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Riquewihr (Reichenweier in German and Rïchewïhr in Alsatian) is a French commune located in the Haut-Rhin department, in the Grand Est region. This town is located in the historical and cultural region of Alsace.
Remains of Bilstein Castle
The ruins of the fortified castle located on the road to Aubure, east of Ribeauvillé, are to the south of the Strengbach valley, between the Haut de Ribeauvillé pass and the Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines valley. They stand on a rocky ridge of the Schlossberg at an altitude of 700 meters. This castle is mentioned for the first time in 1217 in the chronicle of Richer, monk and abbot of Senones. It then belonged to the Duke of Lorraine who ceded it as a fief to the Horbourg family.
To distinguish it from another castle with the same name but located in the Val de Villé near Urbeis, it has been added the name of Bilstein d'Aubure castle. The latter kept it until 1324 then it was sold to their uncle, Count Ulrich III of Württemberg. In 1387 he transferred the miraculous image of the Virgin to the Notre-Dame church in Riquewihr. The keep and the lodge probably date from the 12th - early 13th century and the high door which was rebuilt in the 14th century. This castle was restored several times in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. In 1388, the united Swabian and Alsatian cities declared war on the Duke of Bavaria and his allies, including Count Eberhard of Wurtemberg. They were asked to spare Bilstein Castle.
In 1424, Ferry, bastard of Charles II of Lorraine, obtained the use of it. The inhabitants of Beblenheim paid a royalty in 1472 so that the lord could watch their forests. In 1547, the emperor was at war with Württemberg and laid siege to the castle. During the Thirty Years' War, from January 10 to 13, 1636, it was occupied and destroyed by the imperial troops of the Count of Schlick. A fire in 1640 completely ruined it. The last bailiff of the castle who took possession of the ruins took office in 1655. Faced with the scale of the repairs, he was gradually abandoned and served as a career for the population of Riquewihr. Bilstein Castle was to serve as a prison on various occasions until 1489.
An ancient Roman city
The origins of Riquewihr date back to Roman times4. The remains of a "speculum" (observation tower), the remains of a wall and a tower, prove the passage of a road going up through the valley to Aubure passing near an ancient pagan wall. It is very probable that there existed at this place a dump before the entry of the mountain; the culture of the vine suggests a small fortified agglomeration. Tombs found in the surroundings prove the existence of a locality around the 7th and 9th centuries.
A property of the Dukes of Alsace
Around the year 1000, Riquewihr was with its Reichenstein castle the property of the Dukes of Alsace and Eguisheim-Dabo. He is mentioned for the first time under the name of “Richovilare” in 1049 in a donation to the monastery of Sainte-Croix-en-Plaine, near Colmar. In 1094, the abbey of Sainte-Croix-en-Plaine had vines in Riquewihr. The eleventh-century village of Richovilare passed into the hands of the counts of Eguisheim-Dabo.
The Reichensteins and the destruction of Reichenstein castle
From the 13th century, the estate fell into the hands of a noble family, the Reichensteins, but its members made a bad name for themselves as lords-brigands. In 1269, in order to restore order and security, Rodolphe de Habsbourg, the future Emperor of Germany, besieged Reichenstein castle with the assistance of troops from the city of Strasbourg and Colmar. The lords, the two Gislin brothers, were condemned to death and hanged from an oak tree near the castle, the remains of which and the keep are still visible. After the execution of the knights, Rodolphe went to the village of Riquewihr where he shared a glass of wine with the inhabitants. The next day, returning on horseback with his tenant farmer from Guémar, Roldolphe proclaimed that the village of Riquewihr deserved to be built into a town because, thanks to this "devil of wine", he had been tutored by the elders of the council and did not want anyone to reproach him for being so familiar with the peasants. The disappearance of the castle became for the city the starting point of a prosperous period.
