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Castles of France – Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg, Alsace


William-II-Hohenzollern
Willian II of Hohenzollern

Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg is the most famous castle in Alsace and is irrevocably connected with Willian II of Hohenzollern, better known as ‘The Kaiser’. Perched at a lofty 800m, Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg dominates the plain of Alsace.

It first comes to notice in 1147 and this phase is clearly discernible. This is not the place to delve into its long history, suffice to say it evolved into a strong artillery fortification with a massive twin-towered addition bristling with gun loops. Like myself, you might find this stage the more interesting.

Its nemesis came, as with so many others, during the Thirty Years War. Neglected and under-garrisoned, its captain, Philippe de Liechtenau, managed to resist the attacks of the Swedes for over a month until it was finally taken, looted and burned. It lay abandoned until 1899 when the town of Sélestat gave the remarkably preserved ruins to the German Emperor. William II entrusted its restoration to the architect Bodo Ebhardt from 1900 to 1908 with work ongoing as late as 1918 when, under the Treaty of Versailles, France became the owner of the assets of the German crown.

Koenigsbourg donjon view
Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg – looking towards the donjon

William chose his architect well. Ebhardt was a lover of the middle ages and his work compares well with that of Lorimer. The walls had survived to the corbel level and his work was based upon careful survey of the ruins and clinical research into the archives. However, his rebuilding of the donjon was called into question at the time. This had been cut down in the 1570s to adapt the castle for artillery defence so he had to determine its original appearance. It is generally accepted that he pitched it 40 feet too high! The interior may strike us as odd – think Marquess of Bute …

Koenigsbourg donjon guntower
LEFT: Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg's donjon and, right, a guntower

William II wished to make the castle not simply an imperial residence but a symbol of the restored German Empire and, in this, I believe that he largely succeeded.

Koenigsbourg twin towers
Twin gun towers - Douglas Simpson compared this façade to that of Scotland's Ravenscraig Castle in Fife

Nowhere will one be able to conjure up better the appearance of a medieval castle with its steeply pitched roofs, shuttered wall walks and multiple defences. If you visit, prepare to be in awe!


Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle.


Date posted: 21 Mar 2017Last updated: 21 Mar 2017