Saturday, October 19, 2013

Luxarazzi 101: Schloss Weilburg

Located in the German state of Hesse and surrounded almost entirely by the Lahn river; Weilburg an der Lahn can boast a rich history intertwined with the history of the branch of the House of Nassau by the same name which has ruled the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg since 1890. 

Between 1700 and 1719, Weilburg was developed into the residential city of the House of Nassau-Weilburg and even though the princely seat was moved to Kirchheim (today known as Kirchheimbolanden) in 1741, it remained the seat of government. In the early 18th century, Weilburg became residential city once again until Duke Wilhelm of Nassau made Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden his main residence in 1817. In today's post, we are going to have a closer look at Weilburg's most prominent feature, its castle, which belonged to the Grand Ducal Family until 1935.
Photo: Fritz Geller Grimm
Long before the castle formerly owned by the Grand Ducal Family was built by Count Johann I of Nassau (between 1355 and 1359) another castle and seat of  the Franco-Merovingian gentry was located on the hill above the Lahn river. Parts of the latter can still be found in the northern part of the east wing as remains of a fortified tower with round-arched frieze dating from the 14th century are preserved to this day.

Groundplan of the castle
The Schloss Weilburg that we know today has its roots in the 16th century when already existing sites were extensively altered and expanded. While the plans started out relatively modest, a four winged castle was built within 40 years. The castle is considered to be one of (if not the) most important renaissance castles in all of Hesse.

The first one to be built was the eastern wing. Realised between 1533 and 1539, Nikolaus Schickedanz constructed the eastern wing as the first modern renaissance castle in the Nassau area. Originally planned as a representative two-storey residence, the wing was increased by one storey in 1661/2. In the same period of time, the stair tower received its current size. From 1850 until 1852, changes were made to the private apartments of the Duke and Duchess located in the eastern wing and reachable via a seperate entry. Above the portal of said entry, you can find the alliance coat-of-arms of Count Philipp III of Nassau-Weilburg and his third wife, Amalie of Isenburg-Büdingen.

The southern and western wings were built between 1540 and 1548 by Balthasar Wolff from Heilbronn. Together with the already existing eastern wing, the two new buildings created a three winged castles open to the north. 

Photo: Luxarazzi
The two new wings were used diversely. While the ground floor of the southern wing was used functionally, ceremonial and representative rooms were located on the second floor. The ground level of the west wing consisted of the royal stables, a guardhouse as well as the gateway. Above those, more apartments were located. Between 1567 and 1572, a stair tower was added. Called the Stadtpfeifferturm, it got its name from the town piper who lived in an apartment in the tower. Once again, an alliance coat-of-arms can be found above the entrance, this time of Count Albrecht of Nassau-Weilburg and Anna of Nassau-Dillenburg.

As the last one of the four parts of the castle, the northern wing was built between 1567 and 1573 by Ludwig Kempf and Georg Robin. The northern wing is the only one with a very regular facade including spire lights and oriels. It's most noticeable feature are the court arcades with ionic marble columns on the ground floor; the previously open arcade on the second floor was closed in 1590 and the facade received corinthian columns. Between 1580 and 1590 the Grüner Bau (green building) was added between the northern and eastern wings and remodelled during the 18th century. A special feature of the castle is a massive marble bath built between 1711 and 1713 according to plans by Julius Ludwig Rothweil with both constant hot and cold water, something that was uncommon during the time.

Starting in 1703 and initiated by Count (later Prince) Johann Ernst of Nassau-Weilburg (1664-1719), the castle surroundings received a new appearance through refurbishments according to plans of Rothweil. Over roughly the next eleven years, the entire townscape of Weilburg was transformed due to the construction of numerous administration and functional buildings, a castle church (1707-13) and gardens that included two orangeries. The entire complex of the castle and the surrounding town is a prime example of a small baroque residential city during the age of absolutism.

Photo: Luxarazzi
Both during the 18th and 19th century, expansion plans for the castle were drawn up but never carried out. At the turn of the 19th century, another few changes were made in particular in relation to the furnishing and the fortification of the castle.

The castle remained the property of the Ducal Family of Nassau, who later became the Grand Ducal Family of Luxembourg, even though they rarely spent time in Weilburg after Nassau was annexed by Prussia in 1866. It was only in 1935 that Grand Duchess Charlotte sold the castle to the Prussian state. Nevertheless, members of the Grand Ducal Family are still regularly paying visits to the castle and the town surrounding it. Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Hereditary Grand Duchess were in Weilburg just a few weeks ago and Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria-Teresa visited last year.

Since the end of World War II, the Schloss is owned by the state of Hesse. Parts of all the four wings as well as one of the orangeries can be visited during a guided tour which takes about 45 minutes. For more information (in German), have a look on the website of the State Castles and Gardens Hesse.

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