Exploring Wurzburg 1

We had just spent two days in Heidelberg which according to the structure of our car trip in Germany, was a mistake as it wasn’t a city/town on the Romantic Road. We visited Heidelberg because one of our group had heard very positive notices about it and our review of our stay was similarly positive. Our general plan for the rest of our German trip was to use the Romantic Road to guide our way back to Munich where we flying home from. This was despite the fact that one commentary on this ‘road’ claimed that it was a “theme route devised by promotion-minded travel agents in the 1950s.” We ignored this less than gracious description as we had also heard good reviews so we decided to start our romantic journey with a one night stopover in Wurzburg in the Franconia region of the state of Bavaria. Our hotel for the night, Dorint Hotel, was not far out from the centre of town and it wasn’t long before were ready to head into the centre of the old city. The route we took is indicated by the dotted arrows on the map below.

Our destination was the City’s market-place as these areas were always a good source of lunch as well as being close to the major sights of a city. As we entered the Market Place, we encountered one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, the Frankenhaus. It was originally used from 1338 as the house of the parish priest and after various changes of hands, is today’s tourist bureau’s facility. As is the usual German story of destruction from 1945, this building was almost complete destroyed in WWII but was restored by 1952

Immediately next door from the tourist bureau was the striking Marienkapelle, a Roman Catholic Church located on one side of the Market Square. It is called a chapel as it has no parish attached to it. For a church so beautiful, inside and out, it has a long and less than attractive history that makes a visit here so interesting. Its story starts with the fact that it was built over a synagogue that was destroyed when local Jews (similarly across Europe) were blamed for the plague deaths at the time. Due to ritual practices, Jewish people were often protected by the ritual hand cleaning from catching the plague. This saved them from the plague but not their neighbours. The Marienkappelle was finished in the late 14th century.

Like the Frankenhaus next door, World War II bombing heavily damaged this church, starting a fire that destroyed the interior. It was rebuilt and was re-consecrated in 1962.

After we had finished our lunch in the Market Place, we headed down past the Wurzburg Rathaus (Town Hall). Like most of the centre of this city, the buildings in this area were destroyed by aerial bombing during WWII. Towards the end of day in Wurzburg after dinner, we were able to come back to this building and visit a still open exhibition sited on the ground floor of one of the buildings attached to the Rathaus. It was a very moving exhibition about the wartime destruction of Wurzburg and it seems to me that modern Germans are very keen to promote the importance of the adage, “Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.”

In the image of the town hall to the left can be seen a large, 18th century fountain in the centre of the pedestrian way in front of the building. It is called the Vierröhrenbrunnen or the Four Tube Fountain. It is a complex piece with four dolphins and statues of the ‘four virtues’ (Justice, Fortitude, Temperance and prudence). This is a very busy area and when we returned from across the river, there was a concert occurring here with a very enthusiastic audience.

This whole public area was directly in front of the Alte Mainbrucke or Old Bridge, which crosses the Main River here. I was immediately reminded of our time spent in Heidelburg where the old bridge there was the centre of so much activity of both locals and visitors. Like Heidelburg, this city lost bridges; the current one was built on the site of the previous stone bridge from 1120 CE. It took a long time to be built between the years 1472-1543. The local tourist bureau claimed in its documentation that “it has become one of the city’s prime gathering spots for socializing and meeting old and new friends. Especially on warm summer nights visitors mingle with locals and enjoy the lively and convivial atmosphere whilst sipping a glass of Franconian wine.” We were crossing this bridge on a warm Autumn night and found this claim to be very true…in fact it was difficult to get through the crowd for all their clinking wine glasses. 

I took the photo below from up the mountainside (Leistenberg) over the river and it shows the Alte Mainbrucke on the Main River and the city of many church spires stretching out to the horizon.

Below is the photo I took when we returned to the bridge after we had visited the Marienberg Fortress The convivial crowd can be seen at the start of the evening getting ready to pass the time with friends with views up and down the river.

