Hanstein Castle

Hanstein Castle



Location: Bornhagen, Thuringia Map

Constructed: 11th century


Hanstein Castle is a medieval citadel that stands on the high ground overlooking town of Bornhagen, Thuringia in Germany. It was constructed in the 11th century.


Geographical location
The ruins of the hilltop castle are located about 4 km south-southeast of the border triangle Hesse-Lower Saxony-Thuringia, which lies on the other side of the Stürzlieder Berg near the castle on the Schmiedeköpf. It stands at the transition area from the Neuseesen-Werleshäuser heights in the northwest to the Höheberg in the southeast at about 390 m above sea level. NHN high mountain top. A little north to northeast below the castle is Bornhagen, the core town of the municipality of the same name and directly east-southeast to south of its district Rimbach. To the west the landscape slopes down into the valley of the small Friesenbach, whose water flows through the Siesterbach near Werleshausen in Hesse into the Werra near the castle. Beyond the Werra lies the Hessian castle Ludwigstein.

Origin of name
There are two ways of deriving the name "Hanstein":
the derivation of the ahd. hano for the cock
the derivation of Hagan (lat. indago) for Hagen or Hain, a fenced or enclosed place and of -stein for stony ground or rocks together means a fortification placed on a rock and a place surrounded by a wall and ditch. (is assumed to be likely) Bornhagen, north of the castle, could have been part of this fortification.

The area around the Hanstein was an old borderland between the Saxons in the north and the Thuringians in the south, while the land west of the Werra was already heavily influenced by Franconia. Presumably that is why there was a fortification at this place very early on. From the 7th to 8th centuries, the land north of the Unstrut and on the lower Werra came under the influence of Saxon noble families.

The older assumption that Hanstein Castle was first mentioned in a document in the 9th century in the "Traditions" (donation notes) of the Corvey Monastery is outdated by recent research; the place mentioned there "Haanstedihus" designates one of the two present-day communities Hanstedt (Nordheide) or Hanstedt (district of Uelzen). The earliest mention of Hanstein Castle known so far comes from Lampert von Hersfeld on the occasion of its destruction by Heinrich IV. In 1070. The castle, which was owned by Count Otto von Northeim, must have been built some time before 1070. Its destruction by the king shows its importance for this part of the high mediaeval tribal duchy of Saxony and for the Saxon nobility (see Sachsenkrieg (Heinrich IV.). It can be assumed whether the previous castle was on the site of today's castle ruins. Not far on the mountainside of the neighboring Junkerkuppe there was another "old castle", the meaning of which is not clearly proven. Since the castle was owned by Otto von Northeim, he probably rebuilt it in the following years.

Presumably from the legacy of the Counts of Northeim, who died out in 1144, the castle came into Guelph ownership. It is mentioned in the partition agreement of the sons of Henry the Lion of 1202, and through Heinrich's youngest son Otto IV it was passed on to the Archbishop of Mainz, Siegfried, in 1209. The second castle was in a poor structural condition at the end of the 13th century. On behalf of the Archbishop, Heinrich and Lippold von Hanstein began building today's castle in 1308 - “first out of wood, then gradually out of stone”. In the hereditary possession of the castle as a strategically important border fortress of the Mainz Eichsfeld, the Lords of Hanstein pursued a systematic policy of acquiring and consolidating ownership in the 14th and 15th centuries, which ultimately resulted in the aristocratic Hanstein court, which comprised 21 villages. Since the Lords of Hanstein did not succeed in acquiring city rule, they were cut off from economic development in both centuries and at times went over to robber barons. Against this and to protect the trade route through the Werra Valley, Landgrave Ludwig I of Hesse had Ludwigstein Castle built in 1415.

During the Thirty Years' War, the castle was partially destroyed by Swedish troops and has not been permanently inhabited since then. However, for a long time it served as a meeting point for the various lines of the Hanstein family. A new hall was built for this purpose between 1838 and 1840. In addition, parts of the castle were temporarily used as a prison.

Due to its direct location on the inner-German border, the north tower was used as an observation post for the GDR border troops. Since 1985, monument preservation work has been carried out on the ruins again, supported by the local Heimatverein.



The Hanstein castle ruins were a popular hiking destination for Göttingen students well into the 20th century. Every year on the first weekend in August, a medieval festival takes place, which is very popular and attracts over 13,000 visitors. Tourist projects that serve to develop the castle and its history are, for example, the Hanstein castle truce and an old-style vineyard as well as a herb garden. Below Hanstein Castle is the Klausenhof, an old tavern with a historic inn, which is closely related to Hanstein Castle and was once part of their property.

On February 3, 2011, Deutsche Post issued a 90-cent stamp with the motif Zweirgenblick im Werra valley, which shows Ludwigstein Castle in Hesse and Hanstein Castle ruins in Thuringia on both sides of the Werra.

Castle owners
Since the original owners of Hanstein Castle (Northeimer, Welfen, Kurmainz) lived far away, these burgraves or castle bailiffs were responsible for the maintenance and administration of the castle and judicial district. The following castle men can be proven:

1138 Ulrich von Hanstein
1145 Boppo von Hanstein, 1170 Poppo von Hanstein (also referred to as Burggraf: Comes Poppo de Hanensten), both of the Hanstein bearers are not related to the later noble von Hanstein family
from 1230 as a castle loan to the Lords of Hanstein
1236 Heidenreich von Hanstein
after 1280 Hermann von Spangenberg
1296–1299 Friedrich von Rosdorf and Dietrich von Hardenberg
1312 Heinrich and Lupold von Hanstein as hereditary castle men after signing a contract and building the new castle
In 1324 other castle men were named, including Bertold von Hunoldshausen and Johannes von Gandera.

The castle complex sits on a spur-like sandstone rock of the Höhebge, which was advantageous for the construction of the defenses. A total of 5 castle gates led over the outer bailey to the core bailey. Since the castle was abandoned from the 16th century, the ruins of the Gothic castle complex have not been changed by extensive renovation work. A castle well was located in the former castle kitchen. Until the 18th century the dungeon of the judicial district was in different places of the castle. There was also a castle chapel in the inner castle. In 1417 Martin von Hanstein had an altar built (Altare magni pretii). The church was provided with various goods, tithes or interest for maintenance. Kapellan was the pastor of the church in Rimbach. The three-winged altar from the former castle chapel is on display in the Catholic Church of Rimbach. A new knight's hall was built in the 19th century.

Immediately adjacent to the castle complex was the town of Rimbach with its own parish church, where the castle staff presumably lived. It is not known exactly whether the place was surrounded by a fortification; traces are said to have existed in the 18th century. However, the first castle gate was already in the village. The place was a villa forensis with market fairness, as with other castles.

Lookout point
The north tower of Hanstein Castle is a good vantage point in the region of the nearby border triangle of Hesse-Lower Saxony-Thuringia. The panorama includes the Hohe Meißner, the Kaufunger Wald, the Leinebergland and the Eichsfeld, in clear weather the Harz with the Brocken can be seen in the northeast. Therefore, the tower was also used as an observation post for the GDR border troops to monitor the nearby inner-German border. The south tower is not open to the public and therefore not a lookout tower.

Some scenes from the feature film Der Medicus (2013) were shot at Hanstein Castle.