Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


16.5.16
  Unifinshed Perfection - Beaumaris Castle in Wales: The Historical Context

In 1282, King Edward I was done with rebellious Welsh princes and Welsh risings which had plagued his predecessors ever sind William the Conquerer put a foot west of the Dee and Severn (1). He staged a massive invasion that led to the conquest of northern Wales, in particular the Principality of Gwynedd. Part of King Edward's domination was to build a ring of castles in northern Wales: Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech, and Beaumaris on Anglesey.

Beaumaris was built on the plain with no geological restrictions upon its layout and therefore follows the 13th century pattern of a Norman castle to perfection. But it was never finished due to financial problems. What we can see today is more or less what the castle looked like since 1396, minus some timber structures and roofs.

Beaumaris Castle, the moat and outer curtain wall

The history of Llywellyn ap Gruffudd's rise in Wales, and King Edward I's conquest deserve a longer post. But to put the construction of Edward's Welsh castles in context, here is a short summary of the events. (With lots of photos - Beaumaris was presenting itself at its best in the summer sunshine.)

(left: Portcullis openings in the southern gate passeage)

Llywellyn ap Gruffud of House Aberffraw (1223-1282; there are several Welsh rulers of that name) had used Henry III's problems with Simon de Montfort and other barons to extend his power in Wales and bring several Welsh rules under his hegemony, among them Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn of Powys. From 1258 on Llywellyn styled himself Prince of Wales, a title that was ackonwledged by King Henry III in the Treaty of Montgomery 1267. Llywellyn was granted the rule over Wales for the pay of an annual tribute of 3,000 marks gold.

But not all Welsh nobles were happy with that sort of overlordship, and in good Welsh tradtion Llywellyn's brother Davydd quarreled about the heritage (2) and eventually went into exile at the English court. Things changed with the death of Henry in 1272. His successor Edward I was a different sort of man. Ask the Scots. (The Welsh, too, but somehow Edward's Scottish conquest got more popular in the media.)

By 1167 Llywellyn had increasing problems with the Marcher Lords, among them Roger Mortimer with whom he was related (3); moreover King Edward had kidnapped his bride Eleaonor of Montfort, daughter of Simon of Montfort, and his brother Davydd made an alliance with Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn of Powys. So when Edward demanded Llywellyn to come to Chester and do homage for Gwynedd, Llywellyn decided it would be safer to stay at home. That of course, was an offense according to feudal law, and Edward went to Wales with an army to put the rebellious prince on the potty.

Edward invaded Gwynedd from the north-east (via Rhuddlan) with an army of some 15,000 men. Most of Llywellyn's Welsh vassals fell over their feet to make peace with Edward. Bereft of support, Llywellyn surrendered and agreed to the Treaty of Aberconwy. He kept the western part of Gwynedd and the tiltle Pince of Wales, while the eastern part was split between King Edward and Llywellyn's brother Davydd, and the vassalty of Powys and other noble houses was transfered to the crown. Lylwellyn was allowed to marry Eleanor, though.

At that time, King Edward already built or refortified some castles at the borders to Gwynedd, among them Rhuddlan, Flint, Builth, and Aberystwyth.

The sea gate with former drawbridge

But Davydd was not happy with what he thought a tiny bit of land. Also, King Edward had a talent to run roughshod over the people's feelings like personal dignity and national pride and angered Llywellyn and Davydd more than once. In 1282, Davydd started another rebellion which was soon joined by other Welsh rulers. Aberystwyth Castle was captured, Rhuddlan besieged, the Earl of Gloucester defeated in battle, as was a royal force crossing over from Anglesey.

Llywellyn initially wanted no part in the rebellion which he thought ill prepared and bound to fail, but he had no other option than support his brother if he did not want to lose everything. The archbishop of Canterbury, who mediated between King Edward and Llywellyn, offered him a large estate in England in exchange for the surrender of Wales, but Llywellyn refused. The offer well demonstrates the inability of the English king to understand the Welsh.

Beaumaris Castle, moat with corner tower

This was a much bigger affair than the troubles of 1277. Edward hired archer mercenaries form Gascony, gathered as big as a host as he could manage, including levies from southern Wales, and ordered the Cinque port fleet to supply and support the three armies. He marched from Rhuddlan again, Roger Mortimer of Chirk (4) from Mid-Wales, and the Earl of Pembroke (5) from the south.

