Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg

Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg



Location: Orschwiller  Map

Constructed: 12th- 15th century

Tel. 03 88 82 50 60

Jan, Feb, Nov and Dec

9:30am – 12pm; 1pm – 4:30pm

Mar and Oct

9:30am – 5pm

Apr, May and Sept

9:15am – 5:15pm

June, July and Aug

9:15am – 6pm

Closed: Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25

Official site


Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg was constructed in the 12th century in the Vosges mountains overlooking a strategic location over Alsatian plain. After sustaining substantial destruction after 52 day Swedish siege during Thirty Years' War it was abandoned. The castle was rebuild on the orders of German Emperor Wilhelm II between 1900 and 1908. However after World War I the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg along with the region was taken by France.


Geographic location

The castle is located at an altitude of 757 m, and placed at:
12 km west of Sélestat, from where it can be seen;
26 km north of Colmar;
55 km south of Strasbourg.

View of the Haut-Kœnigsbourg castle from the Alsace plain near Sélestat.



The Hohenstaufen
In 774, Charlemagne donated Stophanberch or Staufenberg (name of the pass where Haut-Kœnigsbourg was built) and land adjoining the priory of Lièpvre, dependent on that of Saint-Denis.

In 1079, Frederick I of Swabia (Frederick the Elder) was appointed Duke of Swabia by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Henry IV. He built Stauf Castle on Mount Hohenstaufen near Göppingen, hence the name of the family.

In order to strengthen the power of the Hohenstaufen in Alsace, Frédéric le Borgne created a line of defense and for that, he built many castles and some of them on land that did not belong to him. He is said to have constantly a castle hanging from his horse's tail. He would have had the Haut-Kœnigsbourg castle built illegally on the land entrusted to the monks of the Lièpvre abbey.

In 1147, Eudes de Deuil, monk of Saint-Denis urged Louis VII to intervene with King Conrad III of Hohenstaufen in order to redress this injustice. This is the first mention of the castle in a written document. At this date, the site already included two towers allowing to watch the road of Alsace from north to south, one belonging to Conrad III, the other to his nephew Frederick I of Swabia known as Barbarossa, future emperor of the Holy Empire. Roman Germanic. The name of Königsburg (king's castle) appears as early as 1157.

The Dukes of Lorraine
In the first half of the thirteenth century, taking advantage of the weakening of the Hohenstaufen, the dukes of Lorraine would have taken possession of the castle. This was entrusted to the Lords of Rathsamhausen then to the Hohensteins who reigned there until the 15th century.

Having become a den of brigand knights, the castle was conquered and burned down in 1462 by a coalition bringing together the cities of Colmar, Strasbourg and Basel, 500 men and artillery strong.

The Thiersteins
The remains of Haut-Kœnigsbourg were then entrusted to the Thierstein family. They built a bastion on the west side, made up of two artillery towers and a shield wall, with powerful walls. The lower courtyard is protected by two horseshoe towers and curtain walls with thick walls. The castle is surrounded by a first wall of protection in order to hinder the setting in battery of the enemy artillery.

In 1517, the last of the Thiersteins, drowning in debt, died. The family having no descendants, Maximilian I bought the castle. Neither the emperor nor the successive owners will face the maintenance costs, especially since the former does not finance the latter for these achievements.

In 1633, during the Thirty Years' War, which saw, among others, the Swedes opposed to Austria, Alsace was devastated. In July, the Swedes besiege Haut-Kœnigsbourg, which is nothing more than a dilapidated fortress, is commanded by Captain Philippe de Liechtenstein. Armed with cannons and mortars, they took the castle after fifty-two days of siege. Shortly after, the fortress was destroyed by fire. The castle is then abandoned.

Acquisition by the municipality of Sélestat
Classified as a historical monument in 1862, the site and its ruins were bought three years later from various owners by the municipality of Sélestat.

Gift to the Kaiser and reconstruction
Since 1871 and the Treaty of Frankfurt, Alsace has become German. On May 4, 1899, the castle, then in ruins, and the summit lands surrounding it were offered by the city of Sélestat to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Hohenzollern. He wanted to create a museum there to promote the Germanity of Alsace and, more generally, the Germanic world. The municipality keeps the hundred hectares of economically profitable forest.

