Wartburg Castle is perched on a steep hill overlooking the town of Eisenach in the state of Thuringia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the oldest and best-preserved Romanesque castles in Germany, as well as the hideout of German church reformer, Martin Luther. Step back in time to discover the unique story behind this historic German castle, and learn how to visit it yourself.
History of Wartburg Castle
The foundation for Wartburg Castle was laid in 1067, along with a larger sister castle known as Neuenburg. Additions were made over the years, and the castle began exhibiting an eclectic mix of architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Historicism. By 1211, Wartburg was one of the most important princes' courts in the German Reich. The castle became the muse of poets like Walther von der Vogelweide, and the setting for the fabled Sängerkrieg (minstrel contest) in 1207. The story of this epic contest inspired Richard Wagner's opera "Tannhäuser."
St. Elisabeth of Hungary lived in Wartburg from 1211 to 1228, during her betrothal and marriage to Louis IV, though perhaps the castle's most famous guest was Martin Luther. From May 1521 to March 1522, Luther hid at the castle after Pope Leo X had excommunicated him. Under the name Junker Jörg, he translated the New Testament from Ancient Greek into German, making the Bible accessible to the people. The castle is still a site of pilgrimage for many of his followers.
However, the castle's singular history did not protect it from neglect and disrepair. During the Thirty Years' War, the whole region suffered and the castle slowly fell apart. However, the site was slowly brought back to its original glory over time. In 1817, the first Wartburgfest was held here, with students and Burschenschaften (fraternities) celebrating German victory over Napoleon. After it was no longer occupied by royal families, the Wartburg Stiftung (Wartburg Foundation) was created in 1922 to maintain the castle. Through World War II and Soviet occupation, division of the country and German Democratic Republic rule, the castle remained. Extensive reconstruction took place in the 1950s, and in 1967, the castle was the site of GDR's national jubilee. It has also hosted celebrations for Martin Luther's 500th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the Wartburg Festival.
The awesome history of Wartburg Castle was further honored with its inclusion in 1999 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first German castle to earn this designation.
What to See at Wartburg Castle
The castle is the most-visited tourist attraction in Thuringia after Weimar. To avoid crowds, especially in the summer, travel to the castle in the morning or late afternoon on a weekday.
You must book a guided tour to visit Wartburg Castle's lavish interiors (English tours also available). Dating back to the 19th century, they are impressive, featuring tapestries, golden mosaics, medieval musical instruments, and precious silverware on display. The residential quarters expand over three floors and are considered the best preserved example of late Romanesque profane architecture north of the Alps. The ornate decoration of the Festsaal (Festival Hall) is a showstopper, with superb acoustics orchestrated by Franz Liszt, former Director of Music of the Court Ensemble in Weimar. The highlight of the tour, though, is the sparsely furnished room of Martin Luther. Look for the ink spot on the wall; it is said that it was left by Luther after he threw an inkwell at the devil.
Touring the grounds is free, and allows visitors to admire the original, 12th-century castle structures, as well as the spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Eagles, the Emperor’s symbolic animal, bedeck numerous buildings. The site also contains a museum covering more than 900 years of German history.
Numerous events take place at the castle throughout the year, including chamber music performances, religious services in the Castle Chapel, Christmas concerts, and a medieval Christmas market. The Hunters' Room is not only an official branch of the Eisenach Registry Office, it is also a popular venue for weddings and events.
How to Visit Wartburg Castle
Eisenach is located 120 miles northeast of Frankfurt. Towering over Wartburgallee street in the southwestern corner of town, Wartburg Castle is easy to find. It is only accessible via a medieval drawbridge.
- Drive to Wartburg Castle. If arriving by car, follow the street signs for Wartburg that take travelers from the A4 Autobahn off at the "Eisenach-Ost" exit. Drive through the town onto Wartburgallee and follow the winding road off the B19 up to the castle. There is unlimited parking for 5 euros.
- Take public transit. Visitors can reach Wartburg by city bus number 3 (Luthershuttle), which travels from Eisenach's city center all the way up to the castle. The bus line also stops at the Hauptbahnhof (main train station).
- Walk or bike. Wartburg is located in Thuringia Forest, and there are several pleasant paths up to the castle, like the Hercules-Wartburg Cycle Route and Rennsteig trail. The best option is the Luther trail, which runs up Schlossberg hill and ends at the Wartburg Castle donkey station. The walk is about 35 to 45 minutes.
- Take a donkey ride. One of the beloved traditions associated with Wartburg Castle is the children's donkey ride. The 20-minute ride is available during the summer, and starts near the parking lot.
The castle is open every day of the year. Tickets for the tour cost 12 euros for adults, 8 euros for students, and 5 euros for children ages 6–14. Thuringia Card holders and children 5 and under can visit for free.
What to Do Near Wartburg Castle
Ltherhaus Eisenach is the oldest half-timbered house in Thurginia, and has a museum dedicated to Martin Luther. Fans of Johann Sebastian Bach will also be delighted to find Bachhaus Eisenach, a museum dedicated to the famous Eisenach composer.
Thuringian Forest (Thüringer Wald) is one of the most popular destinations in the region. Covering 4,700 square kilometers in fairytale-like woodlands, German greats such as Bach and Fritz Reuter exulted on its beauty. Today's visitors can hike most of the park, including the Rennsteig trail, which dates back to the 9th century and once divided the states of Thuringia and Franconia. Another popular hiking spot is through the dramatic yet kid-friendly Dragon Gorge (Drachenschlucht).