Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Heidelberg Schloss

The ruin of Heidelberg Castle is the town's most famous landmark and sits beautifully nestled among the hills along the river.

Mark Twain, the American author, described the Heidelberg Castle in his 1880 travel book A Tramp Abroad:
“A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude. Nature knows how to garnish a ruin to get the best effect. One of these old towers is split down the middle, and one half has tumbled aside. It tumbled in such a way as to establish itself in a picturesque attitude. Then all it lacked was a fitting drapery, and Nature has furnished that; she has robed the rugged mass in flowers and verdure, and made it a charm to the eye. The standing half exposes its arched and cavernous rooms to you, like open, toothless mouths; there, too, the vines and flowers have done their work of grace. The rear portion of the tower has not been neglected, either, but is clothed with a clinging garment of polished ivy which hides the wounds and stains of time. Even the top is not left bare, but is crowned with a flourishing group of trees & shrubs. Misfortune has done for this old tower what it has done for the human character sometimes – improved it."

You could walk up to the castle if you're up for it, but we took the funicular railway which is basically a cable tram that goes up a steep slope. The tram line is relatively new as it was re-built in 1962 (the original was built in 1890). While the lower tram is modern, the upper tram was rebuilt as it was originally designed.

For visiting the castle, you only need tickets for the lower tram. The ticket includes the tram ride and entry to the Palace gardens. For a tour of the palace interiors, you need to buy separate tickets which include a guided tour.

The Castle gardens are well kept and offer a stupendous view of the town below and on a clear day, you can even see the city of Manheim, but like our hosts pointed out, there isn't much to see there!

The castle was built in 1214 and since then has been expanded, re-built, and suffered some destruction (including being hit by lightning twice).

On a visit to Heidelberg in 1838, the French author Victor Hugo took particular pleasure in strolling among the ruins of the castle. He summarised its history in this letter:

“But let me talk of its castle. (This is absolutely essential, and I should actually have begun with it.) What times it has been through! Five hundred years long it has been victim to everything that has shaken Europe, and now it has collapsed under its weight. That is because this Heidelberg Castle, the residence of the counts Palatine, who were answerable only to kings, emperors, and popes, and was of too much significance to bend to their whims, but couldn't raise his head without coming into conflict with them, and that is because, in my opinion, that the Heidelberg Castle has always taken up some position of opposition towards the powerful. Circa 1300, the time of its founding, it starts with a Thebes analogy; in Count Rudolf and Emperor Ludwig, these degenerate brothers, it has its Eteocles and its Polynices [warring sons of Oedipus]. Then the prince elector begins to grow in power. In 1400 the Palatine Ruprecht II, supported by three Rhenish prince electors, deposes Emperor Wenceslaus and usurps his position; 120 years later in 1519, Count Palatine Frederick II was to create the young King Charles I of Spain Emperor Charles V."

The castle gardens is a great way to spend an afternoon just enjoying the view and taking a stroll. It was once even termed as the 8th Wonder of the World, but due to wars and natural disasters, its maintenance was grossly ignored. The tower you see on the way to the garden, the powder turret (where gunpowder was stored), was blown apart by the French in 1793. Another tower that housed prisoners was also destroyed.

The gardens, called Hortus Palatinus, or Garden of the Palatinate was commissioned by Frederick V in 1614 for his wife Elizabeth Stuart. The Elizabeth Gate near the entrance was built the following year (overnight by some accounts) as a birthday present for Elizabeth. Within the compound is a prominent fountain with the statue of Father Rhine (or Neptune, depends on which guide you're reading) symbolizing Germany's river.

Our next stop was the tour of the Castle interiors. As soon as you enter through the Gate Tower, you are faced with a magnificent facade of Friedrich building, which is in a comparatively good condition. The statues that adorn the building are a tribute to the rulers. Within the walls are elaborately decorated rooms that have been recreated to reflect the glory of its times.

The Palace Chapel (Burgkapelle) is also in this building and although not huge, it is very serene.

Just adjacent to it is the Ottheinrich building which at one time were the living quarters and also had a the Emperor's Hall. Just the facade that remains now and it stands hauntingly like a screen door giving glimpses of the blue skies beyond.

The statues on it range of those from the Bible, famous Romans, and some depicting the Christian Virtues. Construction was started by Otto Heinrich during his short reign from 1556 to 1559, and later completed by Fredrick III ten years later.

The ground floor is the only floor that has a ceiling, and this houses the German Apothecary Museum. It gives you a fascinating insight of the evolution of pharmacies. The museum store, among other items has some tin 'medicine' boxes on sale which you can fill with mint (although we didn't like the mint we got from there).

Finally, at the end of the tour, you will come to the famous wine barrels in the cellar. It once held tithe wine (wine that was owed to the ruler by his subjects) and all kinds of wine were mixed into the barrel. At the time, drinking water was mostly contaminated, and wine was the preferred drink as most of the germs were killed during the fermentation process.

The current barrel,constructed in 1750, is the third incarnation and has a capacity of 2,20,000 litres. The original barrel was destroyed during the 30 Years War, and the second one during the War of Palatine Succession. The platform on top of the barrel was made for dancing, and the statue of the court jester, Clemens Perkeo, watches over this treasure.

There is also a bar here for those who get tempted. We decided to go down to the town for our fare.