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Château du Frankenbourg

 Château du Frankenbourg


Location: Neubois, Bas- Rhin Department  Map

Constructed: 12th century


Château du Frankenbourg

Château du Frankenbourg is a medieval fortress on the outskirts of Neubois in the Bas- Rhin Department of Alsace, France. Despite year of neglect Frankenbourg Castle is still a magnificent example of medieval architects and military engineers. First evidence of a military fortifications date back to an unknown Roman Fortress that was erected here by Roman legionnaires. Although we don't know the exact time period and its layout, archeological digs in the area did uncover several clues. Archeologists discovered several artifacts including coins of Constantine the Great (early 4th century), beautiful statues and a battle ax. They chose this strategic hill for its natural defenses. It rises to a height of 703 meters and dominates the local countryside. From here you can see the Ville Valley, Liepvrette Valley, parts of St. Marie-aux- Mines Valley and Chalmont mountain. Any movement of local tribes could be monitored and controlled.
Château du Frankenbourg or Castle Frankenbourg is a German name that can be translated as "Fortress of the Franks". The name was given to a simple fortress that was built here in the 5th century under orders of Clovis of the Merovingian dynasty. Clovis I just conquered these lands and he decided that the best location for his new castle would be abandoned and ruined Roman Castle. Legend claims that it was here in Frankenbourg Castle did Clovis made a promise to his wife Clotilde that if he will defeat Alemannic Germanic tribes in the upcoming Battle of Tolbiac that he will accept Christian God and baptize his people. Oral tradition claims that Clotilde spent several night praying to her Christian God to grant her husband victory.
Clovis did win that battle and many more to come. He became one of the most important rulers in a future France that managed to gather various Frankish, Gaelic, Germanic tribes after the fall of the Ancient Roman Empire. He also kept his promise and became the first Christian ruler of France bringing new religion to his people. According to local legends Clovis favored Château du Frankenbourg and spend many days here hunting and drinking with this friends.
Current citadel of Château du Frankenbourg was constructed on the same location in the 12th century. Fortress kept is traditional name, but its walls were bigger and more sophisticated than previous castle. It was badly damaged during fire in 1582. There was no need for the stationary military citadel like this medieval castle, so Château du Frankenbourg was largely abandoned. Its ruins serves as a quarry for local population for several centuries. Only in the late 19th century archeologists and historians began to explore ruins of the castle along with the surrounding lands. In 1898 Château du Frankenbourg was added to the list of historical monuments by the French Ministry of Culture.


Geographic location
It is on the top of the Schlossberg ("castle mountain"), which separates the Val de Villé from the Val d'Argent, that the castle of Frankenbourg was built on an old Roman castle where many objects of this period (coin of Constantine I, bronze statuette and ax). This cone-shaped summit rises to 703 meters and is surrounded on all sides by the forest. From this summit we can see the plain of Alsace, the valley of Villé, as far as Breitenbach and the valley of Lièpvrette, including Lièpvre. In this direction, you can also see the mountain of Chalmont, which rises to 697 meters. On the right, the rock of Coucou, shelters a hertzian relay of television and radio broadcasting, which serves the region of Middle Alsace and Val d'Argent. The castle dominates the entrance to the Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines valley (the Val d'Argent or Val de Liepvre) crossed by the Transvosgian road which ends in Lorraine and which, in the Middle Ages, was of strategic interest.

When from Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines you want to get to the castle of Frankenbourg, you first take the national road 59 to the bottom of the village of Lièpvre, then you turn left after crossing the Lièpvrette in front of the Cuisines Schmidt. We then follow the road to La Vancelle, then we cross a pine forest that leads to the castle. There is no asphalt road that leads to the castle from La Vancelle. On the other hand, there is a paved road from Lièpvre and La Vancelle which is only open to automobile traffic at a certain time of the year and only on Sundays. Another asphalt road exists from Breitenau in the Val de Villé which allows you to get as close as possible to the Frankenbourg castle, but here too car traffic is only open on Sundays at a certain time of the year. The rest of the journey to the castle is done in ten minutes without fatigue. You just have to leave the car and park in the car park provided for this purpose, near the Schlossplatz (Castle Square). The castle is also accessible on foot from La Vancelle, from Neubois, or even from Lièpvre.