(right: A room in the northeastern tower)

It is not entirely clear what happened in December 1282. We know that Llywellyn marched south where he was killed at the Battle of Orewin Bridge, facing the army of the Mortimers and his old enemy Gruffyd ap Gwenwynwyn of Powys. It is said that Edmund Mortimer, who was related to Llywellyn, offered negotiatons and lured him into an ambush, but there is no proof. Llywellyn got separted from his army, though, and was killed when surrounded by but a few retainers. His head was taken to London and displayed on a stake.

Davydd succeeded his brother as Prince of Wales, but his support was melting like snow in summer. Edward stroke right into the heart of Gwynedd and took Dolwyddelan Castle, the main seat of the Princes of Gwynedd in the 13th century. The rebellion ended when Davydd and his family who had taken to the mountains, were betrayed and captured in June 1283. Davydd was executed as traitor in September, his sons imprisoned and his daughters sent to nunneries (6). The Principality of Gwynedd ceased to exist (7).

Llywellyn's surving brother Rhodri had sold his Welsh possessions long ago and lied low on his estates in England. Rhodri's grandson Owain Lawgoch, Owain of the Red Hand, became a famous mercenary leader in France and would eventually claim the title, supported by exiled Welsh nobles and King Charles V of France. The threat of a French invasion in Wales - right in the middle of the Hundred Years War - was important enough for King Edward III of England (8) to have Owain assassinated in 1378.

King Edward stripped Gwynedd of all royal insignia and reorganised the land into counties and shires administered by English magistrates according to English law. In the Statute of Rhuddlan (1284) three new shires were created: Caernarfon, Merioneth and Anglesey; castles were built at Harlech, Caernarfon, and Conwy - the latter two including walled towns. They would be the administrative centres of the new shires and populated by English settlers. Plans were also made for a castle and settlement on Anglesey near the town of Llanfaes, but there was not enough money, so the plan was postponed. Edward's sheriff of Anglesey, Roger de Pulesdon, took his seat in the manor of Llanfaes.

The outer ward, with the inner curtain wall towers to the left

But there was still a rebellious spark in the subdued Welsh. In 1294, Madoc ap Llywellyn, member of a junior branch of House Aberffraw and fifth cousin of Llywellyn, used the growing discontent with the English administrators who often abused their power, and English taxes, to ally several Welsh nobles in an uprising that included southern lords from Glamorgan. The rebellion had been well planned and totally surprised Edward. Caernarfon and several other castles were taken, the castles of Harlech and Criccieth besieged, towns burned, Caerphilly partly destroyed; the unpopular sheriff of Anglesey, Roger de Pulesdon, was killed.

King Edward led an army into north Wales in December 1294. He reached Conwy Castle, having lost his baggage train in an ambush, and got stuck in the besieged castle for several months until his fleet could relieve him. But the Welsh could not withstand Edward's army in the field. They lost the battle of Maes Moydog in March 1295; Madoc ap Llywellyn escaped with nothing but his life and lived as fugitive until he was betrayed and captured. He obviously spent the rest of his life in prison in the Tower (9).

The failed rebellion only resulted in further suppressions and restrictions for the Welsh people.

The inner bailey (it would have been filled with buildings along the walls)

Well, financial troubles or not, a castle was now to be built on Anglesey. The Welsh population of Llanfaes was moved 12 miles to the south-west because Edward wanted an English town to go with his castle (albeit other than Caernarfon and Conwy, the town was never walled in). Sure, the site was the same distance from Caernarfon and Conwy and thus strategically sound, but Llanfaes had been a busy trading town due to its location and would never prosper on the new site. Another thorn in the Welsh side.

The castle was called after the place name Beau Mareys, 'fair march'. The work was overseen by Master James of St.George who had the responsibilty for all of Edward's castles in Wales. In 1295, he concentrated on the repair of Caernarfon and the building of Beaumaris. His work here is well documented; I'll get to that in the next post.