The management of the restoration of this fortified castle was entrusted in 1900 to Bodo Ebhardt, a 35-year-old architect and archaeologist from Berlin. It begins with the clearing of the site and the surveys of old buildings. The restoration will last from 1901 to 1908. Bodo Ebhardt's goal is to restore it as it stood around the year 1500. In the absence of archaeological evidence, archives or elements of comparison with other contemporary monuments, "the part of interpretation, inevitable in such circumstances has been reduced to a minimum and it is in no way the object of any playful diversion" (François Loyer, cf. bibliography below). Guillaume II comes regularly to visit the site, he is housed in the station of Saint-Hippolyte rebuilt especially to welcome him in 1903.


The new Haut-Kœnigsbourg building was inaugurated on May 13, 1908, but the finishing touches and collection purchases continued until 1918.

For the Kaiser, this castle marked the western limit of the German Empire, as the castle of Marienburg, today in Poland, marked the eastern limit.

At the end of the First World War in 1919, the castle, private property of the former emperor assimilated to a property of the German Empire, came into the possession of the French state during the restitution of Alsace-Lorraine , in application of article 56 of the Treaty of Versailles.

However, the coat of arms of William II is still visible within the castle. It thus remains one of the symbols in Alsace of the German presence between 1871 and 1918, divided between the mostly credible restoration of the architect and the romantic vision of the Middle Ages of William II.

Civil building - national palace in 1919, its surroundings are classified by decree of February 16, 1930. But while the ruins had been classified in 1862, it was not until September 10, 1991 to see the inscription of the pumping station (or pavilion of the source) built in 1903, then on February 11, 1993 for a ministerial decree to classify the entire monument as historical monuments, including the returned parts. The ruins of the Château de l'Oedenbourg or Petit-Kœnigsbourg will also benefit from registration and then classification on the same dates.

At the same time, particular attention was paid to improving the reception of the public at the Haut-Kœnigsbourg castle, whose priority was sanitation and water supply.

Ownership of the Haut-Kœnigsbourg castle was transferred from the State to the Bas-Rhin general council in January 2007. It is the first heritage property transferred by the State to a local authority among a list of 176 transferable assets adopted. in 2004.

On December 16, 2011, the roof of Haut-Kœnigsbourg castle suffered damage during the passage of storm Joachim.

This historic monument enjoys a very high tourist attendance, with nearly 550,000 annual visitors.

Controversy over a restoration
This historic cession to William II and the latter's intentions - to legitimize himself as the successor of the Hohenstaufen and the Habsburgs and to show the Germanity of Alsace - are undoubtedly, in part, at the origin of the controversies surrounding this restoration initiated under the direction of Bodo Ebhardt.

If today Bodo Ebhardt's reconstruction is accepted as plausible, the renovation of the castle was nevertheless subject to controversy at the time. Critics of the reconstruction, preferring by far the charm of the ruins to the reconstructed castle, noted that certain elements were imagined by the architect, because they were completely destroyed. Many sets were then considered fanciful:
The square keep. Indeed in an old engraving, it is presented as round but the foundations clearly prove that the architect's vision was correct.
The Kaiser's room and its original dimensions not restored. Indeed, the stone architecture and the presence of the stove and the fireplace show that originally this room was composed of two floors and several rooms. The current condition of this coin was a requirement of William II to show the strength and importance of the German state.
The hexagonal main staircase - with its sculptures -, considered too decorated for an element of the Middle Ages.
The main gate, entrance to the castle, and its bas-reliefs. During the restoration of the castle, this door was completely destroyed and absent.
The presence of the windmill on an artillery tower and the forge in the lower courtyard.

However, today, it is considered that Bodo Ebhardt, through this restoration "has in any case remained within the limits of plausibility, having always taken care to draw inspiration from the many buildings he had studied before develop your project”.

The cartoonists of the time gave themselves to their heart's content, such as Henri Zislin or Jean-Jacques Waltz, who produced several plates on this subject. They are currently visible at the Hansi museum in Riquewihr.


A hundred years ago, the restorer allowed himself to treat a monument as a work of the imagination, and he could dream of an ideal Middle Ages and purity of style that was quite theoretical. From then on, two conceptions were already clashing. On the one hand, that of Viollet-le-Duc, imprinting the mark of the architect-artist on the building, which was to receive a perfect finish and "if necessary be corrected and completed", even if it means being falsified. On the other hand that of Luca Beltrami, at the Sforza castle in Milan, Bodo Ebhardt, at the imperial castle of Haut-Kœnigsbourg, Conrad Steinbrecht, at the castle of the grand master of the Teutonic knights in Malborg / Teutonic fortress of Marienburg. This second step was a decisive step towards scientific restoration. It is closer to the conceptions of Arcisse de Caumont, who already asked in the middle of the nineteenth century that the monument be respected, that a scientific doctrine be defined. If the new restorers around 1900 sought to integrate all eras, they could not resist the urge to reassemble all the walls even if some of them had been destroyed in the past during intentional transformations.

