Trials of Germany’s Impregnable Königstein Fortress
Due to its turbulent history, Germany has many impressive military fortresses. One of the best known and most spectacular is the Königstein Fortress, located in the free state of Saxony Switzerland and therefore also known as the ‘Saxon bastille’. This fortress was never captured by an enemy despite the many wars in the area down the centuries and it is today one of the most popular heritage sites in Germany.
The History of the Impregnable Königstein Fortress
Based on the documentary evidence, the fortress was founded by Duke Wenceslaus I of Bohemia (907 to 935 AD). Successive Bohemian kings used it to guard an important trade route as well as their border. By the 15 th century, the castle had been transferred to the Elector of Saxony. It was used as a military fortress by successive Prince-Electors of Saxony. This fortress was also briefly a monastery, but this was later dissolved during the Reformation.
Königstein was greatly expanded during the latter part of 16 th century, a time of great tensions between German Catholics and Protestants. During this period, the fortress was considered to be impregnable.
Saxony was ravaged during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and the ruler of Saxony often found shelter behind the stout walls of Königstein. No invader dared to even lay siege to the fortress. During the Seven Years War, after the Prussian Army defeated the Saxons, the Elector fled here for refuge.
In times of war, the Saxon princes would store their treasure and artworks in Königstein and in more peaceful times, the fortress was used as a hunting lodge. After the Napoleonic Wars , however, the development of long-range guns meant that the castle was no longer suitable as a fortress and it was used instead as a state prison.
Aerial view of Königstein Fortress ( Sliver / Adobe Stock)
Prisoners of war were held here during the Franco-Prussian War, WWI and WWII. During the Allied aerial bombing campaign, the magnificent Dresden art collection was stored here. The castle was occupied by the Soviets in 1945 and used as a military hospital and later by the East German government as a detention center for those who opposed the communist regime.
The Königstein Fortress is overseen by the German army and is a military museum.
The Vast Layout of Königstein Fortress
The Königstein Fortress sits on a hill of the same name and is located in a mountainous area known as Saxon Switzerland in Germany. According to experts, it is one of the largest hilltop fortresses in Europe. The sandstone cliffs are almost sheer, and the fortress overlooks the River Elbe.
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Lithograph, dating from 1840 of the giant Königstein wine barrel with a 238.000 liter volumetric capacity ( Public Domain )
The site is accessed by a narrow roadway that passed through a gatehouse that once bore the arms of the House of Saxon. Thick walls, which follow the lines of the hill, enclose the 9.5 hectares over which the fortress spreads. There are more than 50 buildings in the complex and they include St. John's Hall which became an arms depot and the New Armory in the 19 th century.
Many of the buildings date from approximately 400 years ago and are built in a variety of styles. The Treasury building once held the wealth of the Saxon princes and their famed art collection while the Friedrichsburg, a tower house built on a battlement in the 19 th century, offers spectacular views of the surrounding areas.
Old Imperial cannon next to the Friedrichsburg tower , Königstein fortress in Saxony Switzerland, Germany ( igorgeiger / Adobe Stock)
The fortress has many military exhibitions and a large number of authentic Imperial German cannons stand on its eastern battlements. In the heart of the complex is a well 500 feet deep (152.5 m), the second deepest in all Europe. The Königstein Wine Barrel , believed to be the world’s largest, was once housed beneath the fortress in one of the many cellars connected by a series of tunnels. The enormous barrel was constructed in the castle under Johann Friedrich Böttger, on the order of Augustus II the Strong. Böttger is recognised as the first Europeans to discover the secret of hard-paste porcelain in the 18 th century.
Visit Königstein Fortress in Germany
The fortress is close to the village of Königstein and it is possible to drive to the site which has a car park below. If you are unable to hike up the hill, or simply do not feel like it, there is an elevator.
A fee is charged to enter the complex and there are a number of tours available. In the fortress, there are many amenities, such as restaurants and several museums dedicated to military history . Many visitors to the area also visit the spectacular Bastei Bridge, which is a two hour walk or 25 minutes by car.
Top image: Königstein Fortress in the clouds. Source: Michael / Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan
H. H (1868) The only conquest of Konigstein . London Vol. 1, Iss. 7, (Feb 15, 1868): 146-150
Sommer, U. (2000). Archaeology and regional identity in Saxony . Public Archaeology, 1(2), 125-142
Syndram, D., Kappel, J., & Weinhold, U. (2014). The Historic Grünes Gewölbe at Dresden: The Baroque Treasury . In the Historic Grünes Gewölbe at Dresden. Deutscher Kunstverlag
Available at: https://www.degruyter.com/view/title/538212