1838
Travel accounts and guidebooks usually described the Rhine Gorge in a southbound direction. This page shows sites between Mainz and Koblenz which were seen from a cruise boat in a northbound direction.
(above) Schloss Biebrich, immediately north of Mainz on the right bank of the Rhine; (below) Herrenhaus auf der Königsklinger Aue (on an islet near Ingelheim), built in 1918 by Adalbert von Francken-Sierstorpff, philantropist and member of the International Olympic Committee
The Rhine runs thro a plain country from Neuwidt to Bonn, but above that place is pent up by very high mountains, which are cultivated to the top and produce excellent wines. All along there is a variegated prospect of vineyards, woods, towns, villages and gentlemen's seats. (..) From Bingen to Mentz the country is open and the river very broad.
Thomas Nugent - The Grand Tour - 1749
Biberich, The Chateau, or Residenz Schloss of the Duke of Nassau. It is one of the handsomest palaces on the Rhine; the interior is shown to strangers: it is remarkable for the splendour and taste with which it is fitted up, and commands from its windows most exquisite prospects up and down the Rhine. The gardens behind are very pretty, and are liberally thrown open to the public. (..) Charlemagne used to resort to the low islands in the middle of the Rhine from Ingelheim to fish. Murray
Bingen: (left) Mouse Tower; (right) Ehrenfels Castle
Bingen is a town of the electorate of Mentz pleasantly situated on the Rhine and Nahe which here unite their streams. (..) Near this city on an island in the Rhine, stand the ruins of an old square tower, commonly called the Mouse Tower, famous for a story related of an archbishop of Mentz, who for his cruel usage to the poor, in calling them rats that eat up the corn, is said to have been pursued thro just vengeance of heaven, by rats and mice, which upon his flying to this tower to avoid them, swam after him through the river, entered the tower and devoured him. Nugent.
Near to the left bank, surrounded by the river, and not far from the spot where the waters of the Nahe unite with those of the Rhine, rises the little, square Mouse Tower. (..) It appears to have been built in the thirteenth century, (..), along with the opposite castle of Ehrenfels, as a watch-tower and toll-house for collecting the duties upon all goods which passed the spot. The word maus is probably only an older form of mauth, duty, or toll, and this name, taken in combination with the very unpopular object for which the tower was erected, perhaps gave rise to the dolorous story of Bishop Hatto. (..) A very pleasant excursion may be made up the Nahe from Bingen to Kreuznach. Murray
Mittelrhein Museum of Koblenz: "Vineyards at St. Goar and Rheinfels Castle" by John Forbes Hardy (1848)
The castle of
Rheinfels, magnificent in appearance,
and interesting from its history, rewards the trouble of the ascent by the
enchanting view which it commands.
Another pleasing view is to be obtained from the summit of the heights
above St. Goar. Murray
The landscape is punctuated by some 40 hill top castles and fortresses erected over a period of around 1,000 years. Abandonment and later the wars of the 17th century left most as picturesque ruins. The later 18th century saw the growth of sensibility towards the beauties of nature, and the often dramatic physical scenery of the Middle Rhine Valley, coupled with the many ruined castles on prominent hilltops, made it appeal strongly to the Romantic movement, which in turn influenced the form of much 19th century restoration and reconstruction.
From the UNESCO criteria for including the Rhine Gorge in the World Heritage List in 2002.
