Hardenburg Castle Ruin A Sandstone Reef above the Isenach Valley

Hardenburg Castle
Hardenburg Castle | Photo: Netcondition - Klaus Hecke - Fotografie & Visuals

The Hardenburg thrones upon a mountain ridge high above the Isenach Valley near Bad Dürkheim like a mighty reef of sandstone. This imposing colossus of metre-thick walls, massive towers and an area covering 180 by 90 metres is one of the largest castles of the Palatinate. The Counts of Leiningen, who expanded their medieval castle into a magnificent Renaissance residence, once dwelt here. Today the Hardenburg is a ruin, labyrinthine, enchanted and as mighty as ever. In summer it serves as a wild and romantic tilt-yard for chivalric tournaments for the tourist market, and offers a magical, atmospheric setting as an open-air stage.

The Hardenburg castle ruin has belonged to the State of Rhineland-Palatinate since 1947, and is structurally managed by the state palace and castle administration. The old walls were to be “upgraded” for the tourist market, and were therefore substantially rebuilt in 2012. Following a competition entry by Riemann Architekten of Lübeck, a new entrance with a mini-museum and multi-media show arose at a cost of 6.5 million Euros. Those who manage the steep climb to the castle are now welcomed by a new visitors’ centre. With the ingenious manoeuvre of an implant in the historic rudiment of the semicircular entrance area, the tower, originally two storeys high, was rebuilt to its old height and its scars integrated into the exterior surface. The supplementation of the exterior wall was designed as a hollow construction skilfully concealing the sanitary and technical area.

Contrast between old and new

Hardenburg Castle, permanent exhibition Hardenburg Castle, permanent exhibition | Photo: netcondition - klaus hecke - fotografie & visuals The visitors’ centre, immersed in a mystical twilight by a strip of light in the roof (which can also be walked on), is on the ground floor of the tower. A round pane of glass set flush with the floor opens the view to the underworld of the tower, vividly demonstrating the artistry of medieval masonry. Exhibits in glass showcases offer information on medieval healing arts and chivalric feasts; one may marvel at historic jewels and through a multi-media guided tour sees that, once upon a time, in terms of size and magnificence, Hardenburg Castle was Heidelberg Castle’s counterpart on the left side of the Rhine.
View from Hardenburg Castle View from Hardenburg Castle | Photo: Riemann Architekten

The art of fortification

We now make the acquaintance of the warlike Leiningers, who under Count Friedrich I illegally erected their castle on the grounds of Limburg Abbey and, in the course of time, expanded their fortress, which they continually outfitted with the latest in fortification technology, into a stronghold. Thanks to the strategically favourable location, they controlled the Isenach Valley, one of Europe’s most important travel and trade routes, from Lorraine to the Rhine Valley. The Leiningers grew wealthy, withstood the Thirty Years’ War, created prestigious gardens and only capitulated under the gunfire of French Revolutionary troops around 1794.

A romantic castle ruin

Aerial View of Hardenburg Castle Aerial View of Hardenburg Castle | Photo: Tourist Information Bad Dürkheim, Monika Franck The Hardenburg fell into ruin; only in the 19th century did painters and literary figures such as “Leatherstocking Tales” author James Fenimore Cooper discover its qualities of romantic feeling and mood. In the new visitors’ centre, a virtual reconstruction shows the castle in its ideal state, with magnificent stone structures, elaborate half-timbered construction and labyrinthine networks of pathways and passages, which connected individual parts of the castle with each other, in part invisibly. A feast for the eyes for today’s visitors, but ultimately no more than fairy-tale-castle romanticism and a heavy dose of speculation, for the simple reason that no one knows how the castle really looked, once upon a time. Too much has been built, and too much destroyed.

Virtual reconstruction of entrance building Virtual reconstruction of entrance building | Photo: Archimedix, Möckel & Munzel GbR

Keep on building, naturally

And what are the new additions? In fact, one does not see them as such - and a good thing too. Like the Leiningers of old, Riemann Architekten have just continued building a little, they have intelligently hollowed out the core of the semicircular entrance area, given it a new form and thereby defined the castle’s contours on the southern side in a concise and eye-catching way. All this is quite un-dramatic, in fact utterly natural, as the new red sandstone from a quarry near Kaiserslautern fits in with the humpy old masonry as though by itself. The contrast between old and new – between the rustically weathered sandstone and the smooth, homogeneous ashlars – conjures up an exciting tableau of colours out of the huge surface of the exposed masonry.