Sunday, November 8, 2015

Images from Europe: Burg Eltz

We were fortunate to visit many memorable castles during our travels around Europe, and one of our favorites was Burg Eltz. Although it was located in the Mosel River Valley, it was not situated directly on the river like many of its neighbors. Instead, it is perched in a valley upon a 70-meter-tall rock surrounded on three sides by the Eltzbach, a tributary of the Mosel. Nonetheless, it serves as a classic example of medieval architecture, and is striking from many angles.

It's also significant that the castle has remained a possession of the Eltz family for over 850 years, and it was never destroyed. The structure has grown over the years, and once housed three branches of the Eltz family. More details of the castle's history can be found on the official Burg Eltz website, along with many more photos. We toured part of the castle, but were not allowed to take photos inside, so the interior photos on the official website are helpful in appreciating the beauty of the structure.

What you won't find on the official website are my impressions. The image above was taken from the steep path used to shuttle visitors to the castle from the parking area. Most visitors walk down either this steep path, or a more gradual walking path that takes a longer route through the woods before offering its own dramatic view of the castle. There are several inspiring vantage points along the shuttle route, such that one stops every few feet to capture a slightly different perspective of the fortification, convinced that the latest view might be slightly superior to the prior one.

This is one of our views of the courtyard within the castle where we waited for our tour to begin. While waiting, I studied the features of the buildings around us and marveled at the effort, craftsmanship, and expense that went into the construction. I was particularly amazed by the gothic oriel window on the wall in the left side of the photo as I began to contemplate the extra effort and expense necessary to add that feature compared to the simple windows on the opposite side of the courtyard. Look at the decorative stone supports beneath the window, the stone traceries in the windows, the ornate painting under the roof eaves, and the steep pitch and multiple facets of the roof itself. My first thought was, "Someone must have really loved his wife a lot to go to that much trouble to make her happy!"

On the tour, we learned the real reason why this feature was added to the home. The oriel window houses the private chapel connected to the upper hall or bedchamber of this section of the house. Since it was not deemed appropriate to have any part of your home above the chapel, the oriel window allows the chapel to have its own roof which is not covered by any other roof of the castle. Evidently the importance of having a private chapel attached to your personal chambers was worth the effort apparent in this impressive architectural element.

This view is one of the first we had of the castle as we exited the woods on our approach. First impressions are often significant, and this vantage point impressed us all. Little did we know that the structure would continue to impress us on closer examination. Although Burg Eltz is off the beaten path and an effort to find, we recommend it as a castle worth visiting and touring.