Castle of the Week 45 – Burg Trifels

The Emperor’s castle of Trifels is the most formal of the forts from the Staufer period and is situated on the highest of three mountains – all with castles – above the small town of Annweiler (this is near Landau in the Palatinate). The mountain, Sonnenberg, (sun mountain) is 494m above sea level and 310m above Annweiler and the castle is built on a rock which has two clefts, and therefore looks like three rocks, hence the name: Trifels. The mountain is 145 m long, 40 m broad and 50 m high. Sonnenberg had already been used as a site by the Celts and the Romans for defense works. Trifels was built upon the remains of a wooden castle from the 10th century. It was documentarily named for the first time in the year 1081, when the Knight Diemar von Trifels presented the castle to the king before becoming a monk. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the castle was in the possession of the Salic and Staufer emperors.

In the Middle Ages the castle had two functions. From 1125 to 1298 it was the temporary depository of the Imperial crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1125 Emperor Heinrich V had determined that the empire insignia should go to Trifels after his death. The treasury consisted of the Emperor’s crown, Imperial orb, two empire swords, emperor’s coat and other items, together with a piece of the holy cross and a nail with which Jesus was nailed to the cross.

The blossoming of the castle began in the 12th century with the accession of the Staufer to power. In the high Middle Ages, the imperial castle of Trifels was regarded as a cornerstone of imperial power – “he who holds the Trifels, holds the empire.”

During this time Trifels castle protected the country around Annweiler and of course the city of Annweiler itself (Annweiler received their first city rights at this time from Friedrich II). Particularly under the Emperors of the Staufer period it was one of the most important castles of the Holy Roman Empire. Friedrich I (Friedrich Barbarossa) was there in 1155, 1184 and 1186. In the year of 1194 the Staufer Emperor Heinrich VI (son of Barbarossa) started his second campaign against the Normans in Sicily from Trifels and conquered the Norman Empire, transferring the Norman Royal Treasure to Trifels together with some Sicilian noblemen who were held as hostages. Friedrich II enlarged the castle.

Trifels castle also served as a prison and became famous through its important prisoners. Archbishop Adalbert from Mainz was imprisoned there in 1113 and also the English king Richard the Lionheart in 1193 and possibly also in 1194 as a prisoner of Emperor Heinrich VI. After the payment of a high ransom and after Heinrich VI extracted the fief oath from him, Richard was set free.

The end of the house of Staufer signalled the start of the downfall of Trifels castle.

Ludwig the Bavarian pawned the castle in 1330 to the Count Palatines Rudolf II and Ruprecht I and finally the castle came into the possession of the Dukes of Pfalz-Zweibruecken through succession in 1410.

Trifels castle survived the farmer revolts (1524 –1526), caused by the Reformation on the one hand and increasing legal, political and social pressure on the other hand, undamaged although the farmers were allowed into Trifels.

On 28th March 1602 the castle was struck by lightning. The Palas and some adjacent buildings were heavily damaged by the ensuing fire. In the Thirty Year’s War (1618 – 1648) Trifels castle served as a haven for the surrounding villages. In 1635 a plague epidemic broke out and after this date Trifels castle remained uninhabited and was not built up anymore.

In the 17th and 18th century Trifels was used as a quarry by the surrounding villages. During this time the castle suffered its greatest destruction. In 1866 the Trifels Association was founded and prevented any further theft of stone.

In the Third Reich, Trifels Castle was designated as an “empire monument” to new dignity (questionable) and was reconstructed from 1938 – 1966 mainly by Professor Rudolf Esterer, especially the Palas. The reconstruction occured, however, not to original plans but according to models of castles of Friedrich II in Italy.

The contemporary castle has little in common with the original buildings because of former structural freedoms. The massive castle keep is the original building from the early 13th century as is the gate-tower, with the chapel housed in its upper storey. The adjoining great hall was built completely new from 1938 on in the style of the 13th century. The well tower, standing outside the ring wall and linked to the castle by a bridge, is also an original medieval structure. The chapel served as the depository for the imperial crown jewels. Today the empire insignias are once again in the castle, but as copies as the originals have been in Vienna since the year 1800.

Write-up provided by Hanarky. Pictures courtesy of Burgenwelt