The Viking Tor left Koblenz for Cologne at 4:00 a.m., or so we were told, being fast asleep at the time. We arrived in Cologne, locally known as Koln, at 9:00 a.m.
We left the ship and walked along the river to where buses were waiting to take us the short distance to the cathedral that you can see in the skyline above.
The cathedral is situated right smack in the middle of a downtown business district where the nonstop daily loading and unloading of tour buses created a bit of confusion with their traffic disturbance.
Construction on the Cologne cathedral began in 1248 and took over seven centuries to complete in 1880. It is a symbol of the city and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. During WWII 95% of Cologne was destroyed by allied bombs, but the cathedral survived. According to our guide, bombardiers were prohibited from hitting the church’s spires as they were a clear landmark by which to navigate. Many people were gathered on the cobblestones surrounding the massive structure.
Our tour guide, who accompanied us on the bus, explained what he could about the exterior of the cathedral. Then a deep, loud, gonging started erupting from the bell tower of the cathedral as believers were called to Mass. As luck would have it, we were visiting on a high holy day and the church was closed to tour groups as masses were being celebrated all day. Our guide suggested we come back after the tour and try to gain entrance between the masses.
The bell continued to gong, reverberating through my body. I’d never heard anything like it. And it lasted for what seemed like a half hour, calling all to Mass. Although I was sorry not to be able to visit the inside of the church, I felt lucky that we were able to experience this amazing sound. The bell we heard only rings on the few high holy days in a year, so it is a special occurrence.
As we left the cathedral, we passed a construction crew erecting what looked like a stage for an entertainment of some sort. The ancient cathedral rising behind the modern-day band shell made an interesting juxtaposition of styles.
We continued on a walking tour of the old city. A Roman-Germanic museum is just across the walk from the cathedral. Inside are Roman artifacts and archaeological finds from Koln and the Rhine Valley.
The fine mosaic floor can be viewed from outside the museum. According to Rick Steve’s Germany 2009, this was once the floor of a rich Roman merchant in its original location. The museum was built around it.
Nearby is a section of a Roman stone road beside a Roman fountain.
Our guide took us into the Jewish section of the old town that was under construction as an archaeological zone and Jewish museum.
In all honesty, I was having trouble paying attention at this point because we had not yet had a toilet break and I was beginning to wonder if our guide was ever going to realize we needed one.
I had pretty much given up on the guide to solve this personal problem and started looking around for an open restaurant where I might find a public toilet.
Since it was a high holy day, most places of business were closed. And although I had finally asked the guide if he planned on giving us a comfort break, he was not having any luck finding an open business with a public toilet. Finally, another tourist in our group pointed me to a building where I and several others took advantage of the kindness of the proprietor to allow us use of their facilities.
Too much information? I just want to say, travelers beware of holy days.
We passed by several inviting restaurants near the waterfront or on Fischmarkt.
These seats come with warm blankets for the brisk weather.
The colorful houses on Fischmarkt are picturesque, although I don’t know what the numbers mean.
Our guide left us with about an hour to spare before the first bus returned to the ship. Mark and I walked back to the cathedral with the hope of seeing inside.
A street artist was busy at work on the cathedral plaza.
We entered the cathedral as the earlier mass let people out. A rope was set up to keep tourists at the back of the church, so we were not free to walk around.
But I managed to see enough to realize that the Cologne cathedral was equally impressive on the interior as on the exterior.
Viking had a shuttle running from our ship to the downtown area of Cologne leaving at 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00 p.m. and returning at 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. giving us ample opportunity to shop in or further explore Cologne. Had Mark and I been thirty years younger, we might have spent the afternoon there, but we were tired, and walking on the cobblestones of Cologne had worn out my knees for the day. We returned to the ship and relaxed.
Marksburg is the only castle on the Middle Rhine to remain intact and undamaged during the years of wars and conflicts the area suffered. It maintains much of its medieval character. Buses are not able to navigate all the way to the top of the hill where the castle stands. Our bus dropped us off at the point where I took this picture.
Then we had to walk a zig-zag uphill path to the castle.
Once inside, we met up with our tour guide. Visitors are not allowed to wander about on their own and are required to go on a guided tour.
Although many of the Rhine castles have been rebuilt, according to Rick Steve’s (Germany 2009), Marksburg remains nearly completely the original structure.
At various places you can see where a doorway or window was made smaller and therefore safer from enemies, or easier to defend.
