With its incredible location 80m (270ft) up on the northern part of Königstuhl, Heidelberg castle simply dominates the skyline of the old town. A castle, sometimes two, have been located overlooking Heidelberg since 1214, the present structure however was begun at the end of 14th century, probably in 1396. The man who constructed it was Rupert III of Germany and at that time the castle was small, so small in fact that when Rupert was elevated to Emperor of Germany the castle couldn’t accommodate his now large entourage and had to house them in the Augustinian Monastery which was located in the town.
The present shape of the castle is down to series of Electors of the Palatinate; Otto Heinrich (1556-59), Friedrich IV (1583-1610) and Friedrich V (1610-20) each of whom left behind fitting additions through building and the creation of gardens.
In the 16th century Elector Karl-Luwig married his daughter, Liselotte, off to the French Duke of Orléans, brother of Louis XIV of France. The marriage was disastrous as political infighting eventually saw French troops march into Heidelberg on the 24th of October, which had been deserted by the then Elector Philipp Wilhelm. French troops camped in the castle for the following six months then withdrew on the 2nd March 1689. Not wanting the Germans to use the castle as a base for any future attacks on France, the soldiers set fire to the castle, blowing up many of the defensive towers including the front of the Fat Tower. The new Elector, Johann Wilhelm, attempted to rebuild the fortification but the French returned in May of 1683, destroying any towers and wall with mines that had survived the original attack.
Peace with the French came in 1697 with the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick, and the castle was patched up, full re-building was shelved due to lack of funds.
Moving out and an attempt to return
When religious troubles flaired in the city in the 18th century the Elector moved to Mannheim where he built a new palace, Mannheim Palace in the baroque style of the time. Elector karl Theodor attempted to move the court back into the castle at the end of the 18th century but disaster struck on 24th June 1764 when lightning twice hit the castle setting it on fire. Many saw it as a divine signal and the Electors moved out, never to return and thus leaving us a mighty fortress perched in the most romantic of locations to visit and explore.
The forecourt is an enclosed area between the Main Gate and the Castle Gate an includes incredible terrace from which there are amazing views over the Old Town. The Forecourt also includes the romantic Elizabeth Gate, built by Friedrich V in a single night in 1615 as a surprise for his wife Elizabeth Stuart.
Torturm (Gate Tower)
Entering from the Forecourt you cross a stone bridge to pass through the Gate Tower which was constructed in 1718. This is the second entrance to be constructed as the original, built in 1528, was destroyed in the War of the Grand Alliance
Brunnenhalle (Well Wing)
Decorated with wonderful columns which come from the Charlemagne’s palace in Igelheim
Once home to one of the finest libraries in Europe the building also house the Electors art collection as well as other treasures
Ottoheinrichsbau (Otto Heinrich Wing)
Introduced a wonderful renaissance style to Heidelberg with its façade bearing biblical and mythological figures. Well known sculptor Colin of Mecheln designed the main entrance which has a triumphal arch emblazoned with the Elector’s coat of arms.
Grosses Fass (Great Vat)
This enormous wine cask dating from the 18th century can hold 221,726 litres (48,780 gallons) of wine and is still functioning today. The overseer of the vat was the court jester Perkeo, whose statue sits above it and who was renowned for his drinking feats.
Heidelberg castle is visited on;