Another view of the outer ward

Edward truly wanted that castle like yesterday. In February 1296, the inner curtain wall stood to 6-8 metres, work on four of the inner towers had been begun, as well as on ten of the towers of the outer curtain wall. The south gate was already fitted with portcullises, and construction of the harbour that would allow to supply the castle garrison by sea, was well under way. An average of 2,000 labourers worked on the site, plus 400 stonemasons, 200 quarrymen and an unspecified number of carpenters and smiths. The place must have looked like an anthill. The transport of material involved 30 boats, 60 waggons and 100 carts moving to and fro.

The fun cost £ 270 a week in wages, not to mention the costs for material. The following year only a third of that sum would be spent and work progressed much slower. Edward's increasing involvment in Scotland led to a shortage of money and in 1298, work on the castle almost ceased.

There was a second period of builiding going on since 1306 because Edward feared that the Scots and Welsh might ally and attack England from two sides. The south barbican was built during that time, the outer curtain wall and the moat finished, as well as the north gate which had simply been walled up in 1298. Work on Beaumaris finally ended in 1330. The considerable sum of £ 15,000 had been spent until then.

The south gate from the outside

Albeit unfinished, the castle was strong enough to serve as defense and was garrisoned. It was taken by the Welsh during the rebellion of Owain Glyn Dŵr in 1403 and recaptured by royal forces in 1405 (10). It thus played only a small part in the rebellion, but since I have covered several Welsh raisings in this post already, it's a good place to present a short version of Owain's rebellion as well.

(left: A wall passage - unusually high to fit Edward I Longshanks - those in Pembroke are much lower)

Owain Glyn Dŵr was a descendant of both the princes of Powys and Deheubarth, and thus could claim the title Prince of Wales with some right after the princes of Gwynedd had died out. He got into trouble with Baron Grey de Ruthyn over some land and, as usual, the court decided in favour of the English lord. Grey then 'forgot' to tell Owain about a call of the levies, branding Owain as traitor at court. Owain, together with his son, brothers-in-law, the bishop of St.Asaph and other digruntled noblemen, launched an attack on Lord Grey's lands. The revolt soon spread to northern and central Wales which went over to Owain. King Henry IV's military invention in 1401 remained unsuccessful.

The following year, Owain captured Baron Grey. King Henry paid a heavy ransom for him. But when Owain captured Sir Edmund Mortimer at the battle of Bryn Glas, the king was not willing to pay the ransom (since Mortimer had a claim to the English throne). Mortimer negotiated an alliance with Owain instead, and later the Tripartite Indenture between Owain, Mortimer and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. The three basically wanted to divide England and Wales among them.

With the Hundred Years War still being in full swing, Owain could also draw on French support, and the Scots never liked the English, either. Scottish and French privateers operated round Wales and a French army invaded Herefordshire. Several companies of English archers - probably of Welsh descent - went over to Owain. 1404 was his year. Owain called the first Parliament of all Wales at Machynlleth where he was crowned as Prince of Wales. Wales was to be an independent state with its own laws again (which had been replaced by English laws and courts since Edward I) and its own church.

But it would not last. In 1405, the king of France wanted peace with England and withdrew his support, while the young prince Henry (the latter Henry V; 11) adopted a strategy of economic blockade instead of punitive expeditions which often failed - he had led some of them himself, but the Welsh used guerilla strategies which were difficult to deal with. Some nobles began to look for reconciliation with the English, and many commoners went back to their fields and tools.

The southern gatehouse seen from the inner bailey

In autumn 1407, Owain had lost the castles of Aberystwyth and Harlech to the English; his wife and daughters were captured, his ally Edmund Mortimer died in battle. Owain remained free and still launched raiding parties, even managed to capture and ransom one of King Henry's supporters in 1412, but the rebellion more or less petered out. But contrary to his predecessors Davydd ap Gruffudd and Madoc ap Llywellyn, he was never betrayed, despite the handsome reward put on his head.

Wen Henry V became King in 1413, he decided for a more reconciliatory course and offered pardons to the leaders of the revolt. Owain refused and vanished into obscurity and legend. Even the date of his death is not known, it may have been 1415. Owain's legacy is his legend as Owain Glyn Dŵr and a bunch of statues in Wales.

