Castle of the Week 71 – Vianden

Le Chateau de Vianden (or Vianden Castle) in Luxembourg is situated on a rocky spur overlooking the Our Valley in a spectacular situation. There has been a castle there since Roman times but the one that can now be seen has been restored to its 18th century glory.

Much archaeological work has taken place in the castle and traces of a 4th century Roman fortification have been found. There was a tower about 10.5m high at the southern end of the spur with two walls extending from it following the contours of the hill. The northern end of the rock was protected by a deep ditch cut in the rock. Despite much digging, nothing has been found of what was inside the walls. Towards the middle of the 5th century it is known that most of the castle was destroyed by fire.

During the early middle ages the Roman fortifications were extended behind a wooden pallisade. The castle protected the valley below from Norman invasions but was also used in an administrative capacity as the centre for tax collecting.

From the 11th to the 13th century much building took place under the stewardship of the Counts of Vianden. A palace, a keep, a magnificent new chapel to replace one in the Roman tower, towers, a grand gateway and massive stone walls were all added. The courtyard below the top of the spur was enclosed by walls too.

In the middle of the 13th century, Count Henry I transformed the buildings into the gothic style with the addition of stepped gables and high gothic roofs. The castle was luxurious as befitted the powerful Counts of Vianden who wanted to show that they were at least the equals of the Counts of Luxembourg, their closest rivals. The town beneath the castle was the capital of Vianden county, an area the same size as present-day Luxembourg. It was fortified whilst being dominated and protected by the castle and was known for its artists and craftsmen.

This was the high point for the Castle. By the end of the 13th century, sovereignty had passed to the Counts of Luxembourg and its importance began to wane. In 1417 the last of the line died, and ownership passed to the House of Nassau (which in 1530 was joined to the principality of Orange). The castle was only of minor importance to them and was no longer lived in. By the beginning of the 15th century most of the grand buildings were being used for storage and the fortunes of the town similarly started to decline.

In 1794, the French, who were occupying Luxembourg, abolished the county of Vianden. Most of the former county was surrendered to Prussia at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and the rest to William I, King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg. He sold the castle to the highest bidder and so in August 1820 it was bought by a merchant from the town, Wenceslas Coster, who dismantled and sold much of the building materials particularly the wooden beams holding up the roofs and the lead and copper of the roofs themselves. William I tried to calm the inhabitants by buying back what was left but by that stage it wasn’t much.

In 1977 it was bequeathed to the state as a pile of rubble and has been fully restored to its 18th century appearance. The restored halls have exhibitions of weapons and suits of armour, archaelogical finds and pictures and once again the Chateau Vianden looks down on the medieval town at its foot.

Write-up provided by GillB. Pictures courtesy of Jayhawk.