Thursday, October 2, 2008

CASTLES


We felt like we'd stepped into fairytales! The whole idea of castles is something so exotic to us as Americans that we had no idea what to expect. I had read that Burg Eltz was one travel writer's favorite castle in all of Europe so I figured that was a good place to start! That is what lead us to stay along the Mosel River in Cochem, which happens to have a castle too. They couldn't have been more different from each other.

We arrived at Burg Eltz after driving up out of the river valley, across farmers' fields and into a forest. There we parked the car and set out on foot down a winding wooded path. When we caught our first glimpse of the castle, we were looking down at it! There was just a bit of cloud and mist and Mom commented that it didn't look real, more like a miniature, a picture in a story book. It is nestled into the midst of a forest, with the little Eltz River curving around it on three sides. And even though it seemed hidden away, it was quite grand with its many turrets pointing up to the sky.

What struck me as most amazing was the history of the castle. They think it may have been built as early as the 12th century, with additions added over the course of 500 years of changing family needs. It has always been owned by the Eltz family- 33 generations and 850 years! For several hundred years, a group of joint heirs shared the castle, each building his own "house." In the inner courtyard you can see the three separate entrances and the differences in the architecture of each. It is also unique in the area because it was never destroyed. Almost all castles in the Mosel and Rhine regions were burned by French troops in a land war in 1689, but Burg Eltz survived because of good family connections. There are 100 rooms in the castle and we saw just a few but they have been preserved to reflect the way of life in the early Middle Ages.

Unlike Burg Eltz, Reichsburg castle in Cochem stands proudly above the town. You can't miss it! We walked up through the narrow streets, past Catholic alters and vineyards. The foggy morning leant a bit of mysticism to our journey. We were the only four people for the first tour so our guide spoke English (we were prepared to read along in an English pamphlet while being guided in German), a stroke of good luck! Cochem castle has an ancient and interesting history dating back to the 1100s. It passed through many hands in the political chess games of mideval Europe until it succumbed to the same French troops that spared Burg Eltz. Only a single turret survived and was dubbed "the witch's tower." The castle was rebuilt in the 1870s by a wealthy Berliner; it was en vogue at the time for wealthy people to restore castles for their summer homes. This was the Romantic period so everything is ornate and "over the top!" There are rich furnishings, suits of armor in the living room, balconies overlooking the river... not at all accurate to it's original form. But lovely and interesting none the less!

I've posted more pictures of our trip at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/37438151@N00/

If you are really interested in these castles, check out their websites:

1 comment:

Sara said...

I need to stop reading your blog. It makes me just want to hop a plane to Europe!!!