The inner facade of the north gate

Beaumaris castle fell into disrepair, lacking roofs, with timber structures rotten away, until the Civil War when it was repaired and held for the king by Thomas Viscount Bulkeley since 1642 (he spent some £ 3,000 on those repairs); the commander of the garrison was Colonel Richard Bulkeley. . The castle was situated at a strategically important site on the route to the king's bases in Irleand. It surrendered to a Parliament army 1646 and was garrisoned by Parliament forces. It was briefly recaptured by royalists two years later, but eventually fell to the Parliament again. Contrary to other conquered castles, Beaumaris was not slighted since Cromwell feared an invasion from Scotland. It was instead garrisoned under Colonel John Johnes, a relative by marriage of Cromwell.

Charles II restored the Bulkeley family as constables of Beaumaris when he returned to the throne in 1660. But the castle was soon stripped of its valuable lead roofs and abandoned for good. It says something about those big Norman walls that so much of it survives until today.

(The next post will cover the architecture of Beaumaris Castle.)

Another view of the moat and the outer curtain wall

Footnotes
1) Actually, William's invading Wales was a response to Welsh border raids. He had his hands full with England already and probably would have left the conquest of Wales to the next generations.
2) There were more brothers and half-brothers involved, but Davydd was the most important.
3) Roger's mother was Gwladys Dhu, a daughter of Llywellyn the Great who also was Llywellyn ap Gruffudd's grandfather.
4) Edmund Mortimer and Roger Mortimer of Chirk took over from their father who died in October 1281, bereaving King Edward of one of his most able commanders.
5) William de Valence of Pembroke had replaced the inept Earl of Gloucester.
6) As was Llywellyn's daughter. All children died in captivity.
7) The Principality of Powys-Wenwynwyn was changed into a Marcher lordship; its rulers took the surname de la Pole.
9) At the time of Owain's death, the underage Richard II was king of England, but the assassination was likely set into motion by Edward III. The assassin, one John Lamb, needed time to gain Owain's confidence. He got £ 20 for his job.
9) We know he was not executed since that would have been mentioned in the sources, but there is not really any further information about Madoc.
10) Owain's main problem was the lack of artillery which was needed to conquer castles, and the lack of a fleet (though he would later get some help from the French and Scots there). He mostly took to guerilla strategies instead.
11) Henry IV's health failed since 1405, and his son, who had fought at his side in the Battle at Shrewsbury 1403, took up more responsibilies, often in conflict with his father.

Literature
R.R. Davies: The Age of Conquest. Wales 1063-1415, Oxford 1987, repr. 2000
Arnold Taylor: Beaumaris Castle - Cadw Guidebook, Cardiff 2004
 


7.5.16
  Shiny Things from Viking Times - The Gold Treasure of Hiddensee: The Craftmanship

As promised, here is the second post about the Hiddensee Gold Treasure where I'll take a closer look at the pieces, the craftmanship involved in creating them, and the cultural context in which they were created.

Hiddensee Treasure, the ring

Rings of all sizes are a well-known feature in Mediaeval Scandinavian culture where kings were known as 'ring givers'. Those rings were usually arm rings or neck rings and served as payment as well as decoration (some rings that have been found show that material has been hacked off (1)). Surely, the art was valued, but more so the material. Older jewelry has often been melted down to create new pieces - the whole set of Hiddensee was made of re-used gold (2). Viking goldsmiths were pretty skilled at separating the various metals from an alloy, which explains the high purity of the Hiddensee gold of ~ 97%.

The neck ring of the Hiddensee Treasure weighs 152,8 gram and has an outside diametre of 13,5 cm. It is thus a ring more fit for a child or a woman. It consists of four entwined gold wires in the way that first two wires were wound round each other and the both two-wire sets were entwined again, giving the ring a sort of braided look. The ends have been flattened and end in an hook and eye clasp to fasten the ring. The purity of the gold and the structure of the ring make it possible to bend it to some extent without breaking, so it can easily be fixed around a neck (3).

Silver ingots, wire, and wire drawer (Museum Haithabu)

The photo above shows a set of silver ingots, wire, and a wire drawer (in the lower part of the photo) from the toolmaker's hoard found in Haithabu. Silver or gold wire is created by casting an oblong ingot which is then drawn through a set of holes in a piece of harder metal - bronze or iron - which get subsequently smaller. The gold or silver is heated during the process to make it softer, but not the point of melting.