We were told that knights rode their horses over these stone walkways just inside the walled entrance to the castle.
You can’t walk within these walls and not have your imagination fly to tales of the past about kings, knights, and princesses.
I don’t know what the reality was for people who lived and worked within these walls from 1283 to the late 1800s, but I believe that at their core people have not changed all that much through the years. Young men and women fell in love and felt passion, parents found joy in their children, and people lived with heartbreak and loss. A lot of living occurred through the years in this place.
These canons date to about 1640. According to Rick Steve’s, they could hit targets across the river,
which was quite a distance away. From their location on the hilltop, the canons were largely aided by gravity I suspect.
Another view of the river from the castle, and what must have been a look-out point on a lower level.
If you walk along an outer wall of the castle that overlooks the river, you arrive in a garden where plants used for cooking and medicine were cultivated.
It is a gardener’s delight. The wall to the left of the photo overlooks the river from a great heights.
One of the halls is set up as a kitchen and supplied with artifacts from the time period.
The walls in the master bedroom are covered in wood paneling. Tapestries decorate several of the walls in the castle. I don’t know whether they are original to the castle, or have been provided to furnish the rooms for tour groups.
The dining hall was not as large as I might have imagined it should be, although the number of people in our tour group appear to fit nicely in the space.
The far wall of the dining hall is decorated with paint or frescoes.
Windowed alcoves branch off of the dining hall’s main room. Perhaps they provided extra seating.
I thought the iron work on this door’s hinges was interesting. It is also a very small door. What it’s purpose was, I cannot say.
The ceiling of the dining hall is paneled and painted with detail.
Our guide explained the function of this small door in the dining room, and I truly wish I could remember what he said. I do remember that the small door in the chapel was made that way to limit the ability of heavily armored knights to gain access from below during an attack. This door in the dining hall may have served the same purpose, although something in my memory leads me to believe it may have had more to do with accessing necessary facilities. Perhaps you can enlighten me.
This is the dining hall table that I managed to snatch a photo of sans people, which was no small task. The table top is an unattached plank. After each course the servants could pick up the entire thing, and replace it with another plank, pre-set with the next course. I’m still having trouble visualizing how they actually accomplished that while large men were seated there.
This is the chapel, and you can just make out the small, rather narrow doorway in the corner behind our tour guide. Although you can’t tell it from this photo, the chapel was actually a very small room that we crowded into, but it was beautifully decorated.
A good castle was never without a dungeon or torture chamber, although truthfully, we did not see anything that remotely resembled a dungeon.
But we did see a room where instruments of torture were on display. I always find this unsettling as they bring to life the horrific things portrayed in Hollywood movies.
Marksburg has a fascinating collection of armor from 2000 years beginning in the days of the Celts.
Along with the suits of armor and collection of pointed weapons, this room contained an example of a medieval lady’s armor and a chastity belt. Contrary to popular belief, chastity belts were used by women when traveling as protection against rape. Talk about making an uncomfortable trip, in a stuffy carriage bumping over rough terrain, worse.
The keep, which served as an observation tower with a dungeon below, was also a last resort refuge. The only access to the keep was across a wooden bridge. When all was nearly lost, defenders would go into the keep and burn the bridge denying their enemies entrance. I don’t know what happened after that.
When the bus returned us to Koblenz after the tour of Marksburg, we had free time to enjoy the 2,000-year-old city. Once again, Mark and I opted for a liquid refreshment before we started wandering. It’s really hard to resist all the outdoor cafes.
Originally an outpost of the Roman Empire, Koblenz became a city in the 13th century. It was a safe haven for French refugees during the French Revolution. I really like this architectural feature of building an alcove, or little bay-type area at the corner of a building. If you look closely, you will see that all four buildings at this intersection have this feature.
You’re probably starting to think that all Mark and I did on this trip was eat and drink. But I say, how can you truly appreciate a city, location, or culture without sampling their food and drink? We stopped here in the town square to sample gelato, or some kind of fancy banana ice cream dessert. Truly authentic I’m sure.
Koblenz is located at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. There is a nice riverside walk that Mark and I took advantage of on our way back to the Viking Tor which was docked just around the corner where the Moselle River spills into the Rhine.
We made it back to our boat before the late afternoon briefing by our program director, cocktail hour, and dinner, ending what was my favorite day on the cruise.
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.
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.