The Wartburg is a castle situated on a 1230-foot (410 m) precipice to the southwest of, and overlooking the town of Eisenach, in the state of Thuringia, Germany. In 1999 UNESCO added Wartburg Castle to the World Heritage List as an "Outstanding Monument of the Feudal Period in Central Europe", citing its "Cultural Values of Universal Significance".


The castle was founded in 1068 by the count of Schauenburg, Ludwig der Springer. Together with its larger sister castle Neuenberg in the town of Freyburg, the castle secures the extreme borders of his traditional territories. According to tradition, the castle (Burg) got its name when its founder first laid eyes on the hill upon which the castle now sits; enchanted by the site, he is supposed to have exclaimed, "Warte, Berg -- du sollst mir eine Burg werden!" ("Wait, mountain -- you shall become a castle for me!"). It is a German play on words for mountain (Berg) and fortress (Burg). In addition, Ludwig der Springer is said to have had clay from his lands transported to the top of the hill, which was not quite within his lands, so he might swear that the castle was built on his ground. In fact, the name probably comes from Warte, a kind of watch tower as stated in the above source.

The Wartburg remained the seat of the Thuringian landgraves until 1440, and as a place of courtly culture it became around 1207 the venue of the Sängerkrieg, the Minstrels' Contest in which such Minnesänger as Walther von der Vogelweide,Wolfram von Eschenbach, Albrecht von Halberstadt (the translator of Ovid) and many others took part. The contest was later to be treated with poetic licence in Richard Wagner's opera Tannhäuser.

At the age of four, St. Elisabeth of Hungary was sent by her mother to the Wartburg to be raised to become consort of Ludwig IV of Thuringia. From 1211 to 1228, she lived there and was renowned for her charitable work. Three years after moving to Marburg upon the death of her husband, she died at the age of 24 and was canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

From May 1521 until March 1522, Martin Luther stayed at the castle, after he had been taken there for his safety at the request of Frederick the Wise following his excommunication by Pope Leo X and his refusal to recant at the Diet of Worms. It was during this period that Luther, under the name of Junker Jörg (the Knight George), translated the New Testament into German, the first translation into a modern language in over a millennium.

On 18 October 1817, the first Wartburg festival took place. About 450 students, members of the newly founded German Burschenschaften ("fraternities"), came together at the castle to celebrate the German victory over Napoleon two years before, condemn conservatism and call for German unity. Speakers at the event included Heinrich Hermann Riemann, a veteran of the Lützow Free Corps, the philosophy student Ludwig Rödiger, and Hans Ferdinand Massmann.

With the permission of the absent chaplain Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, the Code Napoléon and other books were burned 'in effigy': instead of the costly volumes, scraps of parchment with the titles of conservative books (including August von Kotzebue's History of the German Empires) were placed on the bonfire. Karl Ludwig Sand, who would assassinate Kotzebue two years later, was among the participants.

This event and the similar gathering at Wartburg during the Revolutions of 1848 are considered seminal moments in the movement for German unification.

The buildings

The Castle has been renovated throughout its existence with many earlier parts being overbuilt by later constructions and additions. From 1952 to 1966, for example, the East German Government restored it to what it looked like in the 16th century, which included the Luther Room (right) with its original floor and paneled walls.

The Romanesque Palace (the Palas, Landgrafenhaus, or Great Hall) is the oldest and architecturally most impressive of the buildings. Besides the chapel, it contains the Sängersaal (Hall of the Minstrels), which is in fact Wagner's setting for Act II of Tannhäuser and the Festsaal (the Feast or Festival Hall), both of which contain fine frescoes by Moritz von Schwind with the theme of the minstrels' contest in the Sängersaal and frescoes of the triumphs of Christianity in the Festsaal. Part of the Palace consists of the original castle as it was between 1157 and 1170, as an image of power and residence of the Thuringian landgraves.

The castle gate behind the drawbridge is the only access to the Castle, and it has remained exactly as it was throughout the centuries.

The Knights' House on the western side of the drawbridge is half-timbered, and dates back to the 15th century. It probably served as a hall of residence for the servants and guards.

There are two towers, the South Tower (the only tower preserved of the medieval castle, having been erected in 1318 and which has the dungeon; and the bergfried (finished in 1859, partially incorporating the foundations of its medieval predecessor, and which has the landmark four-meter Latin cross at its top.

Other features include the Vogtei (the Bailiff's Lodge) in which the Luther Room is situated and to which a 15th century oriel was attached in 1872; two covered walks, the Elisabeth and the Margaret Hallways, which form part of the 15th-century defence ring and whose projecting beams are supported by wooden consoles; and the New Bower (the Kemenate or Women's Chamber) which contains the Wartburg collection.

The Rüstkammer (the armoury) of the Wartburg, used to contain a magnificent collection of about 800 pieces, from the splendid armour of King Henry II of France, to the items of Frederick the Wise, Pope Julius II and Bernhard von Weimar. All these objects were taken by the Soviet Occupation Army in 1946 and have disappeared in the Soviet Union. Two helmets, two swords, a prince's and a boy's armour, however, were found in a temporary store at the time and a few pieces were given back by the USSR in the 1960s. The new Russian Government has been petitioned to help locate the missing treasures.


For centuries, the Wartburg has been a place of pilgrimage for many people from within and outside Germany, for its significance in German history and in the development of Christianity. Several places (especially US towns founded by Lutherans) and a local brand of automobile have been named after the Wartburg. Wartburg College in Iowa, USA is named in commemoration of Martin Luther's receiving refuge at the castle and because of the college's forest location and its Bavarian heritage.

Also noteworthy is The Wartburg Adult Care Community in Mount Vernon, New York that serves the elderly. Its founder, William Passavant, commented that its original site was akin to the site of The Wartburg where Luther translated the New Testament.


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