To create the filigree beadwork that adorns several of the pieces from the Hiddensee Treasure, the wire is treated with a beading file or a beading press. The latter looks a bit like a thumbscrew, with several bead shaped hollows into which the heated wire is pressed. The beadwork therefore consists of bits of bead-shaped wire, not of single beads.

Hiddensee Treasure, one of the pendants with granulation decoration

Granulation is a different technique. The irregular little granules on some of the pendants are created by mixing little gold splinters with charcoal in a crucible. When heated in an oven, the metal particles will form into granules, the shape with the smallest surface.

Both beaded wire and granules are fixed to the surface of the pendant by soldering. The soldering alloy is a mixture of gold, silver and copper with a lower melting point than pure gold. It was created by filing off tiny particles from an ingot which were spread onto the surface of the pendant and heated to melting point; then the beaded wire was fixed to it. With complicated ornaments that would likely have required several steps. Granules were simply strewn onto the soldering alloy.

Metal press models for fibulas and pendants (Museum Haithabu)

You have seen in the first post that several of the cross shaped pendants have the same form - they were indeed some sort of mass product, though the ones from Hiddensee are of particularly high quality. Among the finds from Haithabu is a set of 41 press models for various sorts of pendants. Press models and other tools of gold- and silversmiths have also been other found in Viking settlements like Sigtuna, Trelleborg, Lund, even York or Old Ladoga in Russia, but the Haithabu find is the largest.

Moulds and press models made from antler (Haithabu)

The press models of bronze or brass, or sometimes antler, present the basic shape of the fibula or pendant - a slightly elevatd disc, four cross, or bird are the most common - and often also lines for the beadwork. A flat ingot of gold or silver would be hammered into sheet metal which was then punched into shape on the model with a wooden or rounded metal punch. Excess metal was cut off. In a next step, the shaped sheet metal was soldered onto an undecorated second sheet, thus forming a hollow pendant that is rather light in weight. Some of the pendants have tiny cross bars inside to give the structure better support.

Hiddensee Treasure - the fibula

Here is the photo of the fibula again so we can have a closer look at the ornaments. It is 8 cm in diametre with a slighly elevated front, making it 1,4 cm thick in the middle. Like the pendants, the fibula is hollow inside. The bronze needle on the back side has been lost, but the hook and the fittings remain; they are of a somewhat lesser purity than the show side of the fibula, but that alloy makes the gold less soft to carry the weight of the fabric fastened by the fibula.

The show side displays four animals seen from above. Their heads meet in the middle where five little fields, now empty, form a cross. They had once been filled with green glass - an unusal addition. The beasts show the typical elongated and twisting shape found on a number of Viking time decorations. Neck, body and tail are very long while the shoulder is triangular and the hindquarter pear shaped. The style is a mix of the Borre style (with the round shapes and twists) and the Jellinge style (the elongated form) and often referred to as Hiddensee style. Some 50 fibulas in that style exist, but most of them are made of silver and smaller than this one.

Two of the six largest pendants

All ten cross shaped pendants consist of a hollow tube in the shape of a bird's head seen from above, and a cross from whose three arms springs another cross each. The openings at the sides of the tube are made of an alloy with a higher percentage of copper to support the strain of a chain or band. The bird's heads with the two eyes and beak likely belong to some bird of prey, though probably not an eagle, since eagle shaped pendants usually show the bird's head from the side (4). The combination of the pagan bird motiv and the Christian cross makes those pendants interesting in their cultural context. About 40 of them have so far been found in places connected with the Viking culture.

One of the pendants with simple knotwork

The braided bead ornaments on the cross part of the pendants are more typical for continental and AnglosSaxon ornaments. Their origins lie in Roman and Byzantine decoration. The six largest pendants (about 7 cm in length) show braided bands, two smaller ones of about 5 cm length show bead knotwork, and two have granulations ornaments (see photo above). The four 'intermediate' pendants of 2 cm length don't have a bird on the tube; their ornaments are braided bands.

