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Diary of a New Würzburger: The Festung Marienberg

23.11.2017
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Wuerzburg has many unique landmarks, but I’d have to say one of the most recognisable and most visible is the Festung Marienberg. The medieval fortress (Festung) sits on the Marienberg hill on left bank of the Main River, facing the Wuerzburg city centre and directly across from the Alte Mainbruecke. Even though I’ve seen it almost every day that I’ve lived in Wuerzburg I’m still impressed when I catch a glimpse of it, either from far away in my classroom, like the picture below, or looking up at it from below while shopping in town.  

The history of the foundations of the Marienberg date back to evidence of a Celtic fortress on the site in 1000 BC, but the Festung Marienberg as it is known today had its official beginnings in the 13th Century. Around 1200BC the Prince Bishops of Wuerzburg took up residence on the Marienberg hill, building a fortress on the grounds. The relationship between the citizens of Wuerzburg and the Prince Bishops was strained and the fortress was often under attack; to combat this, almost each new ruler until the 19th Century increased the amount of fortification surrounding the Festung. The turbulent history is clear at a glance; as well as vineyards on the hillside, many levels of once impenetrable walls still surround the fortress - not to mention the imposing stone entranceways before you even step foot inside!   

Despite once defeating 15000 angry peasants, nowadays Festung Marienberg is a lot more accessible and there’s really no excuse for skipping a visit while you are in Wuerzburg! From April until October there is a bus directly to the entrance, and although taking the scenic hike through the vineyards to the fortress is still on my to-do list, the quicker walk up from the river that I've taken so far does not detract from the impressive entrance to the fortress. Inside the grounds, with their ivy covered turrets, cobblestone courtyards and picturesque archways it can feel like you’ve stumbled into the setting of a fairy tale. My first visit of the Festung Marienberg was during my first week in Wuerzburg, and the views of the city were definitely one thing that helped me get orientated – in one direction there is a clear view of the Pilgrimage Church, and just around the corner in the Prince’s garden there is a direct view of Wurzburg and the Main River valley.

I took my sister to see the Festung when she was visiting, and since we were there we decided to take a look inside the Furstenbau Museum. Even just being inside the fortress building and the living quarters of the Prince-Biships is interesting enough; the view over the river is fantastic, but there also is no lack of intriguing staircases, secret doors, mysterious corridors, nooks and crannies that to this day historians are unsure of their use. Although the building suffered damage during the Second World War, it is totally restored and there are still original ceilings and well-preserved decorations on the wall, which provide an authentic background to the contents of the museum.  There are plenty of artefacts from the region of Franconia, from prehistoric to modern times, as well as some of the remaining treasures from the Festung itself when it was home to the Prince Bishops of Wuerzburg. Personally I would go back just to see the Prince-Bishops' liturgical vestments on display – the bright materials and intricate embroidery was something I expected from Chinese emperors rather than the rulers of small European kingdoms!

There are even two restaurants and another museum inside the gate of the Festung Marienberg. The Museum fur Franken contains regional art, traditional costumes, wine making artefacts and a vast collection of Medieval artist Tilman Riemenschneider, but this is somewhere I have yet to visit – but its on my to do list along with the vineyard hike... I have to say that the Festung is a part of Wuerzburg I like the most. It may sound cheesy, but even if I’m homesick, something about seeing the turrets peeking through the clouds always gives me a renewed sense of appreciation for this city! 

 

 

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