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Hochburg Castle

Hochburg Castle, located in the southwest of Germany, is to be found between the city of Emmendingen and the village of Sexau in the region of Baden, at the foothills of the Black Forest. This awe-inspiring fortress on the edge of the Upper Rhine Valley is surrounded by vineyards, and enjoys an ideal strategic position as it was built high up on an exposed hilltop. It is the second largest castle in the Baden region, offering an important insight into the history of castle and fortress design, as it showcases half a millennium of military architectural evolution.

Castle History

Probably first built by Dietrich von Emmendingen, later Von Hachberg, belonging to the House of the Counts of Nimburg, the Castle was most likely used as a base to harvest lumber from the surrounding forests during the 11th century. We find its first mention in a 12th century document pertaining to the Bishop Uldarich of Konstanz-Allodium ad Hahberg. The castle came into the possession of the Margraves of Baden, who dominated the south-west corner of Germany at the time. When Margrave Hermann IV died in Antioch in 1190, during the Third Crusade, the Margraviate was split amongst his two sons. While Hermann V continued the main line of succession based at the family home of Hohenbaden Castle, Heinrich based himself at Hochburg and took his name from the castle, eventually becoming Heinrich I von Baden-Hachberg, first Margrave of Hachberg, in the early 13th century.

By 1415 Otto II von Baden-Hachberg was totally impoverished and had to sell his title and estates to Bernard I, Margrave of Baden, thus reuniting the two lines under the Margrave of Baden. The Baden-Hachberg line subsequently died out with the death of Margrave Otto in the Battle of Sempach against the Confederates, in 1386, since he didn’t have any children. In 1424, the castle survived the war of the Oberrheinischer Städtebund, that is, the Upper Rhine city union under the leadership of Basel and Strasbourg, which opposed Bernhard I. The castle held its own, even though Emmendingen itself was destroyed.

A century later, the castle again survived the Great Peasant’s Revolt, a social rebellion which took place between 1524 and 1526, and which coincided with the early years of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation. In 1533, the Margraviate of Baden was split once again. Hochburg became part of the Margraviate of Baden-Durlach and in 1556, the second Margrave of Baden-Durlach, Karl II, established the Protestant faith in his territory. It was during Karl II’s rule that Hochburg Castle was significantly enhanced and altered. Karl II strengthened the castle’s defences in 1553, and from a medieval castle, turned it into a more modern renaissance styled fortification. His younger son, Margrave Georg Friedrich, also continued his work. Three of the seven new bastions constructed during this period around the castle’s perimeter were named after sister castles belonging to the Baden-Durlach family – Rőtteln Castle, Sausenberg Castle, and Badenweiler Castle.

During the Thirty Years War in 1634, Protestant Baden-Durlach was attacked by Catholic forces, and Hochburg Castle went through a two-year siege, which ended in 1636 with its capture and destruction, after which the castle was slighted for the first time after surrendering to its attackers.

Between 1660 and 1678, Margrave Friedrich VI induced the reconstruction and modernisation of the castle, however no sooner had it been re-built when it fell victim to the fallout from the Franco-Dutch war of 1672 – 1678. During this war, Baden-Durlach was aligned with the Holy Roman Empire against King Louis XIV of France, and after the Treaty of Peace of Nijmegen, a victorious France was permitted to occupy the town of Freiburg. Not wanting to provoke its powerful and antagonistic neighbours, Hochburg’s fortifications were voluntarily dismantled in 1681, in order not to pose a threat to the French’s new territorial claims. In 1684 a fire was started through negligence, and this destroyed the entire central upper castle. The final blow came in 1688 at the start of the Nine Years’ War, when French forces occupied and then destroyed what was left of the castle, turning it into a ruin.

In 1698 the idea of reconstructing the castle was discarded due to the high cost and proven inefficiency of the fortress without proper support from field armies. Taking into account the number of tourists interested in visiting the ruin, the first structural safety and conservation measures were finally taken at the end of the 19th century, even though the two subsequent world wars contributed to the relevant interruptions. Today the ruined castle is owned and cared for by the State of Baden-Württemberg, and actively administrated by the Association for the Preservation of Hochburg Ruins.

Castle today

Enjoying a strategic position on high ground, Hochburg is not just a picturesque castle as it also offers unparalleled insights into the history of castle and fortress construction, from the 12th to the 17th century.

The construction of the castle was essentially onion-like from the inside to the outside. In the 12th and early 13th century, there was an elliptical, about 85 metre-long complex with a round tower and a square keep. In the palace area, the oriel of a gothic castle chapel found could also belong to this period. The chapel is flanked by the walkway and has a lovely painted ceiling, wall frescoes, and a typical Carinthian auricular altar constructed in 1673. At the left of the altar is a good, elongated image on wood depicting George Khevenhuller with his two wives, and their seven children.

In the 14th century, the extension of the plant was made by another ring wall in the north and west. In the east, the so-called ‘Autumn House’ was added. Further construction measures are documented to have taken place under Margrave Ernst after 1515, when the bakery and fountain in the north-side were added, as well as under Margrave Karl II between 1552 and 1577. Margrave Karl II expanded Hochberg Castle into a strong country fortress, adding projecting roundels, pentagonal towers, and a wide moat. After the two-year siege of 1636, Friedrich VI restored the damaged castle in 1660, and an outer fortress ring was created, including upstream earthworks emerging in the meadows. Unfortunately, the fortress was still blown up by the French in 1689. Remedial measures took place in the 1870s and again in 1964.

The west-side is the central front of the castle. The middle part, with a flight of seven windows, is the oldest building.

The premises include a small Museum found in the former wine and storage cellar of the upper castle, exhibiting the Napoleon left-over part of the armoury, consisting of a large number of armaments, along with coats of mail, shields, balaclavas, saddles, powder horns, spears, lances, halberds, guns, etc. A large number of family portraits and historical paintings also adorn the walls and in display cases there are pieces of special historical value associated with the castle of the family.

The remnants of the castle walls today are spread across three levels, from the lowest fortification wall all the way up to the imposing upper caste, the site’s crowning jewel.

The ruined castle itself is to be found in the open, there is no entry fee and one can park in the farm opposite the site. The ruin is perched on the top of a hill and one has to walk up a short uphill path through an orchard to get to it. There are often drink and food stands, picnic tables and even small exhibitions near the castle. Every September, one can see the Hochburg Festival which hosts stalls selling traditional crafts, as well as there being live music, a medieval tent camp and other entertainment. The car park itself is right next to an organic farm where one can sample fresh milk, cheese, bacon and other tasty treats.

The Castle is part of the program for the state preservation of castles and gardens in Baden-Württemberg.

Opening Hours of Hochburg Castle:

Free access to grounds during daylight hours. Inner castle closed from 9pm to 7pm.
Closed from 1 November to 31 March.