Wartburg Castle sits on a steep hill overlooking the town of Eisenach in the state of Thuringia. The only access is a medieval era drawbridge and those brave enough to cross the moat will find an ideal castle. It is one of the oldest and best-preserved Romanesque castles in Germany and played a role in the life of German church reformer, Martin Luther.
Discover the unique story behind this exemplary German castle and how you might step back in time to see it.
History of the Wartburg Castle
The foundation was laid in 1067 along with a larger sister castle known as Neuenburg. By 1211, Wartburg was one of the most important princes' courts in the German Reich.
The castle became the haven of poets like Walther von der Vogelweide and eventually was the setting for the legendary Sängerkrieg or Wartburgkrieg (Minstrels' Contest) in 1207. Whether the event actually happened or not, the story of this epic contest inspired Richard Wagner 's opera Tannhäuser.
Elisabeth of Hungary lived in the castle from 1211 to 1228 and did charitable works that eventually earned her sainthood. But in 1221 she was just a 14-year-old set to marry Ludwig IV. She was canonized as a saint in 1236, just five years after her death at aged 24.
However, the castle's most famous guest was undoubtedly Martin Luther. From May 1521 to March 1522 Luther was kept here under the name Junker Jörg. This was for his own protection after his excommunication by Pope Leo X. While staying at the castle, Luther translated the New Testament from Ancient Greek into German, making it accessible to the people. The castle is still a site of pilgrimage for many of his followers.
The castle fell into disrepair over the centuries, along with much of the region during the Thirty Years' War. It was used as a refuge during this time for a ruling family.
Slowly, the castle was brought back to its original glory and on October 18th, 1817 the first Wartburgfest was held here with students and Burschenschaften (fraternities) as they celebrated German victory over Napoleon.
No longer occupied by royal families, the Wartburg Stiftung (Wartburg Foundation) was created in In 1922 to maintain the castle. Through World War II and Soviet occupation, division of the country and GDR rule, the castle remained. Extensive reconstruction was necessary in the 1950s and the castle was the site of GDR's national jubilee in 1967. It also hosted the 900th anniversary of the Wartburg's foundation, the 500th birthday of Martin Luther and the 150th anniversary of the Wartburg Festival.
The awesome history and architecture of Wartburg Castle was honored by being added to the list of UNESCO world heritages sites in 1999. Sadly, most of its interiors only date from the 19th century, but you can still observe much of its original structures from the 12th through 15th century. It also contains a museum covering over 900 years of German history. Tapestries, medieval musical instruments and precious silverware are all on display. It is the most-visited tourist attraction in Thuringia after Weimar.
Visitor Information for Wartburg Castle
Wartburg Castle website: www.wartburg.de
Address:Auf der Wartburg 1, 99817 Eisenach
Phone: 036 91/25 00
Opening Hours: March - October from 8:30 - 20:00; November - March from 9:00 - 17:00
Getting to Eisenach: Eisenach is located 120 miles northeast of Frankfurt.
By car - Drive the Autobahn A4 into the direction of Erfurt-Dresden; the exit 39b "Eisenach-Mitte" will take you into the town of Eisenach, where you find signs to the Wartburg.
By Bus - The town's #10 bus travels from the city center to the parking lot.
Getting to Wartburg Castle: The Castle can be reached by a walk up a steep hill (600 feet) or by a shuttle bus, that runs from the parking lot below up to the castle. A kid-only option is to ride a donkey up the hill (only in summer).
Tours of Wartburg:
- Tours available from 8:30 - 17:00 (summer) / 9:00 - 15:30 (winter). English tour at 13:30
- You can only visit the interior of the Wartburg as part of a guided tour. It is free to walk the impressive grounds.
- Tours are available in English at 13:30
- The highlight of the tour is the sparsely furnished - but impressive - cell of Martin Luther. Keep an eye out for an ink spot on the wall; it is said that Luther threw an inkwell at the devil.
Admission/Fees to Wartburg: €6-10 for adults, €4-8 for students and disabled visitors; €2 for photo and video permission
Good to Know:
- The Wartburg has an adjacent hotel, Wartburg Hotel, with a very good restaurant.
- A traditional Christmas market is held here in winter, featuring historic crafts such as glassblowing and stone-cutting.