Heidelberg Castle and Hotel Zum Ritter St George
The Landmark buildings of Heidelberg are the Heidelberg Castle and Hotel zum Ritter St George.
Heidelberg Castle – this is the highlight for visitors coming to Heidelberg. This is probably the most photographed building. Most of Heidelberg Castle is in ruins but there are restored areas.
Hotel zum Ritter St George – A city landmark with beautiful building façade. It was the only building not to be destroyed in the French invasion in 1688.
This travel article describes our visit to the Heidelberg Castle and Hotel zum Ritter St George.
The most famous landmark in Heidelberg is the castle, perched 80m on the hillside of Konigstuhl. From its commanding position, it dominates the landscape of the town with its striking red sandstone fortress and battlements built in a Renaissance and Gothic style. It has become the emblem of Heidelberg and a symbol of defiance for the Heidelbergers. The earliest part of the castle was built in 1214 and was later expanded by the various rulers as a royal palace and fortress throughout the centuries, each one putting his own stamp of architectural style. It went through baptism of fire literally, twice by lightning and twice by the French during the ‘Nine Years War” waged by Louis XIV against the German and its European allies in 1688. The French laid waste to the town by burning it down. The castle towers were blown up by explosives and most of the towers set on fire. For years after the war, it laid as a crumbling ruin and its stones quarried for other buildings. Ironically the castle was rescued and restored by Charles Graimberg, a French count in 1810 who went on a mission to conserve and document the history of the castle and was responsible for making it an early tourist attraction.
Today the castle has been restored to its former glory in certain sections and is the main attraction of the town. We embark on a private tour of the castle with Henry Cottam who is an official guide of the castle. Originally from England, Henry has made Heidelberg his home for the past seven years and conducts daily English-speaking tours of the castle. He shows us the inner sanctum of the castle, the privilege of visitors who pay extra for a private tour. The splendour of the castle with its ornate rooms and corridors ornamented with statues of the Electors (rulers), exquisite carvings, stone and wood works are sights to behold. Artefacts and priceless paintings are displayed in various halls while original beautiful tiles paved the floor and magnificent etchings and artworks adorn the ceilings. A section of the castle built by the Elector Otto Henrich (1502-1559) has a splendid facade showcasing statues of past rulers and heroes of antiquity such as Hercules and Roman emperors. In the basement of the building is the German Pharmacy Museum showcasing the history of pharmacy and dispensaries, an array of equipment and tools, a laboratory and a thousand specimens of raw drugs representing medicine from 17th to the 19th century. Henry shares his intimate knowledge of the castle and even takes us to a terrace high on the castle not usually open to the public to enjoy the amazing panoramic view of the city where its picturesque character is revealed in all its splendour.
One of the most famous features in the castle is the Heidelberg Tun or Giant Wine barrel which can hold up to 220,000 litres of wine. It was built in 1591 for wine collected as taxes from the Palatinate winery. The 7 metre high barrel, the largest in the world, has a dance floor on top of it for the merriment of the royal family and their guests when they were having rowdy parties. It is adjacent to the King’s Hall and next to the Ladies’ Room Building where the ladies of the court used to reside. Wine would be pumped through a pipeline directly from the giant barrel to the Ladies’ Room next door and directed to the King’s Hall when they were having a party.
In the grounds of the castle is the original garden commissioned by the Prince Elector Friedrich V for his English wife Princess Elizabeth in 1616. It was designed in the style of an English landscaped garden but was neglected when the Thirty Years’ War broke out in 1618. It has lost much of its formal horticultural features but has been restored to a beautiful garden with remains of some of the old colonnades. Heidelberg Castle attracts millions of visitors every year and is the most visited castle in Germany.
Hotel zum Ritter St George
My fascination with historical buildings leads us to stay at the Hotel Zum Ritter St George right in the heart of the old town built in 1592. As if protected by some kind of divine intervention being in the shadow of the Holy Spirit Church, this splendid building survives both historic and modern wars, avoided destruction by the French invasion and bombing in the two world wars. When the town was razed to the ground by the marauding French troops in the 17th century, the building was strangely spared. Originally it belonged to a textile merchant from Belgium and was used as his residence and factory. The most outstanding feature is the magnificent façade with its fluted columns and ornately carved window blocks and gables. The architectural beauty and elegance of this townhouse has claimed the accolade as “the finest historical and most artistically valuable town house in Heidelberg” and is a listed building. Everyday hordes of tourist gather at the front of the hotel while their guide regale them with tales of this venerated building.
This travel article has described our visit to the Heidelberg Castle and Hotel zum Ritter St George.
Heidelberg Castle has applied to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For private tours by Henry Cottam
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