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Kyffhäuser Castle Monument - Barbarossa, Emperor Frederick I

Kyffhäusen Castle, Germany: When the Ravens Vanish, Barbarossa Will Return

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The medieval Kyffhäusen Castle and the 19th century Kyffhäuser Monument were built on the Kyffhäuser hill range in Central Germany, located in the state of Thuringia, southeast of the Harz Mountains. The area is significant in German mythology as it is the legendary resting place of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Today the complex is an open-air museum and a popular tourist destination.

Kyffhäusen Castle Is One of the Largest Castles in Germany, yet Unused By the King

The extensive remains of the upper, middle, and lower sections of the Kyffhäusen Castle give an idea of ​​the area it once covered. It stretched over a length of over 600 meters (1968 feet) and a width of about 60 (196 feet). 

No one knows exactly when construction of the castle began, but archaeological findings of several thin polished stone tools at the summit denote a Neolithic settlement and excavated Bronze Age ceramics may have come from the nearby ancient graves.

The first castle was possibly built during the rule of Emperor Henry IV in order to protect his domains south of the Harz Mountains. Until his forced abdication in 1105, he was one of the most powerful figures of the 11th century. Kyffhäusen Castle, however, was not mentioned until 1118, after it had been demolished by a Saxon duke three years before.

Ruins of the Kyffhäusen Empire (bienenklaus /Fotolia)

Ruins of the Kyffhäusen Empire (bienenklaus /Fotolia)

In the 12th century, during the reign of Frederick I of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, construction was completed. Though he is thought to have only stayed at Kyffhäusen Castle once, he stayed at the nearby town of Tilleda several times. Like their peers in France and England, the medieval emperors of the Holy Roman Empire did not rule from a capital city, but travelled between their estates, rarely staying for longer than a few weeks. The various homes were generally built 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) apart - a day's journey by horse at that time.

These estates consisted of a Great Hall, an imperial chapel and land. It was here that kings and emperors held imperial court sessions, celebrated important church festivals, and carried out state business.

The Kyffhäusen Castle ruin today as seen from above (CC BY 3.0)

The Kyffhäusen Castle ruin today as seen from above (CC BY 3.0)

Kyffhäusen Castle was built of pale pink sandstone but also plastered in a red slurry at least twice to increase the visual impact of the imperial castle on the exposed ridge.

Still visible are parts of a Romanesque gate which was then the entrance to the keep, the palace and the chapel. The ruin is framed by a closed ring wall, in places still partially preserved in the original height of 10 meters (32 feet). Particularly impressive is the well which was 176 meters (577 feet) deep - one of the deepest wells of medieval castles in Central Europe. 

After the fall of the House of Hohenstaufen, the fortress lost its strategic importance and changed hands several times. It was already described as a ruin in the 15th century.

From the late 18th century, the castle ruins became a popular destination for tourists. The ‘king in the mountain’ legend of Frederick Barbarossa, perpetuated in a poem in 1817 by Friedrich Rückert, became a symbol of rising German nationalism.

A Similar Legend of Ancient Kings Who Wait Until Their People Need Them

Emperor Frederick I was a popular figure and his appeal increased after his death, inspiring the legend of Barbarossa. The date of his birth is assumed to be 1122, and he is honored as the most prominent German Holy Roman Emperor of the Middle Ages. Barbarossa means ‘red beard’ - a name given to him due to the color of his hair.  

Frederick Barbarossa as a crusader, 1188 (Public Domain)

Frederick Barbarossa as a crusader, 1188 (Public Domain)

During his time, the country was not united. The emperor and the many regional princes were often in conflict. Under Frederick Barbarossa, the empire spanned a vast region and he managed to keep the smaller rulers within his territories in check. The 100 years between 1152, from the time Frederick I took office, and 1250, at the death of his grandson Friedrich II, was a relatively peaceful time for the nation.

After the death of Friedrich II, the sovereign rulers of the empire's various regions quarreled over property rights, the empire was at war, and later the Black Death pandemic swept across Europe. These punitive events created a desire for the days of the former dynasty and the once great leader.

Although Barbarossa drowned on 10 June, 1190 during the Third Crusade, he is, according to legend, asleep in a hidden chamber underneath the Kyffhäuser hills. He sits at a stone table and his red beard has grown so long that it has grown through the stone. The presence of ravens circling the Kyffhäuser summit is said to be a sign that Barbarossa is still there and will emerge from under the hill in his country’s hour of need. Similar legends refer to Charlemagne sleeping in the Untersberg and King Cormac asleep within Keshcorran, who will rise when Ireland needs him.

The Kyffhäuser Monument Was Nearly Blown Up After WWII by the Communists

After the death of Wilhelm I, first German Emperor in 1888, numerous memorials were erected in his honor all over the country. One of these was the Kyffhäuser Monument also known as Barbarossa Monument. It was completed in 1896 and sits atop the ruins of the medieval Kyffhäusen Castle.

Statue of Emperor William I beneath the imperial crown (Karin Jähne /Fotolia)

Statue of Emperor William I beneath the imperial crown (Karin Jähne /Fotolia)

The monument features a 6.5 meter tall (21 feet) statue of Frederick Barbarossa. Above him stands an 11 meter tall (36 feet) equestrian figure of Emperor William I, a composition to express that William I became the heir to Barbarossa’s legend and unified the German nation once again.

Soaring over the monument is a 57 meter (187 feet) tower topped by an imperial crown. Nearly 250 steps lead up, offering a panoramic view over the Kyffhäuser range to the Harz Mountains in the north and down to the Thuringian Forest in the south. A nearby building features exhibits of the medieval Kyffhäusen Castle and the Barbarossa legend.

Top image: Kyffhäuser Castle Monument - Barbarossa, Emperor Frederick I            Source: bienenklaus/ Fotolia)

By Michelle Freson


Portal Editor. 2017. Kyffhäuser Mountain Range and Mythology of Barbarossa. Alaturka

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Birkenstock. G. 2011. Barbarossa, the red-bearded hero, a symbol of German unity.

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Staff writer. A visit to the "Kyffhäuser Monument" in Thuringia. Touring Thuringia

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Michelle Freson is a professional writer and editor and has spent many hundreds of wonderful hours working with and learning from fiction writers based all over the globe.

Born in July, 1971, Michelle has long since stopped working out her... Read More

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