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

  Another Cool Castle - Scharzfels

Scharzfels Castle in the Harz foothills was erected to protect the nearby monastery of Pöhlde. Mathilde, the widow of Heinrich the Fowler and mother of the emperor Otto the Great, had been given Pöhlde as widow seat in 952 and it can be assumed that Scharzfels Castle was built around the same time. But the first sure proof for the existence of Scharzfels Castle is a charte dating to 1080 which names a knight Albrecht von der Helden as chatellain.

Scharzfels Castle, the dolomite rock foundation of the inner bailey

It made for another nice summer afternoon tour. It is not so hot any longer, and the two miles ascent through a beech wood made for a good, though not too stressful walk. There's a little café in the former outer bailey, so we got some ice cream and Alsterwasser (a mix of beer and lemon juice) as reward before we explored the castle.

The Gate, hewn into the rock

Scharzfels Castle is situated on a montain ridge 150 metres above the Oder valley. It was considered unconquerable in the Middle Ages (in fact, it took until the 18th century for it to be partly destroyed), due to the fact the inner bailey was constructed on a 20 metres high dolomite rock with steep sides.

Looking from the entrance tunnel into the yard

It is this eagle nest situation which makes the Scharzfels interesting. There is not much left of the buildings (there had been at least a keep and a palas with a hall and living quarters) and walls, but the remains and the caves in the dolomite rock are a lot of fun to explore and make for some nice photos.

One of the caves

Nothing is left of the outer bailey (Vorburg in German) except the well house. A staircase from the 19th century leads to the inner bailey (Oberburg), surely an easier access than what may have been there in the Middle Ages. The plateau on top of the dolomite rock is 20x60 metres with several natural and man made caves, thought not as many as the Regenstein. The stone buildings had been erected on the rock or built into crevices. Only some ruins of those remain today.

View to one of the tower foundations and the Harz foothills beyond

The Scharzfels, as it is usually called, played a more important role in history since 1131, when Emperor Lothar of Süpplingenburg got the castle by exchanges of land and made it into what is called a Reichsfeste - a castle belonging directly to the emperor. Lothar gave the castle as imperial fief to Siegebodo Count of Lauterberg-Scharzfels.

Natural rock and a few ruins

In 1157, Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa gave Heinrich the Lion got some lands in the Harz, including Scharzfels Castle as reward, perhaps because Heinrich had saved Friedrich's life during the riots in Rome. But when Heinrich fell out of grace, rebelled and lost the war against the emperor, he had to return those possessions, and Scharzfels Castle came back to the counts of Lauterberg-Scharzfels.

View from the corner tower to the remains of the palas with a firpelace

After the Scharzfels family died out, the fief fell to the Counts of Hohnstein. In 1596, Duke Heinrich Julius of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (there's some German names for you, lol), a member of the House Welfen inherited the castle, so in a way it came back to the family of Heinrich the Lion.

The dolomite rock from the other side

The trees got a bit in the way of a good picture of the backside of the dolomite rock. There were some freeclimbers around, and they managed to get on top quite easily. But they were not an army, and not clad in mail and dragging swords and spears around. Plus, whoever tried to attack Scharzfels first had to get up the hill, and I'm sure the castle garrison had some fun ideas how to deal with assailants. The worst I had to deal with was a pebble that had found its way into my sandal.
I am so jealous that you live in country with so much great history and cool old buildings to check out!
What a brilliant position for a fortification! No wonder it remained invulnerable for so long.
Oh what an incredible looking place, I would just love to have this on my place. Thanks for sharing this.
Lovely post; full of interest and great photographs. I can't help feeling that the pebble in your sandal was a bit like the grain in the oyster shell that produced the pearl!
Oooh, I love caves - I would have been right there with you! Is it my imagination or are there quite a few German castles that are part rock/part man-made?

By the way - 'Duke Heinrich Julius of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel' - that is a fantastic name. Any chance you might work it into a story lol?
What a spectacular site!

I second Lady D's comment about the spectacular name to go with it. Trouble is, if you put a name like that into Kings and Rebels, people would accuse you of being far-fetched :-)
I'm grateful to live here.

and no comfortable staircase like today. Though I do pity the masons and workmen who had to deal with that sort of terrain.

Hi Keith,
welcome to my blog. A bit difficult to transfer the whole rock and castle thing to Australia. ;)

Thank you, Caroline.
Lol, I got that pebble out quickly. No fun walking with those poking into your big toe.

Lady D,
there are some. I think it's the difference between the Norman castles on flat terrain which made up for it with really big walls but else followed a pattern, and the German hilltop castles that had to deal with limited space and thus developed some inventive structures. Though Scottish castles like Dunstaffnage are a bit of a mix - very massive but more adapted to the landscape than your average Norman castle.

Lol Carla,
we have a bunch of those double names. Thackeray pokes some fun at it in the Germany chapter in Vanity Fair - Countess of Schlippenschlappen or what it was.
Hey, a castle I DONT want to knock down. :) Mainly because cave stuff gives me the creeps. So it's safe from marauding half-Italian engineers. :)

Neat pics - I feel the plot bunnies stirring...
Huh, I thought I'd left a comment on this post yesterday - apparently not! Honestly, Blogger drives me insane sometimes...

Lovely photos and really interesting information, too.
Lol, Constance, I'll make sure to hide in one with caves if you march in with your army.

Thank you, Alianore. The recent problem with Blogger is that it sometimes logs you in automatically and sometimes not, and then can't decide if you exist. :)

Oh my....
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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.