Clover shaped brooch and a fibula in the Terslev-style (Museum Haithabu)

Haithabu had been a centre of trade and craft from the late 9th to the mid 11th century, and the finds of tools and jewelry show a development of style. The older type is the so-called Terslev style (named for the silver hoard of Terslev in Denmark). The ornaments are four-point symmetrical braided bead bands or knot work on round fibulas, but there are no animal shapes like in the later Hiddensee style. Models for both styles and intermediate forms can be found in Haithabu. Gold fibulas are rare and there are few that can compare to the Hiddensee one in size and craftmanship. The cross shaped pendants are more common, but most finds are made of silver.

We cannot be sure how the Hiddensee jewelry was worn, except for the fibula (to hold a cloak or mantle) and the neck ring. The cross shaped pendants don't fit into a necklace where they would bump against each other, so it is likely they were worn as pectoral of several parallel sets held by horizontal bands or chains connected by vertical chains at the sides. If the whole set was worn together, it must have been a pretty impressive sight, jewelry worthy a queen indeed.

Moulds, a thong and other tools for metalwork (Haithabu)

Footnotes
1) An example is the ring from Tissø which weighed about 2 kg - a bit heavy to wear - and shows traces of material having been removed.
2) There were no gold mines in the part of Scandinavia where such jewelry was created, so the material for the Hiddensee treasure is assumed to have come from older jewelry or coins. While the purity of the gold and the way those pieces were created has been researched with modern methods, I could not find any information about a possible origin of the gold, which surprises me - those informations can usually be obtained today. It would be interesting to know if the gold is more local - from the British Isles for example, or as exotic as coins from the Arabian Caliphate. Other metals necessary for alloys, like copper, tin or zinc, had to be obtained by trade or re-melting as well.
3) And it survived being bent to fit into a jar.
4) In most cases, the rest of the fibula, pendant or whatever is also shaped as stylized bird.

Literature
B. Armburster, H. Eilbracht: Wikingergold auf Hiddensee. Rostock, 2010

 


27.4.16
  Spring in the Meissner Mountains

I've posted some photos of the Meissner mountains taken in autumn some time ago. Here is a bunch I took two weeks ago, with the first buds of spring appearing on the trees.

Meissner mountains, juniper heath near Rossbach

I'm still having a busy time at work. I hope it will be better soon so I'll have the time to write some longer posts that require research. It's not that I'm running out of landscape photos, but I suspect my readers will get bored if there's not some castle soon. ;-)

A view into the valley

The scenery for this post was taken on the juniper heath near a village called Rossbach in the Meissner foothills. One of the Premium hiking paths is leading through this landscape. The Premiums hiking ways are mostly natural paths that are kept free from obstacles and well equipped with signposts. There are also maps so you can plan tours ahead.

Juniper heath with birches

The areas with juniper heath are interspesed with calcareous grasslands, fields, and grazing meadows down in the valleys. In summer, some rare orchids will bloom on the calcareous grasslands. I'll plan to return for another tour when the heather is in bloom - the hills should look lovely then.

Another - slightly obscured - view into the valley

There is some forest as well, and a river that gets lost. *grin* Since the rock ground in that area is limestone and gypsum kalk, the brook seeps into some particularly porous bit of ground. That itself is not so unusual in limestone formations, but the brook doesn't reappear anywhere - like for example the Rhume Springs - and that is unusual.

A gnarled tree

The limestone dates back to the zechstein time when this part of Germany had been a shallow sea that stretched from eastern England to northern Poland, an area that was known as the European Permian Basin - back then located near the equator. That was 298-252 million years ago. The zechstein is a sedimentary rock as result of layers of calcareous marine fauna pressed together.

A shrubbery dividing some fields

The Zechstein Sea was also responsible for the vast layers of halite (rock salt) that can be found in Germany and Poland. The salt domes around Lüneburg which played a role in the rise of the Hanseatic League in the Middle Ages belong to that strata. Salt can also be found at Werra and Leine where it comes close to the surface in some places.

More juniper heath on the other side of the village

The grassland parts of the landscape are kept open by sheep who are herded to grazing regularly. The area is an interesting mix of natural habitats and man made parts like fields and cherry orchards (the whole area is famous for its cherries). The landscape has developed that way for hundreds of years and is now a nature reserve despite its partial agricultural use.

Juniper tree gate

Karst landscapes like the ones in the north-eastern foothills of the Meissner can also be found in the southern foothills of the Harz (I explained the Zechstein Sea in a bit more detail in that post).

