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Sep 02

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On a Rhine Cruise: Visit Marksburg Castle

This “Visit Marksburg Castle” post is one of our collection of stories about taking a Rhine River Cruise.

After cruising through the Middle Rhine Valley and taking hundreds of photos of all the picturesque castles along its banks, we finally docked in Braubach.  High on the hill overlooking the town we could see Marksburg Castle, which has been standing since the 1200s. Don’t let the “castle” part of its name fool you. It was never meant to be a home for royalty.  Fortress would be a better term because it was built to protect the residents of Braubach.  It also was a source of revenue for the town over the years by collecting tolls from passersby on the river.

View of Rhine from the castle

They could see them coming from way down the river…

View in the other direction

… in both directions.  There was no sneaking by these guys.

Why cruise ships visit Marksburg Castle

For the most part, those dramatic castles lining the Rhine are Romantic reconstructions.  Marksburg, however, was never destroyed and is nearly all original construction.  Over the centuries Marksburg Castle has grown bit-by-bit from its original keep (still in the center of the complex).  Most of the additions were for defense, which is obvious as you walk through the complex.

There’s no self-guided option here. The only way to visit Marksburg Castle is by taking the 50-minute tour.  Even though it’s not a long walk, a shuttle from the dock is much easier.

The Marksburg Castle experience

Our tour guide met us outside the first castle gate and escorted us up the path to the inner gate.

Notice how the inner gate was filled in? It was originally tall enough for knights on horseback to gallop through. By making it smaller they made it easier to prevent enemy hordes from entering on horseback.

On the other side of the gate was a very well-worn staircase, called the “Knights’ Stairway.” It’s carved out of slate, which explains why it’s so worn: all those horses riding over it for 800 years.  These steps were carved with a rough surface to keep horses from slipping on rainy days.The staircase passes under a bridge that was quite handy for a useful form of defense — pouring boiling pitch on invaders.

Marksburg Castle's arched entry gateThe well-worn slate Knights' Stairway

The “Great Battery”

Most of the defense construction was to house the cannons that aim out over the lower Rhine, protecting the castle and the town of Braubach.

Oldest cannon in Marksburg Castle

The oldest cannon here dates from around 1500. It was quite short, loaded from the back and it had a limited firing distance.

Front loaded cannons ready to defend MarksburgCastle

150 years later they started using bigger, more modern cannons, which were much more powerful but had to be front-loaded. That’s why they were on wheels, so they could load them easily.

The wine cellar

Wine, not beer, has always been the traditional drink in these parts. Because castle water was unclean, everyone drank wine. Don’t get excited though, because the wine was less alcoholic than today’s beer. The pitchers on the wall held their daily allotment. The bellows was part of the winemaking process.

Gothic hall

This hall is actually a kitchen, including an oven big enough to roast an ox whole. The arms holding the pots have notches to control the heat. The iron plate in the second photo here was the door servants used to stoke the fire without being seen by the noble family. The triangular chair was used to make the job more comfortable; that’s not a backrest, it’s what the servant would lean on.

oven big enough to roast an entire ox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The residential apartments

The bedroom was the only heated room in the castle. If the bed looks short to you, it is. They slept with their backs elevated because the constant exposure to smoke gave them chronic breathing problems. At night the canopy helped retain heat and kept out some of the smoke from the fireplace. The guide also said it kept out critters as well, but I don’t quite see how that would work. The room also had a deep window seat, which was designed for maximum light for handwork and reading. Women would sit here and gossip (or “spin a yarn”) while doing needlework or working on the spinning wheel.

The privy

This was probably one of the most interesting things in the entire tour.

Don’t laugh, now; I’m serious.

The privy/toilet was the most vulnerable and yet the most necessary room of all. I’d assumed they used chamber pots, but no … they had an actual room for such important functions.  It was a small room, containing an outhouse-type seat, that stuck out from the side of the building. It hung over a pigsty that, I assume, took care of any – er – droppings.

Every potential invader knew that this toilet room would provide easy access to the building.  All they had to do was use a ladder and climb through the opening on the bottom.

This is probably the only bathroom I’ve ever seen that locked from the outside. It was a clever idea, because was such a weak point in the castle’s defenses.

Chapel

Marksburg Castle was actually a community, with a lot of people living within its walls. Just as in every similar building of the era, it had a chapel for the residents. Marksburg, in fact, was named after St. Mark and its chapel was therefore dedicated to him. This Gothic style chapel has beautiful frescoes of the apostle and the lion that symbolizes him, plus many other Biblical scenes. I was surprised at how brilliantly colored and well preserved they still are.

Armor museum

From thinking of heavenly things to thinking of war.

We ended up in a museum that displayed all sorts of armor dating from Celtic times. I didn’t know until this tour that the present-day military salute comes from how knights and soldiers used to greet each other. They would tip up their visor with their right hand in order to reveal their identity and that they were friendly.

And of course there’s another form of armor. Yes, folks, that’s a chastity belt, a medieval lady’s armor, haha.  Despite its reputation its real purpose wasn’t to keep a woman chaste while her husband was away. Women actually used it to protect themselves against rape when traveling.

Horse Stable

Our last stop on our tour was the stable. Since the castle had been used as a prison in times gone by it stands to reason that they would show off some torture devices.  Everything from pillories to face masks. Not sure why they put it in the stable, though.

A mask with a heavy ball forced its wearer to crawl … down where all the mud and animal droppings were.

The power of suggestion … No doubt almost anyone who saw pictures like these would be intimidated enough to confess, guilty or not.

