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Wartburg Castle

Luther’s Mighty Fortress

Once the seat of Thuringia’s landgraves, the Wartburg in Eisenach is a medieval castle noted for its 12th-century palas, a gem of late Romanesque architecture. It’s known as well for the Battle of the Bards (‘Sängerkrieg’), a legendary minstrels’ contest that might, or might not, have taken place in the Singers’ Hall in 1207, and for the fact that St Elisabeth (HU) lived here until 1228. Its fame is derived from its most prominent resident, Martin Luther, who during his stay in 1521 and 1522 translated the New Testament into German. When HRH King Ludwig II of Bavaria visited Wartburg Castle for two nights in 1867, it wasn’t so much for Luther’s room, as for the ceremonial hall, seeking inspiration for the future Singers’ Hall in Neuschwanstein Castle (which doesn’t fall short of its prototype in extravagance).

Wartburg Castle
Wartburg Castle, with the palas on the left

The Wartburg is open 365 days a year, but the palas can be visited only on a guided tour. Tours in German take place throughout the day, and at 1½ p.m. there’s one in English as well. Presenting 130 objects from the Wartburg’s heyday, its art collection is comprised of works from the central & late Middle Ages, including a number of paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder, a woodcarving by Tilman Riemenschneider, a cabinet with carvings based on engravings by Albrecht Dürer, and a fair amount of historical cutlery. The Luther Museum down in the village of Eisenach features an exhibition on Luther’s translation of the Bible.

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Another place of interest in Eisenach is the Bach Museum, dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest composer ever, who was born here in 1685. Every hour, a selection of his works is performed in a brief concert on baroque keyboard instruments.