Sunday, December 28, 2014

Luxarazzi 101: Château de Vianden

All photos: Wikimedia Commons / Château de Vianden overlooking
the city of Vianden and the River Our
Luxembourg’s most famous non-grand ducal castle is probably the Château de Vianden, Burg Vianden, or Buerg Veianen, depending on which of Luxembourg’s three official languages you prefer. Château de Vianden perches more than one thousand feet (310 meters) on a rocky cliff, overlooking the city of Vianden and the River Our that flows through it. Imposing towers and five gates, with one served by a drawbridge, protected Château de Vianden during its medieval days. After serving as the Counts of Vianden’s seat of power for centuries, the castle would eventually be neglected and fall into ruin. But a committed restoration project in the late 20th century saw Château de Vianden restored and returned to its former glory.

There has been a structure on the site of Château de Vianden since the age of the Romans. In fact, the town at the time was known as Viennensis. A castellum, of fort watch tower, is believed to have sat there originally. Historians also date the basement of the castle to the 9th century, when it was a Carolingian refuge. Additionally, the Carolingians erected a decagonal tower, which would later become the castle’s chapel.

The upper level of the decagonal
chapel at Château de Vianden
The first mention of a Count of Vianden occurs in 1090, and construction on the Château de Vianden appears to have begun right around the beginning of the 12th century. Early construction resulted in a keep, a kitchen, a chapel, and rooms for family members, all built in the prevailing Romanesque style of the day.

Within the next fifty years, the palace within the castle grew, receiving a residential tower, as well as the large and unique chapel that was placed in the Carolingian decagon. This chapel spans two levels, connected by a central opening. The Vianden locals were allowed to attend services and sit in the lower level, while the aristocrats sat in the upper level. (The Count of Vianden was afforded an even higher spot, seated in a balcony in the upper level.) The expanded palace, however, proved insufficient, as a two-level palace was later added in the early 13th century, with a gallery connecting it to the chapel.

In the mid-13th century, Château de Vianden received a complete makeover that gave it a Gothic styling. The chapel still reflects the split style history of the castle: the lower level maintains the earlier Romanesque look, while the upper level features Gothic elements.

In 1417, the region encompassing Vianden transferred via inheritance to the House of Nassau, although the Counts of Vianden retained their hereditary title. Then, in 1530, Elisabeth, the daughter of Henry II of Vianden, received ownership of the castle and the entire County of Vianden. She chose to will both to her cousin Count Engelbert of Nassau. When this occurred, the Count of Vianden also assumed titles of the House of Orange-Nassau and became the Count of Orange-Nassau-Vianden.
The castle changed hands entirely, if relatively briefly, during Willem of Orange’s revolt against King Felipe II of Spain. At one point, the latter took ownership of the castle and gave it over to Peter Ernst I von Mansfeld-Vorderet, who was Governor of Luxembourg at the time. The castle was eventually returned to the Orange-Nassau-Vianden family.

Prince Maurice of Orange-Nassau-Vianden added the Renaissance-style Nassau Quarter in 1621, which included a banqueting hall and a large bedroom. This new mansion took the place of a damaged keep dating from the 11th century. After this, though, Château de Vianden fell largely into ruin, as the Counts of Vianden abandoned it as their primary seat. In 1667, lightning started a fire that would affect the chapel and remove some traces of the castle's Gothic look.

A view of Château de Vianden by night
Such was the merging of family lines that by the early 19th century the Count of Vianden, Willem Frederik, was also King Willem I of the Netherlands. In the process of managing his various properties, he chose to sell Château de Vianden in 1820, to an alderman named Wenzel (Wenceslas) Coster for the cost of 3200 florins. Coster, as was his right as the new owner, began taking the building apart piece by piece: quite literally, he sold doors and windows individually, wood panels from inside the castle, pieces of masonry, and tiles from the roof. Coster also relocated the staircase from the castle, as well as pieces of paneling and furniture, to his home within the town of Vianden. This seemingly wanton demolishment angered the people of Vianden, and William I found himself obligated to buy the now-ruined structure back for 1100 florins. William had the goal of restoring the castle, but he became otherwise occupied in the Belgian Revolution of 1830.

In 1851, Prince Henry of the Netherlands took it on himself to begin reconstruction by paying out of pocket for the cost of repairing the chapel. In 1890, Adolph of Nassau-Weilburg became the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and also took ownership of Château de Vianden. He hired the German reconstruction specialist Bobo Ebhardt to take on the full repairs for the castle. Ebhardt's work was successful, but was also interrupted by the violence of World War I.

Château de Vianden holds an interesting honor from World War II, when the anti-Nazi resistance from Luxembourg held off the Waffen-SS from the castle. Despite the castle’s medieval origins, it proved a sufficient fortification against the modern warfare of the Nazis. The 30 members of the Luxembourgish resistance managed to fight of 250 Germans with only light casualties (1 dead, 6 wounded) against 23 Germans killed.

Further restoration work flagged after World War II, but some work resumed in 1962. Then, in 1977, Grand Duke Jean transferred ownership of Château de Vianden to the state. Reconstruction on the roof, walls, and gables began in 1978. The chapel and the tower received a facelift. Between 1981 and 1982, the elaborate Nassau Mansion was restored. Throughout the reconstruction, workers made every effort to return the castle, both internally and externally, to an authentic look.

Work on Château de Vianden finally ended in 1990, and the castle is now open daily to visitors.


  1. You really struck gold with this one! I have a book with some structural/historical details in it.
    Also Karlstein Castle south of Prague, which of course was built by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, King of Bohemia, Count of Luxembourg. He enfeoffed(I think it was enfeoffment) the County to his half brother, Wenceslaus I, and raised it to a duchy, at which time the various lands which had been united under the rule of Henri IV(Luxembourg, La Roche, Arlon, Longwy, Durbuy, etc.) were amalgamated.

    I think you should have a series of some of the other castles in Luxembourg,

    that would be purely awesome. Great job guys!

    The Medieval Fortress by J.E. Kaufman
    A History of the Low Countries (Second Edition) by Paul Arblaster

  2. Thank you very much! We have covered another few Luxembourgish castles such as Berg, Fischbach or Schengen thus far and I'm sure that we will cover another few in the future.

    If you interested in castles and palaces in general, I'm sure you will also enjoy the posts about some of the Liechtenstein palaces and castles. Have a look at the Luxarazzi 101 page to find them all ;-)

  3. Lovely, very interesting! It's a very interesting castle (and surroundings, very nice views), I visited last year!