A view towards Rossbach

And finally a nice view towards the village of Rossbach on a sunny spring afternoon.

 


11.4.16
  Spring Impressions from the Danube

Life is a bit busy right now so here's another short picture post with spring photos, this time from the Danube.

View of the Danube from Castle Donaustauf

Castle Donaustauf, a formidable ruin, is situated at the Danube near Regensburg. Both the castle and the view were worth the climb albeit Regensburg in the background was hidden by the morning haze.

Shores of the Danube near Regensburg

I took a two hours mini cruise on the Danube to rest my feet after walking on cobblestones for hours. I love those little boat trips.

Traffic on the Danube

There is a fair bit of traffic on the Danube, though not as much as on the Rhine, at least not this far upriver. There is likely more downriver from Vienna to the Black Sea.

A side arm of the river

Sometimes the river branches off, either to form a peninsula, a bayou, or an abandoned meander, though the latter often have been filled in to make the river easier to navigate.

Spring blossoms

Spring was well on its way in early May.

The shore with castle Donaustauf in the background

A peek of castle Donaustauf from the cruise ship.

Closeup of castle Donaustauf

And a closeup of the castle with the remaining interior of the chapel painted in white.

The Walhalla

The Walhalla. No, not the Norse warrior heaven, though it's named after it. King Ludwig I of Bavaria (the grandfather of 'Mad King' Ludwig) built it in 1842 to commemorate important people of German culture and history. They a represented inside the Greek style temple by busts and tablets.

Against the sun

A nice view against the afternoon sun on the way back to Regensburg.

Interior of the ship

The interior of the ship, the Crystal Queen. Yes, she's decorated with Svarovsky crystals all over (including the bathrooms). The Regensburg Danube fleet has two of those sparkly ships.

Upriver towards Regensburg

Returning to Regensburg. Part of the town's Danube harbour can be spotted to the left.

The Danube, seen from castle Donaustauf

Another haze veiled view of the Danube from castle Donaustauf.
 


26.3.16
  Happy Easter

I wish my readers a Happy Easter.

There is not much in the way of spring outside, so I picked some photos from the spring tour I did last year, when nature was already wearing a veil of fresh verdant.

Spring at the Trave river in Lübeck

A nice way to see some beautiful vistas of Lübeck is a boat tour on the rivers and canals surrounding the old town.

The Slavic open air museum in Gross-Raden

I visited the open air museum in Gross-Raden (near Schwerin) which shows a reconstructed Slavic settlement with ringwall fort twice, in spring and in autumn. It is a fun place to explore and I did not have enough time during the first visit.

The Viking open air museum in Haithabu in Schleswig

The trading settlement of Haithabu / Hedeby was even larger, but the open air museum covers only a small part of the area. The wall around the settlement still exists for the most part, and that is where you can see how large the place once was.

Lambs in the open air museum Gross-Raden

We can't have an Easter post without some easter lambs now, can we? :-)

Flensburg Firth

And finally another photo of blue, sparkling water. The Flensburg Firth on a spring afternoon.

 


13.3.16
  Harbour Impressions from Wismar

I have been to Wismar twice last year, in spring for the brick architecture and in autumn to join a sailing trip on the reconstrcuted cog Wissemara. In spring I got sunshine; in autumn a mix of rain, sun and a thunderstorm. So I got a collection of photos with different moods again.

The skyline of Wismar's old town
Left to right: St.Nicolai Church, tower of St.Mary, St.George Church,
and several cranes in the harbour outside the town

The tour on the cog gave me the chance to take photos from the seaside. When we left, the rain stopped and the sun came out (which made for a really nice trip). Upon return, a nasty, dark-clouded thunderstorm was brewing over the town while the evening sun still shone on the sea, highlighting some features in an eerie glow.

A container crane seen in the light of an incoming thunderstorm

Like Stralsund, Wismar was a Slavic settlement in the early Middle Ages; the tribe living in the area were the Obodrite. Their prince Heinrich Borwin, a Christian and vassal of Duke Heinrich the Lion of Saxony, founded Wismar in 1226. This brought an influx of German settlers. The three settlements around the churches St.Nicolai, St.Mary, and St. George grew together, and by 1276 a wall surrounded the entire town. Wismar became an official member of the Hanseatic League in 1259 when the town joined with Lübeck and Rostock to fight the Baltic Sea pirates.