Rheinfels Castle, the largest fortress in the Rhine Gorge
Close above the town of St. Goar rises the vast Fortress of Rheinfels, the most extensive ruin on the Rhine. The original castle was built by a Count Diether, of Ellenbogen, as a stronghold where he could reside, and from whence he could levy tribute (or, as we should say at present, exact duties) upon all merchandise passing up or down the Rhine. An attempt, however, on his part to raise the amount of duties, roused the indignation of his neighbours, and his castle was besieged in vain for fifteen months by the burghers of the adjacent towns. This unsuccessful attempt was productive of more important consequences: it was one of the circumstances which gave rise to the extensive confederacy of the German and Rhenish cities, to the number of sixty, whose more numerous and formidable armies reduced and dismantled not only the castle of Rheinfels, but most of the other strongholds, or, as the Germans call them, robber-nests, upon the Rhine. This event took place in the latter part of the thirteenth century. The castle afterwards came into the possession of the Landgrave of Hesse, who at a very considerable expense converted it into a modern fortress, with bastions and casemates. It was besieged in 1692 by an army of 24,000 French, under Marshal Tallard, who had promised the fortress as a new year's gift to his master, Louis XIV.; but through the brave defence of the Hessian general Gortz, was compelled to break his word and draw off his forces. It would have been well if this example had been followed in later times; but though its works had been greatly strengthened, it was basely abandoned in 1794 by the garrison without firing a shot, on the first appearance of the revolutionary French army, by whom it was blown up, and rendered useless. Murray
The Rhine Gorge at Loreley Rock (right)
A short way above St. Goar,
but on the right bank, rises abruptly
from the water's edge, the bare, black,
and perpendicular precipice, called
the Lurleiberg. At the side of the
high road, opposite this colossal cliff,
is a Grotto occupied by a man whose
employment it is to awaken, by pistol
or bugle, for the gratification of travellers, the remarkable echo of the
Lurlei, which is said to repeat sounds
fifteen times. The aspect of the
Lurlei from this point is very grand. (..) In front of the Lurleifelsen, is the
whirlpool (Wirbel), called the Gowirr,
and above it a rapid, called the Bank,
formed by the stream dashing over a
number of sunken rocks, increased by
the sudden bend which the river
here makes. The passage of the large
rafts which navigate the Rhine over
this spot, is difficult and dangerous,
and men have been washed overboard
by the tumultuous waves dashing
over the slippery plank. The perils
of this spot, taken in connection with
the mysterious echo, no doubt gave
birth to the superstition that the
Lurlei was haunted by a spirit, a
beauteous, but wicked water-nymph,
who distracted and beguiled the passing boatman with her magical voice,
only to overwhelm and drown him in
the waves of the whirlpool. Murray
Today when the cruise boats approach the rock the loudspeakers play Loreley Lied, a popular German song from an 1824 poem by Heinrich Heine. In 1749 Nugent did not mention Loreley, simply because the myth of the nymph was created in 1801 by Clemens Brentano, a Romantic poet who was inspired by that of Scylla.
Roman walls at Boppard on the site of medieval buildings
Boppart, a small town of the electorate of Triers, situate on the west shore of the Rhine. It is supposed to be one of the forts anciently erected by Drusus on the Rhine and was once an imperial city. It has a good harbour for vessels which pass up and down the Rhine. Nugent
Boppart. A very ancient walled town, with 3500 inhabitants, and dark narrow streets, no better than lanes. Like many other places upon the Rhine, it owed its origin to a castle built by Drusus, which formed the rudiments of the future town; some of its battlements stand upon Roman foundations. It was called by the Romans Bodobrica. Murray
The town was initially a fort on the site of an existing German settlement and the River Rhine marked the limit of the Roman territory. In 83 AD Emperor Domitian led a series of victorious campaigns against the Chatti, a bellicose German tribe and he managed to conquer and fortify a strip of land on the right bank of the river up to Confluentes (Koblenz) where the River Mosel emptied into the Rhine. In this way merchant ships could safely travel back and forth through the Mosel and Rhine valleys and Bodobrica flourished as a trading centre.
Another stretch of the very thick Roman walls
Towards the end of the IIIrd century the Romans withdrew from the right bank of the Rhine. In the next century the fortifications of Bodobrica were greatly strengthened and Roman warships patrolled the river to prevent German tribes from raiding the town.
Trade along the river however did not stop until the winter of 406/407 when Vandals, Alani and Suebi managed to invade Roman Germany helped by the fact that the river had frozen. The ensuing political and military fragmentation of the Rhine valley caused a sharp decline of its economy and the town is mentioned again only in 643 after the Franks had taken control of it.
