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Eltz Castle in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.

Eltz Castle: A Majestic Medieval Pile Owned by the Same Family for 800 Years

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Eltz Castle is a majestic castle situated on the top of a rock within a small wooded valley in Germany. Be it through luck or strategy, the castle has been mostly spared from the ravages of war. Apart from the stunning appearance, another interesting fact about this castle is that it has been owned by the same family for more than 800 years.

Eltz Castle (known in German as Burg Eltz) is a medieval castle located in the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Besides its picturesque location, Eltz Castle is also notable for being one of the few German castles on the left side of the Rhine to have been left unscathed over the centuries. Moreover, the castle has been in the hands of the same family, the Eltz family, for over eight and a half centuries.

Burg Eltz Castle.

Burg Eltz Castle. (Isaac Wedin/CC BY 2.0)

The Elzbach River, a tributary on the north side of the Moselle, surrounds the castle on three sides, which has protected it from the attacks of any would-be invaders. Thus, Eltz Castle occupies a very strategic position in the landscape.

Who Owns Eltz Castle?

Today Eltz Castle is owned by  Dr. Karl Graf von und zu Eltz-Kempenich, alias Faust von Stromberg, the 33rd generation of his family. He lives in Frankfurt am Main and the castle is managed by two castellans (wardens or constables) who are in charge of handling the tourism business and the preservation of the artifacts on-site. Castellans have been managing the castle for centuries.

Burg Eltz Castle. (CC BY SA 3.0)

The history of Eltz Castle goes all the way back to the 12th century. In 1157, a deed of donation was issued by Frederick I Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor. One of the witnesses who signed and sealed the deed was Rudolf von Eltz. Although the present castle was not yet in existence during this time, there was already another smaller castle occupying the same place.

Parts of Rudolf’s castle, such as the Romanesque keep Platt-Eltz, and four floors of the former Romanesque ‘pallas’ (living quarter), have been preserved, integrated into the Kempenich Houses, and can still be seen today.

Eltz Castle in 1900.

Eltz Castle in 1900. (Public Domain)

During the following century, a dispute arose between Elias, Wilhelm, and Theoderich - three brothers of the Eltz family. As a result of this conflict, the family was spilt into three branches – the Eltz-Kempenich (Eltz of the golden lion), Eltz-Rübenach (Eltz of the silver lion) and Eltz-Rodendorf (Eltz of the buffalo horns).

The castle and the estate were also spilt into three parts, which made it a ‘ganerbenburg’, a term used to denote a castle that is occupied by several families / branches of a family at the same time. The expansion of Eltz Castle was continued by the three families over the following centuries, and the building attained its current form only during the latter part of the 17th century.

Eltz Castle was Besieged

Apart from being besieged during the 14th century, Eltz Castle has not seen much military action throughout its long history, despite being a fortified structure located in a strategic position. In 1331, Balduin of Luxembourg, the Archbishop-Elector of Trier, sought to enforce the peace in his electorate.

This was perceived by the free knights as an infringement of their right to private warfare, and an alliance, which included the lords of Eltz Castle, was formed to confront Balduin. As a result of this, the Archbishop-Elector built a siege castle outside Eltz Castle, from which he could bombard his target. It was, however, the severing of supplies to Eltz Castle that finally forced the knights to capitulate. While most of the castle’s fortifications were demolished, the castle itself was not destroyed.

Burg Eltz and Burg Trutzeltz.

Burg Eltz and Burg Trutzeltz. (Holger Weinandt/CC BY SA 3.0)

Splendid Eltz Castle Today

In the subsequent centuries, Eltz Castle was spared from the ravages of war. In 1618, the Thirty Years’ War broke out in Central Europe. Over the course of this conflict, many castles along the Rhine were destroyed by the invading French army. Eltz Castle, however, was saved, thanks to a combination of its location and the diplomatic skill of its lords.

In 1786, the Eltz-Rodendorf branch of the family came to an end, and their share of the castle passed into the hands of the Eltz-Kempenich branch. In 1815, the property of the Eltz-Rübenach branch was bought by Count Hugo Philipp of the Eltz-Kempenich branch. As a result of this, Eltz Castle became once more the property of one owner, and has been this way ever since.

Tourism is now a major part of the castle’s existence and visitors can now wonder at the medieval architecture and the various features of the castle while they learn of its history. One of the interesting features is the jesters’ heads found in the Knights Hall. These heads are symbols of freedom of speech – since jesters were allowed to ‘speak their minds’ in the Middle Ages – and they also issue a warning to not overestimate one’s self-worth.

The Knights Hall of Eltz Castle. (Burg Eltz)

Top Image: Eltz Castle in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Beautiful landscape with medieval architecture. Source: romas_ph /Adobe Stock

By Wu Mingren


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Edd Morris & Exploring Castles, 2017. Burg Eltz (Eltz Castle): A German Fairytale Hidden in a Wooded Dell. [Online]
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spent time in west germany years ago.. wish I had known of this castle.. visited as many as I could.. thank you for a wonderful article on this

What an interesting castle, it must be so full feeling to know your family's history all the way back hundreds of years and still have the family home. I am thrilled that the family works hard to keep the castle from ruin and alive for people to visit it.

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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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