However, despite these criticisms, we can consider, like François Loyer that “… the archaeological concern is very real, the reconstruction credible and the details well-founded. It is even, possibly, the most accurate rendition that has ever been attempted. "

We very much regret not being able to distinguish the reconstructed parts more easily. However, Bodo Ebhardt marks the restored parts with a distinctive sign or works the stone differently. In addition, we must praise this restorer and his contemporaries for having worked for a very great readability and as exact as possible of the general plans, the articulation of volumes and the function of the details.



The castle was built on a rocky outcrop facing west-east. The walls, which follow the shapes of the rocks, have an irregular structure. From west to east, we find successively:

bastions - including the enormous large bastion - intended to protect the castle against artillery fire from locations further west on the rocky outcrop;
the upper garden, which hides the house further east from any possible artillery fire;
the dwelling with the living quarters and the keep;
the star bastion with lower walls protects the castle only against artillery fire from locations further east, therefore necessarily below the rocky outcrop.
The entrance is located below. The door is surmounted by a bas relief with the coat of arms of the Thierstein family. On the right is a thin surrounding wall (15th - 20th century) and, on the rocky outcrop on the left, the south house (12th - 20th century).

Main door
You come out on a small courtyard, where the main door equipped with a portcullis gives access to the castle. Above the front door, we find the coats of arms of Hohenzollern and Charles V, recalling that the castle was restored by Kaiser Wilhelm II. On the site had been found remains of the original coat of arms of which he considered himself the heir.

Lower courtyard
The lower courtyard is surrounded by outbuildings and service rooms (stable). An adjoining building is topped by a windmill. It includes in its middle a copy of a 15th century fountain preserved in Eguisheim, the forge and an Alsatian house.

Entrance to the lodge and Lions Gate
A staircase with large irregular steps provide access to the house. A final defense consists of a drawbridge at the level of the Porte des Lions.

Courtyard and hexagonal staircase
At the top, an interior courtyard is surmounted by wooden galleries, as well as a cistern with a square coping and a roof surmounted by a mermaid sculpture.

A hexagonal spiral staircase provides access to the upper floors; each floor has a balcony decorated with frescoes of knights overlooking the courtyard.

The well, 62 meters deep, was fortified so as not to be separated from the house by an artillery attack.

Through the gallery, one reaches the kitchens and the cellar, the length of which indicates the width of the rocky outcrop on which the castle is built.

The keep rests on a pre-existing square base of 17 meters. It was further enhanced during the restoration and protected by a roof.

Kaiser's room

The Kaiser's room is the castle's hall of honor. To have a high ceiling, the upper floor present in the Middle Ages has not been restored to make it a prestigious room for its modern use. It is only visible in the musicians' mezzanine. The main decoration is an imperial eagle ceiling painting by Leo Schnug19 with the motto Gott mit uns (God with us). On the wings are the coat of arms of the electors of the Holy Roman Empire and on its heart those of the Hohenzollerns. On the wall, on either side of the fireplace, is a joust between two knights. The guests could take part in a reception around a large table topped with decorated chandeliers.

Weapons room
It presents an important collection of pikes, halberds, clubs, rampart muskets, breastplates, helmets and crossbows.

Lorraine room
Created to recall the annexation of the Moselle, then called Lorraine, as part of the eponymous historical region, it has a decoration and furniture typically Lorraine: the wooded ceiling and the stone fireplace recall the medieval architecture of the city of Metz , reconstructed in the museums of the Cour d'Or. Along the same lines, a Graoully, dragon from Metz folklore, hangs in the middle of the room. It is inspired by the one present in the crypt of Metz cathedral.

Upper garden
The upper garden is the link between the house located in the center and the bastions located to the west. It is surrounded by a covered walkway and has a well.

Great bastion
The great bastion is the most fortified part: it had to be able to oppose artillery installed further west on the rocky outcrop and it is separated from the garden by a drawbridge. Copies of canons from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are preserved there. It was without a roof in the sixteenth century.