Wismar, St.Nicolai Church seen from the sea

Wismar lies inside a bay which is further protected by Poel isle on the southern end. The old town is Unesco World Heritage, together with Stalsund. Wismar had suffered bomb destruction during WW2, and the GDR government had the St.Mary church blown up except for the tower (instead of repairing it). But both Wismar and Stralsund have undergone lots of renovation after the German reunion and are today little jewels of brick architecture with some splendid churches.

Tower of St.Mary Church, St. George, and modern container cranes

Wismar - also like Stralsund - became a Swedish possession after the Thirty Years War, since the Swedes had conquered the town in 1632. The Swedish kings turned Wismar into a sea fortress with 18 bastions carrying 700 canons, but Sweden nevertheless lost Wismar to Prussia in the Great Nordic War in 1716 (1) and was forced to dismantle the bastions.

Sweden pawned out Wismar to the dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1803 and abandoned the pawn in 1903, so Wismar fell back to Germany. This is still celebrated today.

View to the old harbour, with one of the new container cranes in the background

Wismar's old harbour, once teeming with cogs being unloaded and merchants in fur lined cloaks checking on wares, is now a quiet place used by smaller sailing ships, some fisherboats who sell snacks directly from the railing, and the Poel ferries. Though on a sunny day the place can still be busy with tourists. And thieving gulls. ;-)

The old harbour on a sunny day

At the outer end of the old quay stands the 18th century 'Beam House'. The building is named after the beams and chains that were drawn across the water to protect the harbour at night. On the other side is the Water Gate, built 1450 in the gabled Gothic style. It is one of the five gates that once allowed entrance into the town and the only one to access the town from the water side. You can see the Water Gate on the photo below; it is the gabled building with the white decorations to the left.

The old harbour on a Sunday evening

The old harbour is framed by warehouses many of which today house hotels and restaurants. At the end of the season, with fewer tourists around and the weather on the dreary side, the old harbour is a quiet place.

Besides the old harbour, Wismar has several marinas in the outskirts of the town.

Leaving the harbour on the cog

Nowadasy, new harbours and shipyards spread along the inner part of the bay. They had grown over time and got an additional push after 1945 when Russia established a shipyard for its fleet in Wismar. After the reunion, it was taken over by Nordic Yard, which is one of the main employers in Wismar and well known for its large dry dock of 395 metres length and 72 metres height.

Wismar, the outer harbour

The sea harbour deals with timber, steel, building materials, and salt, among other goods. The docks have a length of 2.3 kilometres and offer space for up to 15 large cargo ships.The transhipping in 2015 was 3.7 million tons, making the harbour of Wismar more important than Stralsund.

The reconstructed cog Wissemara in the rain

In 1997, the wreck of a Hanseatic cog was found in the Bay of Wismar near the Poel isle. Research showed that it was made of pine timbers cut in 1354. The hull was clinker-built and showed elements that date back to the Viking and Slavic ships of the early Middle Ages, thus perhaps providing an example for the special 'Baltic cog' which has been assumed to have existed (2). The cog is 31 metres long and could carry freight of 200 tons.

The cog against the light

The wreck served as model for the reconstruction of a cog using the old techniques. The planks were cut with special axes; saws did not exist. They were then bent into shape using steam - a very tricky process. The one difference was the use of steel nails instead of iron ones. I visited the construction site in 2004 and talked with the guys working there, so it was a special experience to be able to actually sail the cog whose hull I had seen back then (it was finished in 2006). The cog, dubbed Wissemara, has been equipped with a motor and a toilet, plus benches and cots in the freight space, and offers sailing tours from several hours to several days.

Passing the sea bridge in the evening light

Footnotes
1) Basically Russia, Saxony / Poland and Denmark / Norway, both personal unions, against Sweden, fighting for supremacy on the Baltic Sea. Later, England, Prussia, Hannover, France, the Netherlands, Poland-Lithuania and others joined in, inlcuding the Ottoman Empire, thus extending the conflict all the way to the Crimea. It lasted from 1700 to 1721.
2) The significance of the find is still discussed.

 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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