Lichtenstein Castle, also known as Schloss Lichtenstein, is a beautiful Gothic Revival castle situated in the Swabian Jura of southern Germany. Often referred to as the fairy-tale castle of Württemberg, it is quite a lovely little gem that sits away from other castles. While Lichtenstein Castle isn’t nearly as famous as the likes of Neuschwanstein Castle, it does have a mythical type look to it that is hard to ignore.
Lichtenstein Castle may look fairly obscure and different to other castles which may make it seem uninteresting, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is said that in Summer it looks like it could be something out of a Disney movie, but in Winter, it could be a new set for a horror movie. It seems as if it is the type of castle you would peer up at only to see a strange figure staring right back down from the windows.
The history of Lichtenstein Castle
The pose that Lichtenstein Castle strikes amongst the castle cliff is exceptionally dramatic and is the main drawing point for a large chunk of the foot traffic. If you have ever heard of Neuschwanstein Castle, you will be excited to find that Lichtenstein Castle is often referred to as the ‘Little Neuschwanstein’ because of its similar fairy-tale look. Considering the large and grand size of other castles in Germany, Lichtenstein is definitely one the smallest you will see.
If you have a fear of heights, avoiding Lichtenstein Castle is likely in your best interest because one of the walls sits dangerously close to a cliff edge and will put significant fear into the mind of anyone.
The early history of Lichtenstein Castle
Records show that the castle dates way back to around 1100, though this isn’t set in stone. It sits 800 metres above the River Echaz on the very edge of the Swabian Alps in an eloquent manner and provides a view that anyone would be silly to miss. It is said that a castle that sat atop the River Echaz belonging to the family of ministerials of the counts of Achalm and later counts of Württemberg.
The castle was under frequent attack due to the fact that the castle and its denizens, the lords of Lichtenstein, were not particularly friendly with the Free Imperial City of Reutlingen. The castle was destroyed not only once, but twice. One time being within the timeline of the Imperial Civil War of 1311. It was then rebuilt, however, a second time around, somewhere between 1377 and 1381 the castle was once again destroyed by the citizens of Reutlingen.
The second castle
When the original Lichtenstein Castle was destroyed and reduced to ruins, plans to put another castle in its place were made almost immediately. However, instead of building directly over the old ruins, they instead opted to build the new castle around 500 metres (1600 foot) from the ruin of the original site of Lichtenstein Castle.
The new castle’s construction began in 1390 and once completed, it was one of the finest castles of the late middle ages. Unfortunately, even despite features such as early casemates that made it nearly unassailable, in 1567, it fell into disrepair as it was no longer being used as the ducal seat. However, during the Great Turkish War, it was taken over by the Tyrolean line of the Habsburgs after the unfortunate death of the last member of the Lichtenstein family.
The coat of arms is still settled within the walls of the castle and is a pair of angel wings on a blue background. The castle was essentially left in disrepair after this and was reduced to ruin. However, a saving grace was found when King Frederick I of Württemberg came into possession of the castle in 1802 and dismantled the foundations and instead turned it into a hunting lodge.
The last Lichtenstein Castle
The famous poet and author of the novel, Wilhelm Hauff, wrote about the medieval life in the castle in such a vivid and beautiful way that the local ruler, Count Wilhelm von Urach, cousin of King Frederick became particularly inspired. The novel left such an impact on him that he then purchased the land and strived to create the fictional castle in a real-life depiction and the ruins from this castle from the 1100s still exist just outside the current castle’s wall.
This all began because of 19th century Romanticism when previous medieval virtues, such as chivalry were once again being marvelled at in society. When these virtues came back, many other medieval things did as well, such as the architecture where Lichtenstein Castle got its current gothic look from. This led to a rather dramatic and quick rise of Gothic Revival architecture.
Lichtenstein Castle was designed by Carl Alexander Heideloff after Count Wilhelm von Urach hired him. Count Wilhelm von Urach had turned down countless designs proposed by Württemberg court painter Franz Seraph Stirnbrand and Christian Wilhelm von Faber du Faur. Apparently, the designs they had proposed differed greatly from the modern-day Lichtenstein Castle and it is amazing to think what would have happened to this castle had their designs been accepted.
