Visitors to Heidelberg Castle

A castle shrouded in mythMilestones

Heidelberg Castle was the Palatine prince-electors' representative ancestral seat for centuries. Its history spans its construction as a defensive castle, its conversion into a splendid and mighty castle, to its evolution into one of today's most adored ruins.

Portrait of Prince-Elector Carl Theodor von der Pfalz, painting by Heinrich Carl Brandt, circa 1791

Prince-Elector Carl Theodor von der Pfalz became the Elector of Bavaria in 1777.

A special relationship: the Palatinate and Bavaria

Every time a prince-elector died without producing an heir, the region was thrown into a political crisis. The regency then frequently transferred to a family branch, which is exactly what happened in 1777. Agreements resulted in the Palatine Wittelsbach family, who had been living in Heidelberg Castle, inheriting the Duchy of Bavaria from their cousin. The new residence was now located in Munich. In 1806, the Palatine family placed their first Bavarian king. The Electoral Palatinate had to cede their seat to the House of Baden in 1803.

Aerial view of the moat around the ensemble of buildings that make up Heidelberg Castle

The castle: once a stately princely residence.

A defensive castle becomes a stately castle

As important princes of the Holy Roman Empire, the Palatine Wittelsbach family required a residence in their ancestral region along the Rhine that was befitting their rank. Therefore, a defensive castle was first built above the town of Heidelberg. An increasing demand for representation and modern accommodations resulted in steady expansion. Fortifications were repurposed. In their place, residential castles were created with stately facades. The castle became a palace.

Portrait of Prince-Elector Carl Philipp von der Pfalz, painting by J. Ph. van der Schlichten, 1729

Prince-Elector Carl Philipp moved to Mannheim in 1720.

But what to do with the old walls?

Destruction from wars, such as the Nine Years' War, and from lightning strikes had rendered the castle useless as a residence. Also, being a Renaissance castle, it was no longer in the tastes of the time. Thus it was that Prince-Elector Carl Phillip finally relocated his residence to Mannheim, where he built a giant, contemporary Baroque castle. This made an impression on European rulers. But 80 years later, the old ruins came into fashion again, when artists of the Romantic period rediscovered the picturesque castle ruins. 

A center of power and a source of inspiration

Important prince-electors shaped their kingdom's history through their attitudes, alliances and wars. Other castle inhabitants live on in stories and legends. Heidelberg Castle was and remains a fascinating place. As a Romantic castle ruin, Heidelberg Castle inspired countless artists. Plans to rebuild it as a national monument were never realized. Today, visitors from all over the world enjoy its special charm.

Heidelberg Castle, painting by Hubert Sattler, circa 1900

Hubert Sattler captured the castle ruins in a painting circa 1900.

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