Exploring the ruins of Wertheim Castle, Germany

A friend came to visit Würzburg early in March before the coronavirus restrictions started, and we decided to take a day trip to Wertheim am Main, about 40 minutes away by car. Wertheim is in Bavaria’s neighbouring state of Baden-Württemberg, and is located at the junction of the Main river and its tributary, the Tauber. It is best known for its beautiful castle, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the rivers.

Wertheim was founded between the 7th and 9th century. Its castle was built during the 12th century and was residence to the Counts of Wertheim, a branch of the Franconian noble family Reginbodons who named themselves after the town. When the last Count of Wertheim died without a male heir, it was ruled by the House of Löwenstein-Wertheim.

The castle was expanded upon until into the 17th century. In 1619 it was partially destroyed by an explosion, and during the Thirty Years’ war it was occupied by the Swedes and heavily bombarded by imperial troops, after which it lay in ruins. Starting in 1982, the ruins were renovated with support from the state of Baden-Württemberg, and secure stairs have been added which allow one to explore the different sections of the castle.The ruins of the castle keep (built around 1200) and the palace from the 13th century can be visited. The construction of the city fortifications also started around 1200, eventually enclosing the castle and town with a wall ring.

Wertheim developed into the centre of the county of Wertheim. However, in 1806, the county of Wertheim was divided between the Grand Duchy of Baden, who received area on the left bank, and the Kingdom of Bavaria, who were given the territories on the right bank.

After you have climbed the steep hill up from the town to the lower castle, you can either cross through an archway on the right to get to a path that leads you on a round-trip hike along a stony wall, across the countryside, into a forest and back towards the castle, or you can continue up to the castle and enter the ruins with 2 euros through a turnstile. If you don’t have a 2 euro coin handy, there’s a machine that provides change. We were there in the off season, but in summer it may be possible to get guided tours. However even the self-tour of the castle was well worth it, and, because there were only a few other people around, we could enjoy exploring the ruins at our own pace. Even before going through the turnstile, you can visit the lower part of the castle and get beautiful views down on the river, which divides two states.

Once through the turnstile there is a lot to explore – more than you expect when looking from the outside. Reinforcement of the castle and the addition of metal steps allows you to climb all the way up to the former keep, with amazing views on the rest of the castle and the town below.

After that you can walk down, around the castle and back up to the tower.

The tower can also be climbed right to the top, and from there you get a splendid view down on the keep, town and hills behind. It is really something special.

Following our tour of the castle, we headed back down the hill to reach a path that loops around the lower part of the castle and it’s fortifications through some countryside and forest. It was a beautiful sunny day, right when winter was turning to spring (early March).

In the forest we found another part of the fortifications, which it was also possible to climb.

The path then led through some forest before popping out near the top of the hill, with wonderful views down on the castle. From there, you could follow a long set of steps down along the side of the castle. Another way to do the tour would be in reverse. Either way, you can easily spend quite some hours exploring the castle and it’s surroundings.

There are many castles in Germany, but Wertheim castle instantly became one of my favourites due to its setting, the lack of crowds, and the fact that you could really explore all of the ruins because of the addition of reinforcements to the walls and new stairs. A pamphlet we found at the castle indicated that regular events such as concerts and wine tastings are also held there, so there’s definitely reason to go back more than once. But I would also recommend going on a quiet day and exploring at your leisure, letting your imagination take you back to the past.

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