Königstein Fortress in Saxony

Monday, 1 May 2017 - 12:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, House of the Month, Palaces, Castles, Manors, Parks
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Königstein Fortress © Fritz-Gerald Schröder

Königstein Fortress © Fritz-Gerald Schröder

Königstein Fortress, the “Saxon Bastille“, is a hilltop fortress near Dresden, in Saxon Switzerland, above the town of Königstein on the left bank of the River Elbe. It is one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe and sits atop the table hill of the same name. The 9.5 hectare rock plateau rises 240 metres above the Elbe and has over 50 buildings, some over 400 years old, that bear witness to the military and civilian life in the fortress. The rampart run of the fortress is 1,800 metres long with walls up to 42 metres high and steep sandstone faces. In the centre of the site is a 152.5 metre deep well, which is the deepest in Saxony and second deepest well in Europe. The fortress, which for centuries was used as a state prison, is still intact and is now one of Saxony‘s foremost tourist attractions, with 700,000 visitors per year.

By far the oldest written record of a castle on the Königstein is found in a deed by King Wenceslas I of Bohemia dating to the year 1233, in which a witness is named as “Burgrave Gebhard of Stein”. At that time the region was split between the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Bishopric of Meissen. The medieval castle belonged to the Kingdom of Bohemia. Its first full description as Königstein (“King’s Rock”) occurred in the Upper Lusatian Border Charter (Oberlausitzer Grenzurkunde) of 1241, that Wenceslas I “in lapide regis” (Lat.: at the rock of the king) sealed. In this charter the demarcation of the border between the Slavic Gauen of Milska (Upper Lusatia), Nisani (Meißen Depression) and Dacena (Tetschen region) was laid down. Because the Königstein lay left of the Elbe, it was independent of the 3 aforementioned Gauen. It is probable that there had been a stone castle on the Königstein as early as the 12th century. The oldest surviving structure today is the castle chapel built at the turn of the 13th century. In the years 1563 to 1569 the 152.5 metre deep well was bored into the rock within the castle – until that point the garrison of the Königstein had to obtain water from cisterns and by collecting rainwater. During the construction of the well some 8 cubic metres of water had to be removed from the shaft every day. Because Königstein Fortress was regarded as unconquerable, the Saxon monarchs retreated to it from Wittenberg and later Dresden during times of crisis and also deposited the state treasure and many works of art from the famous Zwinger here; it was also used as a country retreat due to its lovely surroundings.

Königstein Fortress © Fritz-Gerald Schröder View from Königstein Fortress on River Elbe and Lilienstein mountain © Jerzy Strzelecki/cc- by-3.0 © Brücke-Osteuropa © Brücke-Osteuropa Entrance © Reinhard Kraasch/cc-by-sa-3.0 Fortresss wall on the east side with the Friedrichsburg © Nikater Seigerturm (Clock Tower) © Friedhelm Dröge/cc-by-sa-4.0
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View from Königstein Fortress on River Elbe and Lilienstein mountain © Jerzy Strzelecki/cc- by-3.0
The fortress played an important role in the History of Saxony, albeit less as a result of military action. The Saxon Dukes and Prince-Electors used the fortress primarily as a secure refuge during times of war, as a hunting lodge and pleasure palace, but also as a dreaded state prison. Its actual military significance was rather marginal, although generals such as John Everard of Droste and Zützen (1662–1726) commanded it. For example, Prince-Elector Frederick Augustus II could only watch helplessly from the Königstein during the Seven Years’ War, when right at the start of the war in 1756 his army surrendered without a fight to the Prussian Army at the foot of the Lilienstein on the other side of the Elbe. The commandant of the fortress from 1753 was the electoral Saxon Lieutenant General, Michael Lorenz von Pirch. In August 1813 the clash at Krietzschwitz took place in front of its gates, an engagement that proved an important precursor to the Battle of Kulm and the Battle of Leipzig. In October 1866 Alexander von Rohrscheidt (1808–1881) was nominated as commandant of the fortress. It lost its military value with the development of long-range guns at the beginning of the 19th century. The last commandant of Königstein Fortress was Lieutenant Colonel Heinicke who commanded it until 1913. The fortress had to guard the Saxon state reserves and secret archives during times of war. In 1756 and 1813 Dresden‘s art treasures were also stored at the Königstein. During the Second World War the large casemates of the fortress were also used for such purposes. The fortress was never conquered, it had too much of a chilling reputation after it had been expanded by Elector Christian I. Only the chimney sweep, Sebastian Abratzky, managed to climb the vertical sandstone walls in 1848. The Abratzky Chimney (Abratzky-Kamin) named after him is a grade IV (based on the Saxon system) climbing route that may still be climbed today. Because climbing over the wall is banned, climbers must abseil down the adjacent wall again after climbing it.

Until 1922 the fortress was the best-known state prison in Saxony. During the Franco-Prussian War and the two world wars the fortress was also used as a prisoner of war camp. In World War I the castle was used as a prisoner of war camp (Oflag) for French and Russian officers. In World War II it again served as an Oflag, called Oflag IV-B, for British, French, Polish and other Allied officers. After the Second World War the Red Army used the fortress as a military hospital. From 1949 to 1955 it was used as a so-called Jugendwerkhof for the reeducation of delinquent youths and those who did not fit the image of a socialist society. Königstein was never taken, not even during World War II. However, on April 17, 1942, French General Henri Giraud successfully escaped German captivity from the castle. Since 29 May 1955, the fortress has been an open-air, military history museum of high touristic value. The museum has been managed as a satellite of the Bundeswehr Military History Museum in Dresden since 1990. In the years 1967 to 1970, a lift was built at the foot of the access path for 42 people. A second lift was built in 2005 against a vertical wall of the fortress, which transports up to 18 passengers in a lift with a panoramic view to a height of about 42 metres. The state of Saxony made 1.7 million euros available for the project. The lift opened Easter 2006. Between 1991 and 2010, a total of about 46 million euros was invested by the Free State of Saxony on the renovation and upgrade of Königstein Fortress. The museum welcomed its 25 millionth visitor on 14 October 2005 since it opened Whitsun 1955.

Read more on Königstein Fortress, schloesserland-sachsen.de – Königstein Fortress, Restaurant Königstein Fortress, Town of Königstein and Wikipedia Königstein Fortress. Learn more about the use of photos. To inform you about latest news most of the city, town or tourism websites offer a newsletter service and/or operate Facebook pages/Twitter accounts. In addition more and more destinations, tourist organizations and cultural institutions offer Apps for your Smart Phone or Tablet, to provide you with a mobile tourist guide (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Johns Hopkins University & Medicine - Coronavirus Resource Center - Global Passport Power Rank - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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