Originally my Heidelberg trip was to start with a walking tour of the town, for which I had actually taken an earlier train from Frankfurt. I reached my hotel alright and then got badly lost and missed the walking tour. I am sure anyone who has been to Heidelberg will wonder how I managed such an impressive feat in such a small town! Well in my defense I was holding the map upside down. #Faceplam I know. So once I missed my walking tour, I decided to start my trip with a visit to the most imposing structure in Heidelberg – The Heidelberg Castle.
The Heidelberg Castle is a sprawling sandstone complex on the slopes of the Königstuhl Hill and stands tall over the old town of Heidelberg. This castle was built over 400 years in a mix of architectural style from Gothic to Renaissance and though is in partial ruins today it’s not hard to imagine what an impressive building it must have been at some point. Today these beautiful ruins are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps.
The earliest part of the castle is said to have been built before 1214 but it was Prince Elector Ruprecht III who expanded the castle to become the royal residence for most of the Prince Electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Over the next 16th and 17th centuries, various Prince Electors continued to add buildings to the castle and the inner courtyard per their own ideas and in the architectural styles prevalent then. However this castle suffered several misfortunes and damages by lightning strikes, fires and wars. The Castle was repeatedly attacked during the Thirty Years War but managed to survive until the War of the Grand Alliance when it was destroyed by the French using mines. After the wars, repair work began but it was stuck by lightening twice and caught fire. Repair work was abandoned post the fire and the locals started raiding the ruins for stones to build their own homes. This pilferage was soon stopped but the castle has pretty much remained in ruins since then.
Today there are two ways to reach the castle – you can either walk up a steep trail and steps or take the funicular railway. I would have loved to walk up but I was really tired with all the walking I had already done in getting lost and finding my way again. So I decided to take the easy way out and go up in the funicular. This funicular dates back to 1890 and starts from the Kornmarkt station. The funicular goes through a tunnel and you don’t see anything while going up but the moment you step out of the station, you start seeing the beautiful views of Old Town Heidelberg.
I walked into the castle grounds and loved my first sight of the ruins and the views of the Old Town below. Somehow that day the place was quite empty too and I loved the silence and solitude of the place.
I then entered the inner courtyard to see the beautiful ruins inside. Some of the buildings here are in good condition and some in absolute ruins. But you can’t enter these buildings unless you are in a guided tour. I walked around photographing the buildings and some of the gorgeous statues. I loved seeing the attires of some of these statues. Some seemed royal but some seemed really funny with weird clothes and poses.
I then went to the most famous and unique part of this castle – the Heidelberg Castle Tun. In the earlier days the local wine growers paid their taxes in wine to the castle. With time the taxes increased and the wine that was delivered in lieu of tax was more than the castle’s consumption. Finally in 1591 a huge barrel was built to store all this excess wine. But in the 17th century they had to build another massive barrel to store all the wine and also a dance floor on top of the barrel. On entering this area, I first saw a small barrel and the 15th century barrel next to it. I mistook it for the Tun and was wondering how this can be so famous. I then walked around the corner to see the actual Tun and quickly realized how massive this barrel actually is. This barrel is 7 metres high and 8.5 metres wide and can hold ~221,000 litres of wine. I was left agape and wondering as to how many people would be required to finish all the wine in this barrel. Also I didn’t seem to understand the reason for a dancing floor on top of the barrel! Did people drink from the tap below and then climb up to dance?
I then visited the Deutsches Apotheken Museum, also in the inner courtyard. This museum is the world’s largest apothecary museum with over 20,000 pharmacy related objects. The collection dates back over 2,000 years and provides a quick history on the evolution of apothecary, the ingredients of medicines, the tools and materials of the trade, sample shops etc etc. It is an impressive museum but after seeing some of the medicines’ ingredients and apparatus, I thanked my stars that I was not born in that day and age. But the best part of this museum was its souvenir shop. They had some really interesting gift items – I loved their highlighter in the shape of pills and their candy in the pills packaging to cure all kinds of ailments such as homesickness, shopaholicism, workaholicism, etc etc.
But the best part about this castle for me were its beautiful huge lush green gardens. Belatedly I realized that I should have brought a picnic basket and after exploring the castle I could have sat in these gardens and enjoyed the sun and a book. I loved the views from the ramparts around here and took many photographs of the beautiful old town and its rooftops, the Neckar River valley, the old bridge, the Neckar River itself, Philosophenweg etc etc.
I then climbed a bit higher on the road to try and capture views of the castle from a slight evaluation.
Overall I loved my visit to the Heidelberg Castle and recommend it to everyone planning a visit to Heidelberg.
Tips for the Trip –
1. You can check the castle website for detailed information on timings, tickets etc
2. The interior of the palace may only be viewed as part of a guided tour. I didn’t know about it and missed but if you have the time do check it out.
3. There is a fee for the inner courtyard but entrance to the Castle grounds is free.
My Heidelberg trip was sponsored by Germany Tourism but views of the place are my own.