Completing Lichtenstein Castle
The castle stood a large three stories tall, with a beautiful courtyard, and desirable curtain walls to top it all off. The castle, almost at completion, was then topped off with stunning decorative items by Nuremberg painter and architect Georg Eberlein. The most eye-catching and important works within the castle are the “Death of the Virgin Mary” by Michael Wolgemut and two altar panels by an unknown Austrian artist called the “Master of Lichtenstein.
The castle was then finally complete in 1842 and King Frederick was present for the ceremony. Then, in 1869, it became the official residence for the duke of Urach. Count Wilhelm became the first duke of Urach after the Revolution of 1848. He put a plethora of his time into rebuilding and reinforcing the castle’s defences adding re-outwork caponiers in the style of the imperial Fortress of Ulm and trenches along the outskirts to deter attacks.
He also, later on, had cannons attached to the wall. The two buildings nearest to the gate also had plenty of upkeep and expansions done during 1898 and 1901 which were the buildings of the Ducal Palace and the old groundskeeper’s house. A motion was set forth to build a cableway in 1911 that would go to the castle; however, this was rejected because it was thought that it would ruin the castle’s beauty.
With the castle now being completed and equipped with many new avenues for protection, it had become a strong and highly desirable fortress. Though the eerily beautiful castle could never have prepared for the destruction of World War II, it got away fairly scot-free. While it was minorly damaged, it didn’t take much to fix it and soon after the war had gone through, reconstruction began to repair it to its former glory.
After plenty of work, the castle looked absolutely beautiful thanks to the local non-profit organizations like the Wüstenrot Foundation and Community Fund for the Preservation of Lichtenstein Castle who had stepped up to help once again. During the years of 1980 to 2002, many areas of the castle had repairs done to keep it looking wonderful and in tip-top shape.
Modern Day Lichtenstein Castle
These days, the castle is a stunning and slightly daunting tourist attraction that is still owned by the dukes of Urach and is open to accept visitors in the form of guided tours. While it is one of the most charming castles in Germany, it certainly doesn’t have the appeal that many other far grander castles do. However, it is becoming increasingly popular and rightfully so.
The view from the castle is absolutely awe-inspiring and breathtaking which only adds to the charm the actual castle holds. People often say that visiting the castle in Autumn is like stepping straight out of the real world and into a fairy-tale land due to how magical it looks, and that really isn’t far from the truth. It is green, lush, and filled with many almost mythical colours which only add to the appeal.
A visit to this castle should be the first thing on your bucket list if you’re looking for a fairy-tale like experience and one of the most amazing views in Germany.
Things you need to know about Lichtenstein Castle
Here are some things you need to know when you are visiting Lichtenstein Castle.
You cannot roam around the castle on your own accord, you must grab a ticket for the tour and enjoy being walked around the castle by an experienced and knowledgeable tour guide. It costs 8 euros per person and is an experience that will stay with you forever. While the guide will not speak English during the tour, there are English brochures which will help clarify everything for you.
The courtyard is readily able to be explored for the price of 2 euros and you can do this as you please without a tour guide. During this, you will be able to capture and bask in magnificent views of the mountains while also achieving a good look at the gun placements on the wall.
Fun for the whole family
Lichtenstein Castle, aside from its cliffside setting, is actually a wonderful place for you to go with your children. It has easily accessible places for strollers, however, you won’t be able to take your stroller on the guided tour. Other than that, it is an absolutely amazing experience for kids and parents alike which will stick in their mind forever.
Fun facts about Lichtenstein Castle
- During World War II, an American tank passing by the castle through the valley below fired a shell that hit the main tower directly. Luckily, the castle managed to escape due to the fact that the shell failed to explode, saving the castle from even more hardship. Where the shell struck, a hole still remains in the wall.
- Lichtenstein Castle has not just one nickname, but actually two! One being ‘Neuschwanstein’s Little Brother’ and the other being ‘the Fairytale Castle of Baden-Württemberg’ which are both references to the beautiful Neuschwanstein Castle.
- It attracts very few tourists compared to other castles. Local people love it so much and are extremely proud of it, however, it is rarely on the radar of other international tourists. Instead, most of the people that go through the castle are Germans!
You can read more about German castles here.