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Castles through the ages

Ortenbourg Castle, Scherwiller
Ortenbourg Castle, Scherwiller

Before the year 1,000 : There were no castles as such, but rather “manors”, which were usually constructed of wood in the centre of the village or on its outskirts.

10th and 11th centuries : The high nobility would appropriate land by building castles on it; this had previously been an exclusive privilege of the king. Genuine castle sites from the 10th and 11th centuries are rare (examples include Hohenbourg, Mont Sainte-Odile, Erstein, Ottrott, Saint Ulrich and Haut-Eguisheim). There are few traces left of these first castles, which were made of wood, soil and dry stone.

In the 12th century : Stone castles became the rule rather than the exception. About thirty new castles were built during this period (such as La Petite Pierre, Guirbaden, Frankenbourg, Scharrach, Epfig, Fleckenstein, Ferrette, Hohnack and Morimont). Two types of defensive structures existed at this time: residential towers (such as Wohnturm), where residential and defensive functions merged (i.e. Haut-Barr, La Roche, Rathsamhausen and Ferrette); and keeps.

In the 13th century : The curtain-walled castle appeared, characterised by a high, thick curtain wall that surrounded the dwellings (i.e. Ortenbourg). Shielding walls, which already existed in the 12th century (i.e. Greifenstein, Warthenberg and Hunebourg), were common in the 13th century (i.e. Spesbourg, Nouveau-Windstein, Wasenbourg and Oedenbourg). The courtyard disappeared or shrank, requiring the creation of a bailey. During this period, the keep became a standard feature, and though it was usually square-shaped, it could also be five-sided (i.e. Bernstein and Girsberg) or round (i.e. Lutzelbourg). Active defence appeared with the creation of hoardings and flanking towers (i.e. Landsberg, Guirbaden, Kaysersberg, Pflixbourg and Engelbourg). Meurtrières also appeared and became common features in castle construction. Castle architecture sought to meet two differing requirements: progress in defence and improved comfort. Castles became symbolic of knighthood.

From the 14th to the 16th centuries : Few castles are attributed to this period (Barr, Bouxwiller, Petit-Arnsberg, Bas-Andlau, Benfeld and Wildenstein). The nobility, weakened by the economic crisis and driven by their increasing desire for comfort, gradually left mountain sites to settle in cities.

In 1354, King Charles IV created the Décapole: an alliance between ten imperial cities of Alsace: Haguenau, Wissembourg, Obernai, Rosheim, Sélestat, Colmar, Turckheim, Kaysersberg, Munster and Mulhouse) so as to ensure the defence of their autonomy and provide them with military protection.

In the 14th century : During this period, castles were remodelled, in particular to cope with the development of artillery (15th century). Many castles were transformed into veritable fortresses (i.e. Lichtenberg, La Petite Pierre, Landskron, Hohnack and Hohlandsbourg).

Between the 14th and the 16th centuries : Most castles were abandoned, either spontaneously or due to violent or accidental destruction.

Until the 18th century : Few castles were still inhabited (Haut-Barr and Haut-Andlau until 1806). Finally, Haut-Koenigsbourg is one of the only castles (together with Hunebourg and Hohlandsbourg) to have been restored at the beginning of the 20th century.

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