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.
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.
The “Great Battery”
Most of the castle's defense construction was for the purpose of housing the cannons that aim out over the lower Rhine, protecting the castle and the town of Braubach.
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.
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.
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.
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 locks from the outside. A clever idea, because was such a weak point in the castle's defenses.
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.
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.
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.
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 a small restaurant (Burgschänke) above the drawbridge gate. There, you'll find a terrace-ful of tables overlooking the meandering Rhine.
To see more photos of the castle, visit our Braubach and Marksburg Castle photo gallery.