The lords of Horbourg and the construction of the surrounding wall
The city and the castle having become the property of the lords of Horbourg within the seigniory of Riquewihr, Burkhardt II of Horbourg made, in 1291, raise walls and surround the borough of a broad and deep ditch. Thus Riquewihr became a small fortress 300 m long and 220 m wide, which could, if necessary, shelter the inhabitants of several neighboring villages. Access to the city was provided by two gates, the lower one, destroyed in 1804, and the upper one, known as the “Dolder”. This gate overlooked by a five-storey tower is 25 meters high. The passage could at the time of danger be closed by a very solid door with two leaves and by a harrow. The bell in the small steeple served as an alarm signal in the event of an approaching enemy from the plain. The interior of the Dolder was once used as a dwelling place for the village keeper. This enclosure still exists in part in the twenty-first century. We can still see the northern and western perimeter walls and the emblematic towers of the city: the Dolder and the Thieves Tower. A glance along the surrounding wall, to the right and to the left of the Dolder and along the Semme, gives an idea, alongside its picturesque aspect, of the solidity and importance of these fortifications. In 1320, the Horbourgs obtained the authorization to raise their domain in “city”, thus giving a certain importance to the city.
The Counts of Württemberg and the Reformation
Without posterity, the lords of Horbourg sold their lands in 1324 to Ulrich X of Württemberg. In 1397, Count Eberhard IV of Wurtemberg took as his fiancée the heiress of the county of Montbéliard, Henriette d'Orbe, still a child. Riquewihr having become the capital, the two families, the Württemberg-Monbéliard, wisely governed their domain which then experienced great prosperity until the Thirty Years' War.
The flourishing trade in wine which was exported throughout the Empire and the Hanseatic countries brought great prosperity, as evidenced by the remarkable residences dating mainly from the sixteenth century.
In 1420, the inhabitants expelled the Jews from the village "not by a decision of the magistrate but by the hatred and fury of the people". In 1525, Riquewihr was drawn into the peasant war. In 1534, Count Georges de Wurtemberg, Lutheran, introduced the Reformation into the seigneury.
The Thirty Years' War
During the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), armies under different
banners swept over Alsace and devastated most of the towns and
villages. In 1635 and 1652, Riquewihr was besieged, taken and
pillaged by the troops of the Duke of Lorraine. Since 1607, the
burgvogt, known under the name of Johann Conrad Krämer, resided
there until 1626. During his reign, restoration and consolidation
works were undertaken and allowed the population of Riquewihr to
find refuge inside the fortified walls. During this period, Alsace
had to face all kinds of armies which pillaged and ransomed the
population. In 1626 the new burgvogt was called Michel Hauweber. He
was charged by the Duke of Württemberg to respect draconian
specifications, such as defending the castle and the woods around
the fortress at all costs. In 1635, the town of Riquewihr was
occupied by a French detachment of sixteen men from Colmar. The
burgvogt had many works done and fortified the walls.
The city was bombarded by six pieces of artillery. The little garrison who had taken refuge in Bilstein's castle resisted valiantly. It was then that the commander-in-chief of Colmar, Manicamp, decided to send reinforcements to Riquewihr to break through the walls of the castle but the detachment got lost in the woods and the troops sent as reinforcements were dispersed by the peasants of the Val d 'Orbey. However, a small column eventually found itself in front of the castle and opened up breaches in its defense system. The assault became inevitable. The commander then asked the defenders of Riquewihr to give up protecting the village by promising the life of the population if they opened the doors to them. The inhabitants ended up opening them on June 26, 1635, but the troops did not scrupulously respect their promise and there were summary executions and settling of scores. The murders were followed by famine and epidemics of plague, cholera and typhus which decimated a large part of the population; Riquewihr had great difficulty recovering from these desolations, the passage of the armies of the King of France in 1675 not helping the situation. In 1680, Louis XIV's emissaries took possession of Riquewihr, which however remained subject to the laws and customs of the Holy Roman Empire and to the orders of the Counts of Württemberg.
The pre-revolutionary period
Riquewihr was then definitively attached to France in 1786, an attachment ratified by the Treaty of Paris of May 21, 1786 between the King of France and the Duke of Wurtemberg. During the Revolution, the Württemberg family had to give up its other possessions in Alsace, in particular the principality of Montbéliard.
The Second World War
Unlike other villages in the region (such as Mittelwihr, Bennwihr or Sigolsheim), Riquewihr miraculously escaped the destruction of World War II because of its dead end position. This preservation of its ancient heritage makes it one of the most visited villages in Alsace, especially in summer.