From the mid 1200s, levying tolls along along the Rhine River was customary. The Stolzenfels Fort – constructed between 1242 and 1259 – perched high above the Rhine near Koblenz, Germany – collected river tolls until 1412. The French destroyed the 13th century fort in 1689 during the Palatinate War of Succession. After Napoleon’s defeat, Koblenz took possession of the ruins. The city then turned around, giving the site in 1823 to Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, which at that point, was used as a quarry.
In 1836, Friedrich commissioned a well-known Berlin architect to rebuild and transform the fort into a castle. By 1842, the most important elements of the building are completed, and Friedrich Wilhelm – now king since 1840 – takes possession of the castle.
We are invited to attend the official opening with a grand costume ball along with dignitaries and other elite guests.
Dressed in our finest costume complete with masks, and women adorned in sparkling jewels, our carriage’s horses slowly clip clop up the steep snake-like path cutting through the dense forest greenery and underbrush. We first pass through the curved arch gatehouse where our carriage and horses will later be stabled until reaching the castle grounds.
Suspense rises to a crescendo as we alight from our carriage near the deer paddock and the walled and gated entrance overlooking a small, narrow moat.
We are unable to glimpse the Rhine River from this position – heightening our suspense – and eager for the touted spectacular view we’ve been promised. We must wait a bit longer!
Now inside the outer courtyard, we glimpse gardens and flowers abloom to our right. Before entering the inner courtyard, I want a closer view of the towering spire – one of two – that overlooks the river below. Dusk is not yet descending, and puffy clouds prevent full-on hot late day sunlight. A gentle breeze keeps me comfortable despite my heavy tapestry-laden gown.
As we enter the inner gatehouse, my eyes are drawn upward to the stunning gold painted ceiling mural of the softly arched ceiling. We are now front and center in the inner courtyard. Banquet tables laden with fruit and wine await us. Minstrels entertain us with their music. Flickering candles are everywhere brightening up the open-air space.
To our immediate right is a heavy wood door with stairs leading up to the king’s apartment, which we will hopefully see before the evening’s end. On the opposite side, we are told, are the kitchens, newly constructed now in the 14th century.
Goblets in hand of full-bodied red wine from the nearby Mosel Valley, we linger a bit before making our way through the colonnaded hallway, then down seven or so steps to a grand pergola garden.
It is a feast for the eyes! Taking center stage is a stunning water fountain bubbling over into a second larger cast iron fountain bowl. Colorful flowers surround the fountain while neatly manicured beds of greenery in various geometric shapes jut out in all directions. Overhead is a wooden pergola with grapevines twisting their way around the wood. Beyond the military turreted tower, I glimpse the blue of the Rhine.
We are encouraged – yet none is needed – to wander out to the perimeter garden where the Rhine River is in full view with the hamlet of Stolzenfels somewhere below us, and then visit the Rhine Terrace. Here I spot a life-size statue of an eagle rising high on a pedestal in yet another cast iron fountain dish.
Offering a stunning panoramic view of the valley, the Rhine Terrace is “dedicated entirely to the official representation, legitimization and glorification of the Prussian presence on the Rhine”, we are told, which is expressed in the figure of the eagle.
On the façade of the Great Hall behind us will be the freshly completed fresco (two years from now in 1844) depicting the river bank scene below the medieval castle. The historical setting, which took place in 1400, will show Archbishop Werner of Trier and other high-ranking dignitaries receiving the newly elected king of Prussia and his brother-in-law. “The immediate relation between the painting and the historical setting of the event it describes underlines the noble antecedents of the castle and its inhabitants,” states my handout.
We linger in the spacious Summer Hall with its striking blue and white tile walls and painted ceiling vault, as our wine is replenished and games are beginning. The hall is sparsely furnished as it has been designed as an open hall looking across the fountain and terrace flower beds to the Rhine Valley.
The sun has now set and the moon has risen. Stars blink in the night sky.
It is time to make our way inside to the Large Knights’ Hall for our banquet. This hall will host banquets, concerts and official speeches throughout the coming decades. It features Neo-Gothic double windows and wood-paneled half walls dotted with armor. A stunning stained glass window is a focal point.
After our delicious feast, we move into the smaller, more intimate Smaller Knights’ Hall for games. Its cross-ribbed ceiling has just begun having its frescoes painted. They will be completed in 1847 (remember, it is still 1842), and feature a six-part fresco scene of historically significant events and people. Themes are courage and fidelity, constancy and justice, four saints important to the Rhineland area, and a final wall dedicated to light-hearted Medieval virtues of song and courtly love.
We women carefully lift our skirts as we ascend the narrow staircase up to the music room – in 1846 it would become the royal family dining room – where the exquisite fortepiano is located.
The opposite side of the staircase leads to the queen’s apartments. (No photography was allowed here or in the king’s apartments, so photos are from the brochure.) The queen’s drawing room is one of the castle’s showpieces. The corner niche features warm dark wood paneling and wood carvings with an upholstered corner seat.
Sparing no expense, the exceptional inlay work on the octagonal table and throne-like chair are a testament to their wealth. Her royal bedroom has a four-poster bed and a luxurious Parisian ebony cabinet.
The king’s suite consists of a dressing room and drawing room with a large bay window looking out onto the Rhine. Opening up from the drawing room is his study and audience room. These rooms are sparsely furnished, but each features at least one notable piece, such as his writing cabinet and a classical French desk.
The anteroom follows. The king’s suite ends with his personal guest room with its four-poster Baroque-style bed.
A colorful yellow model scale of the castle is on display. Following our evening at the costume ball, the castle opened to the public. Ever since, Stolzenfels Castle has been regarded as the “epitome of Rhine Romanticism”.
The small castle – compared to others in the area – was expanded in the 1800s when its Gothic Revival features were added, which are obvious from the exterior. It became the summer residence of the king of Prussia. King Friedrich Wilhelm IV died in 1861.
After World War 1, the state took over Stolzenfels Castle and property. Following World War 2 – specifically in 1948 – it was assigned to the State of Rhineland-Palatinate Castle’s Administration.
Frustratedly, the signage to the castle was ridiculously small, and we nearly missed it. As you can see in the photo, a very small name is listed above the street sign. Why it would not be prominently displayed as a huge signboard is beyond me.
As I raise my goblet of Mosel Valley red wine, here’s hoping you enjoyed this evening’s costume ball and tour!