Wednesday May 28
At 9:00 a.m. we cast off from Rudesheim for Koblenz on the Viking Tor. We were going to cruise the Middle Rhine. This part of the trip was the reason Mark and I chose this particular cruise, as my father had pictures of some of the castles along the Middle Rhine when he was in the army in Germany in 1954. It was the part of our trip I had most looked forward to. It turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be and more. Through this section of the Rhine’s course as it makes its way from Switzerland to Amsterdam, the river is wide and the landscape is rugged.
Vineyards line the river’s path, some at water’s edge
but many terraced up the steep hillside.
Trains glide along the bottom of the hillsides, coming and going on both sides of the river like some gigantic real-life train display,
as they pass through tunnels carved under the rocky cliffs.
Boats and ships traverse
and at times cross the river.
Some dock at ports.
But the main attractions are the castles on hilltops overlooking villages on narrow flat land at the river’s side.
From medieval times, castles guarded the river’s route, for financial gain through controlling the river with tolls or for defense from invaders. Along this section of the Rhine, a traveler is rarely without a distant or close view of a castle as the ship passes by.
Church steeples rise in the villages below the castles at water’s edge.
From the comfort of the Viking Tor’s top deck, which was invigorating at times with the chill of the wind,
we watched the scenes slide by like a 360 degree slide show. I took 500 photos on our 3-hour ride to Koblenz, attempting the impossible task of saving the experience through digital photography.
To select photos for this post, on my initial pass-through I culled the 500 photos down to 132, and then to 92—still way too many for a blog post. You can imagine the difficulty I had.
What follows is an abbreviated, and yet still rather lengthy, representation of our Middle Rhine Cruise.
As we cruised along the Middle Rhine, our program director Sharon spoke on the ship’s intercom, reading information about the sights we were seeing. I don’t have any record of what she told us, but I did find this excellent Loreley info site online that has a map of the Rhine with the castles noted and links to a photo and historical, as well as visitor, information about each castle. It helped me identify many of the castles we saw. Most of my information about the castles below is from Loreley info.
I hope you enjoy seeing the castles, and some of the villages, along the Rhine. If you click on individual photos you can see a larger version of it, or another view of it. Clicking on a photo in a 2- or 3-photo gallery will show you an enlargement. You can navigate using arrows to see the other gallery photos’ enlargements. A click or two of your mouse should return you here.
Klopp Castle in Bingen houses the city council today. It is presumed to have been built on Roman foundations with a well that likely dates to Roman time. Destroyed in 1689, it was rebuilt between 1875 and 1879.
The Ehrenfels Castle, along with two others formed a northward barrier to protect the territory of the archbishopric of Mainz.
This is one of the larger villages we passed. Click on it to see an interesting feature in larger detail.
My father took this photo in 1954 with his 35mm black and white camera. Dad developed the film and printed the pictures himself. He wrote a caption on the back of it before he sent it home from Germany to my mother. It read, “The prettiest castle.”
I cropped and enlarged it so you can see how it compares to the photo I took of what I believe to be the same castle, from a slightly different angle. You can see that the little white building has been added since the 1950s.
Another view of what I now know is the Rheinstein Castle. It was built in the beginning of the 14th century as a princely summer residence. “In 1975 the opera singer Hermann Hecher bought the castle. It’s due to him that Rheinstein Castle became again one of the centres of attraction in the Rhine Valley,” (Rheinstein Castle).
This castle is the Reichenstein Castle, also called Falkenburg. It was built in the 11th century and owned by a robber-baron. As a result it was destroyed twice, in 1253 and 1282. It decayed since the 16th century until Friedrich Wilhelm von Barfuß started reconstruction in 1834. Baron Kirsch Purcelli bought the castle in 1899 and continued the reconstruction.
The Sooneck Castle, probably built in the 11th century was originally part of an abbey defense system. It has a sordid history of raids, and arbitrary toll-raising leading to its destruction in 1282. It was rebuilt and again destroyed in 1689. Friedrich Wilhelm IV ordered to convert the ruin into a hunting seat in 1842. It was finished in 1861.
The Village of Niederheimbach with its connected row of buildings sits at the base of the hill.
Fürstenberg Castle, built in 1219, was built by order of an archbishop, the bishop of Cologne, to protect his estates and levy tolls. The castle was destroyed in the course of the Palatinate Succession War, and remains in ruins. It is privately owned today.
This village has a dominant church, and behind the church up high on the hillside stands what looks like a small chapel.
Stahleck Castle, which was first mentioned in 1135, was owned in series over time by the diocese of Köln, the emperor Barbarossa and later his brother Konrad, and the Bavarian dynasty as one of two important bases of the Wittelsbach rulers. “In 1689 the castle was blown up by the French. In two construction phases (1925-27 as well as 1965-67) it was rebuilt,” ( Stahleck Castle) Today it is a popular youth hostel.
This fortress built in the middle of the river is the Pfalz Castle or toll station. Built in the 1300s, it was used to collect tolls from ships sailing on the river. The Gutenfels Castle, now used as a hotel, sits above it on the hillside.
This is my dad’s picture of the Pfalz Castle in 1954.
The Gutenfels Castle.
This shows a ruin of a Roman wall.
In 1149 Schönburg Castle was temporarily an Empire Castle and came into possession of the Schönburg dynasty. Destroyed in 1689, it has been rebuilt since 1885 into the famous hotel that it is today.
One of the enduring myths of the German Rhine is the maiden Lorelei. The Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine that rises 440 feet above the river. A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents there over the years.
The legend goes that a beautiful maiden sat on top and sang songs luring sailors who passed the rock at nightfall to their doom against the rock.
I think this may be Rheinfels Castle, although I am not certain. “The only military complex arrangement on the left bank of the Rhine River it withstood the troops of Louis XIV in 1692” and then was blown up by the French revolutionary army in 1794. Now it is owned by city of St. Goar, has a hotel known for its excellent kitchen, and visitors can roam through the gigantic area of the fortress. (Rheinfels Castle)
Sometimes referred to as the cat and mouse, the Katz (left) and Maus or (lower right) castles reflect one of the many power plays on the Rhine in the Middle Ages. “Territorial supremacy and the privilege of collecting tolls fueled the fires of rivalry. In response to the construction of Burg Rheinfels, the archbishop of Trier erected a small castle north of St. Goarshausen to protect his interests. In turn, the masters of Rheinfels, the counts of Katzenelnbogen, built a bigger castle directly above the town. Its name was shortened to Katz, and its smaller neighbor was scornfully referred to as Maus. Both castles are closed to the public.” (Quoted from Fodor’s.)
Throughout the cruise down the Rhine, the small villages with half-timbered, colorful buildings, and steepled churches continued to decorate the landscape.
An unidentified castle.
I’m coming now to the final castle I photographed. And it turns out my dad photographed it too, although I couldn’t identify his pictures until I went on the cruise and compared his photos to mine.
Dad’s caption said “Castle on the Rhine” and “Enlargement of castle on the Rhine.”
I know now that it is the Marksburg Castle, the only hilltop castle along the Rhine that was never destroyed. We would be touring Marksburg Castle shortly after the Viking Tor docked in Koblenz at 12:00.
The Middle Rhine was declared a World Heritage site in 2002 by UNESCO.
I don’t know that I’ve ever loved any sightseeing event more than this cruise up the Middle Rhine, following my father’s path.
Next up – The knights of Marksburg Castle
See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.