One of the features of this bridge are the Twelve statues of saints and bishops that line its parapets and provide a little more space for the drinking locals to gather mid-bridge. They were installed in the 18th century. The image below shows two of the saints, some of the drinkers and the grand view of the Marienberg fortress on the hill on the other side of the bridge. Our arrival at this point of the bridge provoked a discussion as to whether we were ready for the long walk up the hill to the castle. Unlike the considerate citizens of Heidelburg, the locals here have not installed a funicular to take us up to their castle above the river. We decided we had the time and the energy for the climb.

Much of Wurzburg is built on the right side of the River Maine The left side was originally the home to fishermen who earned their living from the river. However this left side of the river is dominated by the town fortress as well as lots of vineyards. There is also a Pilgrim Church up the mountain further along the river from the centre of town (See Appendix 1).

I will have to admit that the walk up the hill was very picturesque but quite arduous. The path took us through the housing at the bottom of the hill and then up and into the parkland around the castle. The image below of the outline of the castle is from a poster along the way, that illustrated various walks in and around the fortress. We approached the side gate in the wall of Marienberg and we were then able to turn left along the castle walls to the front parapets. This is where some great photographs can be taken of the river and the city below.

The map above illustrates that we could have originally walked straight along the river, turned right at St Buchard Church and then climbed the hill and entered the complex through a gate on the left-hand edge of the walls. However we were able to walk along inside the front wall, enjoy the views and turn right up beside the castle and walk to the far end of the walls to where the public entrance was.

This hill that overlooks Wurzburg has been an obvious settlement place for humanity since the Bronze Age, perhaps as far back as two millennia BCE. There was a fortress of some sort here well before the Romans came and the original fortress was replaced by a Roman Fort. History doesn’t mention further fortresses on Leistenberg Hill above Wurzburg until the 13th century. From then on the fortress was modified over the centuries to deal with conflicts between the local Bishop and the citizens. From the middle of the 13th century, the Bishops moved into the Marienbeg Fortress and maintained a small contingent of soldiers to ensure his dominance over the citizens below. The successors of the original Bishop stayed in the fortress until the 18th century. The image below of Wurzburg and the fortress comes from 1642.

Considerable fighting that centred around the Marienberg developed between the 16-18th centuries. In the early 16th century there was a peasant rebellion that saw the fortress besieged by 15,000 locals attacking the castle. It didn’t end well for them. In the 17th century Wurzburg was besieged by Swedish forces who were successful in overtaking the castle. In the 18th century much of the castle was rebuilt in the baroque style and was ready to receive the French army at the start of the 19th century. Like Wurzburg down below, the Marienburg Fortress suffered significant damage during the bombing raids of 1945.

We spent an hour or so exploring the Marienbeg Fortress and its many different buildings from the centuries of its cyclical construction and rebuilding. Some of our group staggered their way to the top of the 13th century Bergfried Keep (Tower) that stood in the inner courtyard. We also visited the 17th century St Mary’s Church which was built on church foundations from the 8th century.

The image on the right above shows the Prince’s Garden that was built over a battery at the front of the east side of the fortress overlooking the river. It was no doubt originally a threat to the town below if the citizens or other enemies became restless. However in more peaceful times, this garden replaced the cannons and is a beautiful place to wander. It is divided into 8 sections with four allegorical sculptures, perhaps symbols of the four seasons. Even these harmless symbols of peaceful times were not immune to bombardment and two of the originals were destroyed in WWII and have been replaced with copies.

From the Prince’s Garden we proceeded back to a door in the castle wall and headed back down to the river. The party on the old bridge had certainly got started by the time we returned.

APPENDIX 1: KAPPELE (Pilgrim Church of the Visitation of Mary)

Our one day and night in Wurzburg was insufficient time to get around all the interesting sights of the city. One of these sites was the Kappele (Little Chapel) that can be seen in the distance from the Marienberg Fortress, way down the right bank of Wurzburg, poking its towers above the forest on the hillside. Its origins go back to a fisherman who installed a Pieta (Statue of Mary and the crucified Christ) in the forest here. There were reported miracle cures and pilgrims began visiting the site. The first chapel was built in the mid-17th century and the church itself was built in the mid-18th century. Around the church there are ‘Stations of the Cross’. It still attracts pilgrims and visitors, particularly around Pentecost (28th May).

Exploring Wurzburg 2

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