Castle of the Week 41 – Burg Hohenzollern

The Hohenzollern dynasty, from which German kings and emperors arose, originated as a family of counts in Swabia in the 11th or 12th century. They ruled Prussia and eventually united and ruled Germany until the end of World War I. Their strong, rigidly disciplined armies gave Prussia a reputation for military excellence. The Hohenzollerns were named for their ancestral castle, Zollern (later Hohenzollern). The castle Hohenzollern is situated near the city of Hechingen at an altitude of 855m on a high, conical hill (called the “Zollern”)
in the Swabian Alb region of Baden-Wurttemberg, a state in Germany.

In 1227 the Hohenzollern count Conrad III was made burgrave of Nuremberg by Friedrich II, Holy Roman Emperor, and the Hohenzollerns of Nuremberg formed a new branch of the family, called the Franconian; the original line remained in Swabia. The Hohenzollern-Hechingen line of the Swabian branch became extinct in 1869. The Hohenzollern family was first mentioned documentarily in 1061, the family-castle (Castro Zolre) in 1267, although the oldest castle must have been built in the first half of the 11th century. The appearance, size and structure of this first castle are unknown, but according to a Strasbourg chronicle it was the “crown of all castles in Swabia” and “the most solid residence in the German realm”.

Described as the strongest castle in Swabia, it nevertheless was conquered and completely destroyed in 1423 after a 10 month siege caused by a family dispute through a union of 18 Swabian imperial cities. The king of that time, Sigmund, forbade the castle ever to be reconstructed. His successor, Emperor Friedrich III, however, annulled this interdiction thirty years later.

Count Jos Niklas of Zollern began to build the second considerably larger castle in 1454 and it was finished by his son, Eitel Friedrich II around 1500.

The Hohenzollern counts had expensive tastes and caused their subjects much need and poverty. The bitterness finally culminated in a series of revolts and rebellions starting at the end of the 16th century that were suppressed with military force. Nevertheless the unrest continued after the Thirty Years’ war.

During the Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648) the castle was extended into a fortification by the construction of bastions and thus was considered to be impregnable. Despite that, the castle changed hands several times and armies from Baden-Wurttemberg and Sweden managed to occupy the castle in 1634 after a 9 months’ siege by starving the garrison.

Although they did not destroy the castle, none of the subsequent owners felt responsible for preserving the buildings, so it fell into ruins. This was also due to the fact that it lost its military importance after 1744.

Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, later King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, from the Nuremberg branch of the family, decided in 1819 that he would rebuild the old Hohenzollern seat. The new Hohenzollern castle was built in romantic Neo-Gothic style after 1850. The chapel of St Michael built in the 15th century is the only remaining building from the old castle. The newly built castle consists of two parts: the palace, with its many towers, and the fortifications.

After World War II, Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia started to furnish the castle with exquisite pieces of art from the 17th to 19th centuries showing the history of Prussia and of the Hohenzollern family. The castle still is private property belonging to the Hohenzollern (Prussian) family. Until 1991, the protestant chapel of Christ the Lord housed the coffins of King Friedrich Wilhelm I (1688-1740) and King Friedrich II (the Great) (1712-1786) who originally had been buried in the Garnison church of Potsdam.

In 1991 the coffins were returned to Potsdam. The Royal Prussian Crown is the central piece of the treasury of the castle.

The castle was almost destroyed a third time. During an earthquake on 3rd September 1978 it suffered major damage, with the repairs costing about ten million german D-Marks.

Write-up provided by Hanarky. Pictures courtesy of Burg Hohenzollern


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