The Wartburg Castle, the first to in Germany to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, overlooks the town of Eisenach and represents over 1,000 years of German history. The castle is lauded as one of the best representations of central Europe’s feudal period, although the medieval architecture has been supplemented by 19th century renovations, which are equally celebrated.
The main castle’s ceremonial hall is the structure’s best example of 19th century aesthetic.
The castle is home to an art collection, which began 200 years ago at the suggestion of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The art collection emphasizes European history and focuses on the historical periods most relevant to the Wartburg Castle. Today’s collection surpasses 9,000 objects. Highlights from the Middle Ages include a Romanesque aquamanile in the shape of a lion, as well as other pouring vessels and daily objects. Furnishings and textiles date as far back as a 15th century tapestry depicting the life of St. Elisabeth. Renaissance and Reformation period collections include several objects of furniture, and a unique cabinet carved with a Dürer style relief. Paintings include works by Lucas Cranach the Elder, including wedding portraits of Martin Luther and his bride Katharina von Bora. Historic artifacts from this time period include a Bible with annotations by Martin Luther himself.
History: Legend has it the castle dates back to the year 1067, although the oldest surviving part of the building is from the 12th century. These ruins can be seen within the Romanesque architecture of the great hall.
Throughout the entirety of its history, the castle has been a place of inspiration and celebration of the arts. The site has inspired poems by Wolfram von Eschenbach and music by Walther von der Vogelweide. The castle was the site of Tannhäuser’s Battle of the Bards, as immortalized by the Richard Wagner opera. Wartburg is famous as Martin Luther’s place of refuge while he was in exile, and where he translated the New Testament into German. In 1817, the first Wartburg Festival celebrated Luther’s achievements, the Battle of Leipzig and the Protestant Reformation.
The Hans Lucas von Cranach collection was bequeathed to the Wartburg collection thanks to the descendents of the artist, who became governors of the castle in 1894. The German Renaissance painter was a close friend of Martin Luther and although he began his career painting traditionally Catholic religious imagery, his work changed over time, as he sought new ways of representing Lutheran imagery. Along with his son, Lucas Cranach the Younger, he is considered one of the most influential German painters of all time.
The Wartburg Castle Foundation was established in 1922 to preserve the castle and its art collection. Members of the Foundation’s advisory board include Prince Michael of Saxe-Weimar and Eisenach, who currently heads the Grand Ducal House. Under the Ducal family’s rule the castle was renovated, and much of the art collection was acquired. The castle has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Guided tours include the Great Hall, Luther’s room and the Exhibition Library. The Great Hall may be visited with a tour guide only, while the exhibit areas of the museum and the castle grounds are open for self-guided tours.
Donkey rides have been taking place at the castle and museum for over 150 years, and the tradition continues today. Children under 130 pounds may ride the donkeys from the car park up the steep hill to the castle and museum.
The ceremonial Great Hall serves as the backdrop of today’s famous summer season Wartburg concerts. Live music performances take place weekly and span a wide range of genres, including operas by Tannhauser, Bach’s piano concertos, chamber orchestras and Polish string quartets, to jazz.
An annual Historical Christmas Market takes guests back to the days of traveling merchants and invites craftsmen, artisans, live musicians and food vendors to sell their wares and entertain visitors on the grounds of the castle each weekend throughout the holiday season.
Past and Future Exhibits: The museum at the castle hosts a range of temporary exhibitions. Luther and the German Language was on display through January 2017 and showcased over 300 artifacts from the Wartburg collection as well as private lenders. Items in the show included hand-written manuscripts, paintings and furnishing’s from Luther’s writing room that follow 500 years of German history, including the impact of the Reformation on today’s society.
Wartburg-Stiftung Auf der Wartburg 1 99817 Eisenach, Phone: +49-36-91-25-00
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