Previous stands
Long before medieval times, the place where this castle stands today was the subject of construction. Archaeological finds have revealed the presence of objects dating back to the Bronze Age, Roman coins and a statuette - the bull with 3 horns on display at the Maison du Val de Villé, discovered by a resident of Rombach-le-Franc. This is not surprising when we consider that the place represented a strategic position and an important lock to monitor the entrance to the two Vosges valleys arranged approximately from west to east: the valley of Villé to the north and the valley of 'Money in the south.

The construction of the castle attributed to Clovis?
The exact origin of the castle is unknown but a former analyst, Daniel Specklin, affirms that it was Clovis (Clodovig) king of the Franks who built this castle around the 5th century when he conquered Alsace. He would have built this castle on a plateau which dominates the two valleys of Lièpvrette and Villé in order to more easily ensure the passage of his troops from east to west. He named this castle "Frankenbourg" which means the fortress of the Franks (Burg der Franken). He built a chapel there where Specklin said he saw, on one of the painted stained-glass windows that still existed in his time, the first Franks coat of arms: three sand toads (black) on a silver field (on a white background). According to legend, during the battle of Tolbiac which some historians place in Kochersberg, north-west of Strasbourg, Clovis had promised his wife Clotilde that he would convert to the God of Christians if he granted him victory. Alsatian tradition has it that this promise was made at the castle of Frankenbourg. After his conversion to Christianity, Clovis would have replaced the three toads with three fleurs-de-lis which then became the arms of the kings of France. It is in the chapel of this castle, says tradition, that the wife of Clovis Sainte Clotilde prayed, during the battle of Tolbiac, to obtain the victory and the conversion of her husband. Another legend has long circulated in the region. At the foot of the mountain, near Villé, a village bears the name of Bassemberg (the mountain of Basine), where the mother of Clovis, according to tradition, had a house that she lived during her stay in the region.

First official mention
This castle is officially mentioned for the first time in 1123 under the name of Frankenbourg through a charter of the emperor Henry V. This castle is also mentioned on July 4, 1153 when Frederick I came to visit the Erstein abbey founded three centuries previously by the Empress Ermengarde of Tours around 849, a village that her husband, Emperor Lothaire I had entrusted to her in 817. It was on the occasion of a treaty between Abbess Bertha and Margrave Hermann of Baden, attended by Frederick I of Hohenstaufen and Sigebert III of Werd - a descendant of the Frankenbourgs and an ally of the Hohenstaufen - that the name of Frankenbourg is evoked. Sigebert receives the title of Count of Frankenbourg around 1153 from Frédéric Barberousse. He probably also held this castle in stronghold of the bishopric of Strasbourg, which had become its owner by virtue of a donation made in 1061 by the Margrave Hermann and his wife Hilca. Around 1336, Ulric de Werd, Landgrave of Lower Alsace, also held it in stronghold of the same bishopric, and in 1351 the counts Louis and Frédéric d'Œttingen received it from the emperor Charles IV. The Werds claimed to descend from Duke Etichon in the same way as the Dukes of Lorraine. The year 1411, the bishopric of Strasbourg, to which it therefore belonged, employed 1000 florins and in 1447 2000 florins, for its reconstruction. At this last time it was occupied by the sons of Burcard de Lutzelstein whose sons were subjected to exile because of the innumerable exactions which they caused. In 1470 the city of Sélestat appointed a lord in charge of supervising the castle in anticipation of a possible attack by the Burgundian troops of Charles the Bold.

