Castle of the Week 50 – Burghausen Castle

Castle Burghausen is located in Bavaria in southern Germany about 110 kilometers (66 miles) east of Munich. It lies on the west bank of the Salzach River which is the border between Germany and Austria. It is the longest existing castle in Europe. The castle is build atop a ridge and its length is stretched out over a full kilometer (1034 m). Parts of the defensive structure reached down to the village and are integrated into its town walls. The complex is divided into six courtyards.

It is thought that there was a Celtic settlement on the Burghausen ridge in 100 BC. In 600 AD the first building on the castle site was a wooden fortified house built by Bavarian Dukes and used the court of the Palatinate. It served for general administration as well as for the protection of the salt trade, shipped on the Salzach River.

The city of Burghausen was first mentioned in 1025 in a document as being a royal court (Reichshof). The German King Konrad II made Burghausen and the surrounding districts into an Earldom and appointed Bailiffs to administer it. The first expansion of the castle was made by Count Sieghart X in 1090, but most of the buildings have disappeared. It stayed the seat of the counts of Burghausen until 1163. In that year Heinrich the Lion, the famous opponent of the German Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa, took possession of the castle and the Earldom until 1180.

Until 1918 the Bavarian Dukes of Wittelsbach ruled Bavaria and extended the castle further through the centuries. Duke Heinrich XIII built the main castle (foundation wall, cellars, chapel) in 1255, and much of it stands still today. The most important building periods however were under the rule of the last three Dukes (Heinrich, Ludwig and Georg) of Lower Bavaria. They expanded and reinforced the castle to its present appearance under the impression of the Turk danger (1480 – 1490).

After the Landshuter succession wars (1503 – 1505) the castle lost its residential status but still had great military importance and was fortified again in the 17th century because of the advancing Swedes in the Thirty Year’s War. In the 18th century the castle underwent massive conversions and, as result of the succession wars in the first half of the 18th century and the loss of parts of the country to Austria, Burghausen became a border town.

Salt played an important role in the construction and evolution of Burghausen Castle. Burghausen grew and became important and rich due to the salt trade during the Middle Ages. Since all the salt from Salzburg, Hallein and the Alps had to travel north on the Salzach River by Burghausen to get to the rest of Europe, Burghausen charged a toll whether the salt travelled by water or land. However in 1594 the government took over the regulation of all salt trade and Burghausen lost its main source of income.

Because of losing its main source of income and with the loss of the land on the other side of the Salzach to Austria in 1779, Burghausen had to struggle to stay a town during the 1600s – 1800s. At that time the decay of Castle Burghausen began. During the war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Napoleon stayed at Burghausen in 1809 and declared the castle as obsolete for use as a fortress.

In 1896 began a thorough renovation of the main castle and since 1960 there are current renovation measures in progress for the whole castle.


The castle complex is divided into six courtyards. Each courtyard had or has its own fortified gate, moat and wooden drawbridge. Likewise each courtyard was built at a different time and has its own individual history.

In the first courtyard are located the Palace of the Duke’s Residence, the Kemenate, The Durnitz (Gothic Hall), the Inner Castle Chapel and the Treasury. The Inner Castle Chapel was built during the 13th century, a time period when architecture changed from Roman to Gothic, hence the outer walls of the chapel were built in Roman style and the inner style of the chapel was Gothic.

The second courtyard is very large, but many of the original buildings are gone and have not been rebuilt. Originally it contained the stables, a well, the main kitchen and the bakery as well as the lodges of the grooms and pages.

In the third courtyard the smithy or forge and an arsenal were located. Grain was stored on the upper two floors of the arsenal. It has one of the most distinguished and best preserved bridge and gate of any castle of medieval times (George Bridge and Gate). It is the most narrow part of the castle and the wooden bridge has a length of 27 m and covers a moat 8 meters deep.

In the fourth courtyard were another stable with grain storage on the second floor, the prison, Torture Tower or Witches Tower and a deep dungeon. Burghausen is one of the few castles that had a separate torture chamber. The actual torture devices are on display at the National Museum in Munich.

The fifth courtyard contained the main Tower (Gardener’s Tower), which also served as a look out. Here can be found the tax office, where the tax payments of corn, wine and oil were stored. A small Gothic style chapel, which was built between 1480 – 1490, is also located here.

The sixth courtyard is the largest and most changed courtyard of the castle. In the middle stands a Clock Tower (built in the 15th century) with a well house attached to it. In this yard master officials, clergy, craftsmen and their families lived and had their workshops. There was also a horse pond and a horse drawn mill. The towers on the right side of the yard were built during the 14th century and are square, whereas the towers on the left side were built during the 15th century and are circular.

The castle today contains two museums and a youth hostel.

Write-up provided by Hanarky. Pictures courtesy of Stadt Burghausen


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