St. Severus parish church: (left) side with the main entrance; (right) interior
The banks of the Rhine now shelved away into sweeping
plains, and on their right rose the once imperial city of
Boppart. In no journey of similar length do you meet with
such striking instances of the mutability and shifts of power.
To find, as in the Memphian Egypt, a city sunk into a heap
of desolate ruins; the hum, the roar, the mart of nations,
hushed into the silence of ancestral tombs, is less humbling
to our human vanity than to mark, as along the Rhine, the
kingly city dwindled into the humble town or the dreary
village; decay without its grandeur, change without the
awe of its solitude! On the site on which Drusus raised
his Roman tower, and the kings of the Franks their palaces; trade now dribbles in tobacco-pipes, and transforms into
an excellent cotton factory the antique nunnery of Koningsberg! So be it; it is the progressive order of things - the
world itself will soon be one excellent cotton factory!
Edward Bulwer-Lytton - The Pilgrims of the Rhine (1834)
Today Boppard is no longer an industrial town, but a driving tourist resort.
St. Severus': (left) early VIth century gravestone of Besontio and Justiciola; (right) detail of the portal
In the middle ages it was
made an Imperial city, and many
Diets of the Empire were held in it. Murray
In the later German work carving comes to the aid of the designer. (..) Richly carved Byzantinesque borders surround the doorway at Boppart
Thomas Graham Jackson - Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture - 1913
Similar to Cologne, Boppard was an Imperial City, which meant it enjoyed many privileges and had a degree of self-government. In 1327 the town had to accept the suzerainty of the Archbishop-Elector of Trier. Its citizens repeatedly attempted to regain their former status; in 1497 a rebellion was put down by Elector John II of Baden at the head of an army of 12,000.
St. Severus testifies to the former importance of Boppard. It was built in the XIIIth century on the site of two previous churches which in turn originated from Roman baths. Today it houses a rare example of early Christian gravestone which was found in 1973 near the railway line (see similar Christian gravestones of the same period in Spain).
The Rhine near Koblenz
Coblentz is a city of Germany in the circle of the Lower Rhine and archbishopric of Triers situate at the conflux of the rivers Rhine and Moselle, from whence it takes its Latin name of Confluentia. It stands in a very pleasant country covered with vineyards and surrounded with hills. It is of a triangular form, two sides of which are defended by the rivers, and the other by modern fortifications which renders it one of the strongest towns in Germany (see the fortress built by the Archbishop-Elector of Trier). In the time of the Romans this was the station of their first legion and is supposed to have been fortified if not founded by Drusus. (..) They have a stone bridge over the Moselle and a bridge of boats over the Rhine. Nugent
Koblenz: Deutsches Eck (German Corner) at the junction between the rivers Mosel (left) and Rhine (right)
In 1815, after the Napoleonic Wars the Electorate of Trier was assigned to the Kingdom of Prussia. In 1897 a grand monument to William I, the first Emperor of Germany was inaugurated at the junction between the two rivers. The location was chosen because it symbolized the unification of Germany in 1871.
(left) Deutsches Eck: Monument to Emperor William I (it brings to mind that to King Victor Emmanuel II in Rome); (right) small scale copy of the statue at the Mittelrhein Museum of Koblenz
The monument was destroyed in 1945. In 1993 a copy of the statue was placed on the restored pedestal as a symbol of German unity after the 1989 events. Almost at the same time, perhaps to balance the nationalistic rhetoric of the monument, an installation conveying the feeling of the passing of time was placed behind it.
Deutsches Eck: "Depot of memories and forgotten things" an installation by Anne and Patrick Poirer
The image used as background for this page shows Gutenfels Castle.
Plan of this section:
Ahrweiler and its Roman Villa
Bad Kreuznach and its Roman Villa
Boppard (Bodobrica) and the Rhine Gorge
Cologne (Colonia Agrippina)
Igel, Nennig and the Mosel Valley
Trier (Augusta Treverorum)
Xanten (Castra Vetera and Colonia Ulpia Traiana)
Aachen: Palatine Chapel
Cologne: Romanesque Churches
Limburg an der Lahn