Why is it that crumbling ramparts and towers seem capture the imagination so much more than a building that is still whole?
A half hour south of King Ludwig’s fantasy castle creation of Neuschwantsein lie the ruins of what was once a true medieval castle. The Ehrenberg complex is made up of four castle and fortification ruins on adjacent hilltops and in the valley outside the town of Reutte, Austria. The most photogenic of these is the Ehrenberg castle itself which was started in 1293 and was built to protect the strategically important pass. Over the succeeding 500 years it was fought over, damaged, reconstructed, added on to and rebuilt until the late 18th century when it was no longer deemed necessary and was abandoned.
The first stop in the valley floor is the old “Klause” building (or toll-house and rest stop) that used to be connected to the castle by a fortification wall, and now is a museum with very kid friendly displays in both German and English. From there, getting to the Ehrenberg castle ruins is a fairly easy 30 min hike on a cool forested and well maintained path.
Walking through the ruins, which seem very large, it is difficult to imagine what life might have been like here 600-700 years ago. Information placards state that the original much smaller castle only had about a dozen inhabitants. They had a bakery and used cisterns to collect water for everyday use. The placards posted throughout clearly identify when different portions of the structure were built and their purpose, but while much seems to be known about which parts of the buildings were built when, very little record seems to have remained about everyday life.
On the hilltop above Ehrenberg Castle is the Schlosskopf Fortress. This is about a 45 min hike uphill through the woods to the remains of this fortress that was built in the mid 1700’s. To keep this long hike interesting, there are a number of information boards along the trail in both German and English describing the conservation efforts, the flora and fauna, the ecology of the region, and so on. I especially enjoyed the ones that told the stories and legends associated with the area. My favorite was the story about the large beds of moss or Mossy Brook as it was called. According to legend this mossy brook was supposed to have a miraculous effect on hair growth. If you lie down on the moss during a full moon, you will get a wonderful head of hair, even regrowing hair for those who are balding. (My husband tried it-we’ll let you know if it worked-though it was broad daylight and not a full moon).
The Schlosskopf Fortress area is also large, but at this point, not much is left standing since it was purposely demolished in the late 1700’s. The view from the top of the hill is wonderful, especially looking down on Ehrenberg castle.
An interesting information placard explains why this area was so strategically important. The Via Claudia Augusta, an old Roman road that connected Venice, Italy to Augsburg, Germany passed through this valley. The road was built by the Romans through the alps in about 60 years to connect the southern portion of the empire on the Adriatic with the northern portion along the Danube River. In medieval times the road continued to be an important trade route, and in the 1500’s it became critical for the salt trade from the Hall region of Austria (you can still tour the salt mines in Hallstadt and Saltzburg). Today, a portion of the highway still follows the path of the original 2000 year old Roman road – after all, “why reinvent the wheel”, especially when the Romans were known for their well engineered roads.
The final ruin is Fort Claudia built in 1645 which is across the valley from Ehrenberg Castle. It can now be reached by the worlds longest highline suspension bridge. Crossing this bridge to get to the fort is not for those who are weary of heights (like me), but looks like it would be fun if you have a good head for heights.
Hiking the trails and exploring these hilltop ruins outside Reutte, Austria made for a very pleasant day. And we were lucky-we got into the car just as it started pouring.
Thanks for visiting.