Castle of the Week 112 – Eltz Castle
Eltz Castle (Burg Eltz) is a fairytale castle of turrets, towers and timber-framed walls, built on a rocky crag above the Eltz River, a tributary of the Mosel River. It was built on an ancient trade route of the German Empire connecting the Mosel with the Eifel. The Eltz River flows on three sides of the castle, affording it some degree of natural protection. Despite its elevated location on a hill, 70m above the river, the castle is actually on lower ground than the hills around it, which became a problem at one point in its history. The castle is unique because it has been owned and lived in by the same family since its construction, only partook in one armed conflict, and managed to survive at a time when other castles in the Rhine were being destroyed.
Construction on Eltz began in 1157 by Rudolf zu Eltz. By 1268 three Eltz brothers had divided the clan into three parts, taking their names from their coats of arms: Eltz of the Golden Lion, Eltz of the Silver Lion, and Eltz of the Buffalo Horns. The castle and property were divided into three residences, and it became a castle of joint heirs, or “Ganerbenburg”. Additional houses and towers were built over the next 500 years. Its 100+ rooms easily accommodated 100 family members. An equal number of servants lived in houses (no longer in existence) built by the river.
The only armed conflict Eltz saw was during the Eltz Feud of 1331-1336. Elector Baldwin of Trier, uncle to Charles IV, sought to expand his territory to Koblenz. The free knights of Eltz Castle joined in an alliance with those of the nearby castles, Waldeck, Schöneck and Ehrenburg, in order to halt Baldwin’s progress. Baldwin attacked the west side of the castle, but was unsuccessful. He then besieged it for over two years, cutting off all supply lines. Victory came when he built a siege castle on the higher ground nearby, and was able to catapult stone balls into Eltz. Baldwin’s castle was named Trutz-Eltz, or Spite Eltz. (The stone balls are still in the inner courtyard today.) The siege lasted between two and four years, and the feud officially ended in 1336. Charles IV gave Eltz Castle to Baldwin, and the Eltz knights became vassals, holding the castle by feudal tenure.
During the 30 Years War a great many of the castles along the Rhine were destroyed by the French. Eltz’s position was of no strategic importance by then, and through careful diplomacy it escaped damage. Louis XIV sent his troops to attack it in 1689, but changed his mind at the last moment, so the castle survived intact.
Eltz was renovated from 1845 to 1888. Care was taken to preserve the historical authenticity of the castle and the flavor of the architecture, which is a mixture of Romanesque and early Baroque. Even today some of the floors and walls still have the strong medieval plaster consisting of ox blood, animal hair, cheese, clay, quick lime and camphor. Today Eltz is furnished as a museum, and the Armory and Knight’s Hall have armor dating back to the 16th century. The Eltz family, now the 33rd generation to live in the castle, uses one of the three residences, allowing the other two to be used for tours.
Photographs courtesy of Burgenwelt.
Write-up by Kester.