Fleckenstein Castle: From Impregnable Fortress to a Chateaux in Ruins
Fleckenstein Castle is a castle located near Lembach, in the eastern French region of Alsace. This castle is known to have existed since the 12 th century, and was the property of the powerful Fleckenstein family for over half a millennium. Fleckenstein Castle was strategically-placed to control the surrounding area, and it was designed to withstand enemy assaults. Nevertheless, the castle eventually fell to the troops of Louis XIV, who then proceeded to destroy it with gunpowder. The once mighty Fleckenstein Castle was left in ruins, and was eventually developed into a tourist attraction.
An Impregnable Fortress
The first known mention of the name Fleckenstein comes from 1174. Gottfried of Fleckenstein was a member of the imperial court of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The Fleckensteins held the castle in the name of the Hohenstaufens (the dynasty that Frederick Barbarossa belonged to). The castle was built on a sandstone outcrop that soared to a height of over 300m (985ft). From this position, the owners of the Fleckenstein Castle were able to keep an eye on one of the routes connecting the regions of Alsace and Lorraine, and to protect the town of Haguenau, where Frederick Barbarossa had established an imperial palace. The Fleckenstein family held the castle for almost 550 years. In 1720, the last Baron of Fleckenstein, Henri Jacques, died without leaving a male heir, which resulted in the castle falling into the hands of another noble family.
A Castle in Ruins
It may be pointed out that by the time the ownership of the Fleckenstein Castle changed hands, it was already in ruins. In 1689, the French troops of Louis XIV, under the command of the Ezéchiel du Mas, Comte de Mélac, completely destroyed the Fleckenstein Castle with gunpowder. Mélac was notorious for his destruction of enemy lands, rather than engaging in pitched battles, as was the French policy at that time. Additionally, there were concerns about the advance of the Imperial Army, which further prompted the destruction of the castle, lest it fell into the hands of the enemy.
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A view of the Fleckenstein Castle, as seen from Hohenbourg. ( CC by SA 3.0 )
A Bishop Held Prisoner
Throughout the history of the Fleckenstein Castle, several interesting incidents have occurred in the castle. For instance, in 1275, Fredéric de Bolanden, the Bishop of Spire, was held as a prisoner in the Fleckenstein Castle. The bishop, who was elected in 1272, received the support of the Fleckensteins, in return for certain favours. The bishop, however, soon forgot his promises, no doubt angering the Fleckensteins. With the absence of imperial authority due to the Great Interregnum, Wolfram of Fleckenstein was able to capture the bishop, and to hold him as a prisoner in the castle. Unfortunately for the Fleckensteins, Rudolph I was elected as King of the Romans in the following year. The new German ruler decided to assert his authority by besieging Fleckenstein Castle. Seeing that his position was hopeless, Wolfram decided to surrender, and to free the bishop.
Fleckenstein Castle. ( Route Chateaux Alsace )
In 1813, the Fleckenstein Castle was purchased by General Olivier Harty, a commander in Napoléon’s Grande Armée who was of Irish descent. The castle was renamed as Pierrebourg, which is the French equivalent of Fleckenstein. It was, however, only in 1871 that it became possible for visitors to see inside the castle, thanks to Joseph von Stichaner, the German ‘sous préfet of Wissembourg’. Moreover, the development of a railway made the ruins more accessible to visitors. Further developments were made to the ruins since then to make it safer and more convenient for visitors. For example, between 1997 and 2000, major works were carried out to ensure that the structure was safe for visitors, and to consolidate the ruins. In addition, in 2002, old farm buildings were renovated and transformed into facilities for the public, such as a ticket office, a café, and shops. According to one website, the Fleckenstein Castle is the most visited ruins in the Alsace region, with almost 70,000 visitors annually. According to another website, this castle is the second most visited castle in Alsace, after the Haut-Kœnigsbourg Castle.
Top image: The castle of Fleckenstein. Photo: Bertrand Rieger
By Wu Mingren
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