Burg Eltz, near Koblenz at the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine Rivers, is one of the most romantic medieval castles in Germany and all of Europe.
Burg Eltz is an authentic medieval castle romantically located in an isolated valley in the Rhinelands off the Mosel River near Koblenz in Germany. In contrast to other castles in the Rhine area, Burg Eltz has never been taken in war and thus maintains its historical appearance without having had to resort to nineteenth-century historicist architecture.
A Brief History of Burg Eltz near Koblenz
The origins of Burg Eltz date from the mid-twelfth century and minor parts actually survived from this period. The castle was built on an elliptical rock that is surrounded by the Elzbach (Elz Stream), a minor tributary of the Moselle River. The castle was originally built to protect a trade route from rich agricultural fields to the markets – in contrast to the Rhine castles, enforcing tolls on river boats was not the main intention. (The Elz is appropriately referred to as a stream rather than a river.)
In 1268, the Eltz family split into three branches: the Kempenich, Rübenach, and Rodendorf lines. Due to the cost of building fortified castles, the three branches shared the fortified base of Burg Eltz and built three separate castle wings on top. For all practical purposes, the families lived here as if in a modern-day condominium complex with joint decisions needed for making any major alterations to the property.
Only in 1815 did the whole castle again come to the possession of only one branch of the family when the Eltz-Kempenich line bought out the Eltz-Rübenach properties. (The Eltz-Rodendorf line died out in 1786.)
The Survival of Medieval Burg Eltz
Most castles in the Moselle and Rhine River valleys where destroyed through the centuries. However, Burg Eltz and the Marksburg on the Rhine survived all attacks through a combination of its fortifications and the clever diplomacy of its owners.
Skillful diplomacy more than the castle’s isolation saved Burg Eltz from being destroyed in wars. The only time Burg Eltz was attacked, was between 1331 and 1336 when Baldwin, archbishop of Trier, tried to take the castle by force. Baldwin actually started to build a castle on the hill opposite Burg Eltz with the sole purpose of being able to attack Burg Eltz from above – the ruins of Burg Trutzeltz can still be seen.
Although isolated, the owners of Burg Eltz managed to involve themselves in the politics of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The family produced prince electors in the form of archbishops of Trier and of Mainz – traditionally the most senior position in the German church as well as ex-officio chancellor of the empire.
Even more useful was the services of Hans Anton zu Eltz-Üttingen in the French army during the War of Palatinate Succession (1688-9). Through his position, he could save Burg Eltz from being destroyed by the French armies like most other castles were in the region.
Restoration of Burg Eltz in Germany
Burg Eltz was sympathetically restored during the nineteenth century to resemble its seventeenth-century appearance. In contrast to many castles in the region that were rebuilt during the nineteenth century in a false romantic notion of what a medieval castle should have looked like, Burg Eltz can be considered to be mostly authentic.
The present owner – Dr. Karl Graf von und zu Eltz, known as Faust von Stromberg – is the 33rd generation of the Eltz family, which has owned the castle for around 800 years. Parts of Burg Eltz not opened to the public are still being used by the family although their main residence is in Eltville on the Rhine.
Burg Eltz is open to the public daily during the summer season. Several transportation options are available including by boat, train, and hiking. If driving, Burg Eltz is an easy day trip from larger German cities such as Frankfurt, Trier, and Cologne.