The Counts of Frankenbourg

We generally know in Alsace the castle of Frankenbourg which dominates the entrance of the two valleys of Lièpvre and Villé but we hardly know the counts and the county of this name. If historians mention it, it was only under the title of Count de Werd that the last of them took. The name of Frankenbourg is mentioned for the first time in a charter of the emperor Henri V, given in Strasbourg on January 26, 1123 for the convent of Alpirsbach which is in Württemberg. Among the witnesses of this act, following the counts Hugo de Dagsbourg, Folmar de Hünebourg, Guillaume de Lützelbourg, Frédéric de Sarrebrück (Saraburc), we meet Count Conrad de Frankenbourg (Franconeburc). But who was this Conrad? The lack of documents does not allow this question to be refined. He is probably closely related to the counts of Sarrebrück (of Alsatian origin?). The second personage by the name of Frankenbourg who is in possession of the county is Count Sigebert. We find for the first time the name of this Sigebert in Alsace in a document of September 21, 1109 from Bishop Cunon of Strasbourg in favor of the priory of Saint-Léonard near Bœrsch. In this piece, he is referred to as just Earl Sigebert. However, this Sigebert (II) was in fact Count of Saarbrücken, (small) -son of the first known Sigebert, to whom Henry IV of the Holy Empire, at the request of the Duke of Lorraine, had donated in 1080 of Wadgassen in the Sarregau. This Sigebert (Ier) happened to be, like Duke Thierry and Duke Frederick of Hohenstaufen, of the Emperor's party against the Pope. Sigebert I, who is count in Sarregau in Franconia (region of Saarbrücken; cf. the land of Sarre, plus Deux-Ponts / Zweibrücken originally) owned property from the time of Duke Adalbert of Lorraine and then of his brother Gérard d ' Alsace (or Gérard Ier de Lorraine). One of his two sons, Winither, became abbot of Lorsch, of which he conferred the richest property (in Brumath) in fiefdom on his brother Sigehart or Sigebert II of Sarrebrück. It is from this time that the prosperity of the family dates. The sons (or rather brothers?) Of Sigebert II of Saarbrücken are well known in history. The most famous, Adalbert, was Archbishop of Mainz (1111-1137) and Chancellor of the Empire under Henry V, Bruno (n) became Abbot of Lorsch and in 1110 Bishop of Speyer, then Sigebert III and Frederick above who bear expressly the title of Counts of Saarbrücken. The counts of Frankenbourg would therefore come from the counts Sigebert (moreover this first name will be found among their descendants, the counts of Werd). In addition, see below a hypothesis to link the Sigeberts of Saarbrücken-Frankenbourg to Count Conrad of Frankenbourg met above.

The count-ban of Frankenbourg

This county, better known under the name of Comte-Ban, forms the less fertile southern part of the Villé valley because it leans against the northern slope of the mountains, which separate the Lièpvre valley from that of Villé. It is made up of the villages of Fouchy (formerly called Grube), Breitenau, Neuve-Église (Neukirch), Hirtzelbach, Dieffenbach-au-Val and Neubois (Gereuth). The Val de Villé could have belonged as a whole to one and the same family, the Ortenbergs. According to tradition this family could be the descendants of Duke Attich in the 7th Merovingian century. It is not known when the separation took place, but according to the origin of the name of the village Neukirch and what is known of the valley, it should not have taken place before the eleventh century. As a result of his exposure, the Count-Ban could not have been handed over to cultivation and exploitation until well after the county of Ortemberg. We know the counts of Ortemberg since the beginning of the eleventh century, They are the founders of the abbey of Honcourt in the year 1000. Their possessions were transmitted following marriage to the count then emperor Rudolph IV-I of Habsburg (Ortenberg passed in 1162 to the Hohenberg-Haigerlochs, in Baden; then Gertrude-Anna de Hohenberg married Rudolf IV-I in 1245). As already mentioned above, the first known count of Frankenbourg is a named Conrad in 1123. It is not known if he was descended from Ortenbourg. Or was it perhaps a grandson of Hildegarde, wife of Frédéric de Büren, mother of Otto bishop of Strasbourg and of Frederick (c. 1047-1105; first of the (Hohen) -Staufen to become Duke of Swabia in 1079; grandfather of Barbarossa), by a younger brother of the latter, Conrad (born around 1049 and already dead in 1095)? It is plausible that the sister or the daughter of this Conrad of Frankenbourg was the wife of a count of Saarbrücken (the latter would then be none other than Sigebert II) and would have brought him Frankenbourg.
Property of the Counts of Werd (descendants of the Frankenbourgs), in 1232 it became a stronghold of the Church of Strasbourg.
In 1359, the Bishop of Strasbourg bought the lands and the castle of Frankenbourg and entrusted the administration to the Counts of Linange / Leiningen - younger branch of the Counts of Saarbrücken and vassals of the Church of Strasbourg - who thus became Landgraves of the Lower -Alsace. But faced with financial difficulties, he had to relinquish a large part of the property he had accumulated, including the castle and villages of Fouchy, Breitenau, Hirtzelbach, Dieffenbach-au-Val, Neubois and Neuve-Église and later also Châtenois. It was the canons of the Grand Chapitre of Strasbourg Cathedral and the city of Sélestat who bought it. The transaction took place on October 25, 1462 for a sum of 8002 florins. The Grand Chapitre of Strasbourg Cathedral took an option for 2,000 florins, the city of Sélestat contributed 4,000 florins, and two brothers, Jacques and Bernard Wurmser, pooled 2,000 florins. In 1483 the Grand Chapitre of Strasbourg bought the vast real estate and forest heritage of Frankenbourg and thus became the real master of Count-Ban until the Revolution.

