Walking the Old City of Heidelberg…Part 2.

We visited the ‘Old Bridge’, officially designated as the Karl Theodor Bridge on two occasions; in our first afternoon in Heidelberg and again the next day on our guided walking tour of the old town. This sandstone, arch bridge crosses the Neckar River and was constructed in 1788. Two thousand years ago, the Romans built a wooden pile bridge not far from here across the river and around 200CE; they replaced the wooden bridge with a stone bridge. It collapsed in the third century and the town was without a bridge for nearly a 1000 years. The next bridge was constructed sometime in the thirteenth century, one of eight bridges that have strived in vain to resist the forces of nature that flowed along the Neckar River. The first five bridges from the 13th century were destroyed by ice-floes. The force of nature that destroyed the bridge in existence in 1689 wasn’t ice floes, it was the French army who seemed determined to wipe Heidelberg off the map in all its forms. The current bridge sits on the foundations of the old bridges that endeavoured to connect both sides of the Neckar River. The statue in the image on the right is at the center of the bridge and is of Prince Elector Carl Theodore who organised the construction of the current bridge.

Since the 15th century there has been a statue of a monkey on the Old Bridge holding up a mirror. It disappeared along with the bridge in 1689. It took less than a hundred years for the monkey to be replaced by the current monkey. There is a short poem written in 1632 by Martin Zeller that seems to express his world weariness at the state of his fellow humans…

Why are you staring at me?
Haven’t you seen the old Monkey of Heidelberg?
Look to and fro,
There you will find many more of my kind.

On the left is a photo of the south bank tower gate that actually survived the 1689 military barbarism and was rewarded for its endurance in the face of impossible odds by being fitted with canopy roofs in 1714

After our guided walk of the ‘alstadt’ of Heidelberg, we then walked up to the funicular behind the Kornmarkt that took visitors up the hill to the ruined castle. While there is little information about the castle before the start of the 1600s, it is believed the earliest castle structure on this hillside began in1214. In 1294 it had expanded into two castles, but the one further up the hill was struck by lightning in 1537 and burnt down. In Appendix 1 can be seen a map of the castle and indications of when sections of the castle were constructed over the 15-17th centuries.

It appears that the rulers of Heidelberg in the 16th and 17th centuries could not afford to keep a castle the size of this one; conflicts generated by the Reformation and the events leading to the 30 Years war (1618-48) meant that the castle attracted negative attention in the form of invading troops intent on its destruction. Some of the walls and towers were repaired in the 17th century but the arrival of the French troops in 1691-2 spelt the end of this building’s functionality as a castle. The picturesque tower on the right-hand end of the castle in the first photo above, taken from down below the castle, was destroyed by the departing French troops. It seems that this castle has had a much better life as a city building when it posed no threat to Heidelberg’s enemies.

I have to admit that as a ruin goes, this one was a very enjoyable place to wander around. Many of the buildings have been partially restored and were exceptionally beautiful. The image on the left above showing the ‘half’ tower destroyed by French troops probably looks more interesting in its current state than it did with all its structure intact. We started our inspection on the outside of the castle before we entered into the central courtyard of the schloss. The buildings that surrounded this open space were all built in the early 1500’s.

To the left of this courtyard there is an entry into the cellars of this section of the castle where one of the castle’s favourite attractions is held, the Heidelberg Tun. This huge wine barrel was built from 130 oak trees and originally held 221,726 litres of wine. The tun has been referred to in many pieces of literature and is a famous sight for the many tourists who visit the castle. (Two such visitors can be seen below!) Its curiosity has been enhanced by the fact that there is a dance floor built on top of the huge wine barrel.

Running along one side of the central courtyard is the magnificent façade of a building called the Ottheinrichsbau. It looks like it is open for business but it consists of only the front wall of the building with only ghosts of rooms behind its windows.

After finishing our inspection of the castle buildings, we returned outside and walked along the back of the castle until we came to another picturesque broken tower; another victim of the departing French Army in 1693. The painting on the right is by Carl Blechen (1798-1840).

Among the many literary luminaries that have visited Heidelberg castle, the American author, Mark Twain is perhaps one of the castle’s most famous visitors. He was very impressed by the broken gunpowder storage turret.

One of these old towers is split down the middle, and one half has tumbled aside. It tumbled in such a way as to establish itself in a picturesque attitude. Then all it lacked was a fitting drapery, and Nature has furnished that; she has robed the rugged mass in flowers and verdure, and made it a charm to the eye. The standing half exposes its arched and cavernous rooms to you, like open, toothless mouths; there, too, the vines and flowers have done their work of grace…” (A Tramp Abroad).

From the broken gunpowder tower, we continued on into the beautiful gardens on the other side of the castle. I was intrigued by the Trojan horse statue, wondering if the artist was comparing the Heidelberg Castle to the City of Troy. Perhaps he is suggesting that this horse was used to infiltrate the French soldiers inside the castle walls in 1693?! I would have thought that the horse’s ‘brush-tail’ would have been a dead giveaway that something about this horse was suspicious!

APPENDIX 1: The Dates of sections of the Castle


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