After the castle tour

When you visit Marksburg Castle, like almost every other attraction in the world, you’ll be able to visit a gift shop. It actually has some pretty nice souvenirs, including a paper scale model that you can cut out and glue together to make your own Marksburg Castle.

If you’re more in the mood for a snack before you head back to the ship, there’s also a small restaurant (Burgschänke) above the drawbridge gate with a terrace full of tables overlooking the meandering Rhine. If you’d like to see more photos of the castle, you’re invited to visit our Braubach and Marksburg Castle photo gallery.

What’s your favorite castle?

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22 comments

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  1. JACQUELINE GUM

    Loved this post! I have long ben wanting to take one of these cruises and the pictures and descriptions are wonderful! Makes me want to amp up my plans 🙂
    JACQUELINE GUM recently posted…The Power of Failure… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

    1. Linda

      What’s stopping you? 😀

  2. Susan Cooper

    Amazing photos. It looks like you had an amazing time. I love the paintings on the chapel. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted…Paco Lola Albarino: WIneMy Profile

    1. Linda

      They are gorgeous. Wish I could have a wall painted like that. 🙂

  3. Roni Faida

    I have never taken one of these cruises before, I’ve only cruised in the Bahamas. I love the picture of the sign in German, I don’t know why foreign signs always interest me. Great post!
    Roni Faida recently posted…Did You Know You Can Now Have Your Checked Bags Delivered To Your Destination?My Profile

    1. Linda

      Thank you for the kind words, Roni. You should try a river cruise; they have them in the US, too. Never a boring moment. You don’t even NEED a pool!

  4. Kellie Annesley-Smith

    Wow Linda! Every time I suppress my itchy feet of travelling, up pops another great post giving me reason to travel again. I love European castles and i think from your post I will put this place on my bucket list! Thanks Linda.

    1. Linda

      You’re welcome, Kellie. I hope you find time to carve out a trip somewhere soon.

  5. Arleen

    I loved your post. I have traveled alot and have never done a cruise done the Rhine. We have talked about. I would have to say my favorite castle is Palace of Versailles. It is absolutely beautiful. A fun thing to do is stay in a castle. We did that in France and it was an unbelievable experience. It is something out of fairyland. The castle you visited is a bit more rustic. I thought that the reason the beds were small as people were smaller back in those days. God I wouldn’t want to wear a chastity belt. Sounds like a great trip

    1. Linda

      It was a great trip, actually left us wanting to go on more.

  6. Cassi

    I always prefer seeing history like this than reading about it. Great pictures!
    Cassi recently posted…Sweating Away the PoundsMy Profile

    1. Linda

      Thanks for the compliment, Cassi.

  7. Joanne

    I’m with you – reading about the privy was interesting. I thought chamber pots as well. I guess that would’ve been for the poor folk. Love the pictures. Thanks for sharing.
    Joanne recently posted…10 Tips for the new school yearMy Profile

  8. Debra Yearwood

    I took my first cruise last February, it was a Disney trip with my kids. It was a wonderful cruise, but afterwards I thought, good thing my husband couldn’t come along, he’d have been bored. Now this cruise, that has my husband (and me) written all over. Something to plan for. Have to admit though, I may have to make a pass on the “torture” portion of the tour. 🙂
    Debra Yearwood recently posted…Our PeopleMy Profile

    1. Dan

      Thank you Debra for the comment. LOL, yeah I think you can skip the torture portion and maybe opt for a good glass of Riesling instead.

  9. Elizabeth Scott

    What an amazing trip you must have had. I would love to travel and see such beauty. 🙂
    Elizabeth Scott recently posted…Bloggers Showcase: David SutoyoMy Profile

  10. Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque)

    We’ve been on quite a few ocean big boat cruises, but never a river cruise. I think a river cruise in Europe is the place to start. Thanks for including so many photos in this post. There’s nothing wrong with your well written words, but in this case, a picture is worth….well, you know.
    Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque) recently posted…Capture the Colour 2013 (A Photo Essay)My Profile

    1. Linda

      You’re welcome for the photos. I can never describe a place as well as Dan’s photos do.

  11. Becc

    Oh, I love this post. With a young son, it will be quite a while before we get to go on one of these cruises, so I have to live vicariously through you 🙂
    Becc recently posted…Welcome to Vegas Baby!My Profile

    1. Linda

      Well, I’m happy to oblige, Becc. I’ve enjoyed your posts as well. 🙂

  12. Laura

    Hi Linda,

    My husband and I are taking the same Viking cruise in August. Thank you for sharing your insights and beautiful photos.

    I have a question regarding the walk to the Marksburg Castle. I’ve read that it’s pretty tough. I have some knee issues and I’m concerned that I may have to forego it. Was it a tough hike to reach the castle from the ship? I’d really like to go if I can. Does Viking provide a shuttle or is it all on foot? I’d hate to miss it but I’m a little put off by all the warnings.

    Thanks again for sharing your wonderful experience with us!

    1. Linda

      Hi Laura, I am so happy you like my stories!

      I think you’ll be fine. Viking is aware that many passengers have mobility challenges so yes, they do provide a shuttle. The only think to know is that there is some uneven ground entering (a stone walkway) and you will have to negotiate some stairs during the tour. Your Program Director will be happy to advise you if you would like some extra reassurance.

      That said, I hope that doesn’t deter you because it’s a very special castle. Should you change your mind after you get there, the castle has a nice picnic area with a view and gift shop where you can relax while you wait for everyone.

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