Modern history
The castle was destroyed by a fire caused by lightning in 1582. It was listed as a historical monument in its entirety on December 6, 1896, but the protohistoric wall was not until September 10, 1990.

It is said in the valley that between 1870 and 1873 the Blessed Virgin appeared on the path where today there is a Stations of the Cross, a chapel and a spring, in the forest district of Neubois, not far from the Frankenbourg castle. . She would have appeared there a hundred times in front of thousands of people, sometimes from far away.

Architectural elements

The ruins of this castle offer nothing more than a vast empty enclosure of rectangular shape, surrounded by walls with a height of 6 to 10 meters. The gate is located on the north side and faces the Alsace plain. On the side of the Val de Villé, therefore to the north, is the keep, relatively well preserved, in which you can still see a brick vault. This tower is 11 meters high and its walls are 4 meters thick. Inside the enclosure, on the south side facing the Val d'Argent, you can see, leaning against the wall, a very well preserved stone staircase of 20 to 25 steps which probably led to the first floor. Not far from this staircase and on the same side, near the front door, is a small window, half-hidden by the rubble which obstructs the entrance and through which one enjoys a nice view of the ground. the Lièpvrette valley.

The pagan wall
There is a so-called pagan wall surrounding Frankenbourg Castle on three sides, about 150 meters below the last walls. Baptized in this way by Pope Leo IX, who considered it to predate the Christian era, this wall is on the western slope of the Schlossberg, a little lower than the castle. On the eastern slope, there is no trace. This wall bears a certain resemblance to the pagan wall of Mont Sainte-Odile, but bears no resemblance to that of Taennchel, although it is about ten kilometers away. The construction of the pagan wall of Frankenbourg, like its assembly, comprises considerable blocks assembled by dovetail keys. Its thickness is 1.80 m, its width 0.60 to 0.90 m, and its height 0.50 to 0.70 m.

- Most specialists think that this wall dates back to the late Iron Age, perhaps La Tène; Gallic pieces have been found; at the foot of this wall in 1932 a pot was unearthed containing several hundred pieces (from the Gallo-Roman or Gallic period?).

According to the limonite found on the spot, it could be a half-artisanal, half-cult protected place (as at the Celtic camp of Bure in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges). Excavations will still have to confirm this hypothesis. The techniques employed by its builders tip the scales in favor of this era.

- But it can also come from the Gallo-Roman period, in particular because of the particularity that the builders of the time had to burst the rocks by iron wedges. Bronze coins depicting Constantine I (AD 272-337) were discovered here in 1926 by Robert Forrer, suggesting that the Romans stayed at the site during the Late Empire, in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD Indeed, wooden dovetails were also widely used during the Roman period.

- Finally, other archaeologists believe, on the contrary, that the wall could have been built in the Merovingian period of the High Middle Ages during the reign of the Duke of Alsace Aldaric and his descendants. They are based on the analysis of wood chips found on the scene.

Only the northern and southern slopes of the Schlossberg have preserved sections of the wall. In its southern part, it follows a practically rectilinear line which rises gently. The wall also merges into large rocks that are found on site. Later, around the Middle Ages, many stones from the pagan wall were probably used to build Frankenburg Castle. This protohistoric enclosure was listed as a historical monument on September 10, 1990.

Community life
For several years, many enthusiasts have been working to make this site accessible to walkers. among them: the Vosges de Villé Club, the Val de Villé Historical Society, the Scouts and Guides of France. Since May 2013 the association "Les Mains d'Or du Frankenbourg" aims to federate all the goodwill around several sites and to "[...] ensure the state of the ruins of the castle of Frankenbourg and stabilize the surrounding vegetation [...] ".