The Baroque was a pan-European event like no other before it. It enriched Renaissance forms and infused them with the ideals of the reformation, counter-reformation and royal absolutism. By the 18th century shifting patterns of trade had diminished the wealth and independence of the Rhineland cities. Throughout the period, the power of distant sovereigns became evident in their architecture. In the distant past, great baroque palaces and estates once dotted the landscape and filled the cities of the Middle-Rhine. Centuries of war and politics have eroded this legacy to virtually nothing. This guide aims to explore what’s left of absolutist authority in the Valley.
The Rhine valley has been a center for vine cultivation since Roman times. Though the modern terraced vineyards trace their lineage back to the mid 18th century. The oldest continuously operation vineyard in the Region is Schloss Johannisberg. It came into existence due to the Bishop of Fulda who purchased land from the Archbishop of Mainz. He constructed a lavish palace in a monastery for the administrators to oversee his wine cultivation. His palace did not survive WWII (though it was partially reconstructed). However, Eltville and the surround area and towns are full of Baroque monuments from the early period of wine cultivation.
Kaub has a few buildings from the Baroque period, but is mostly a cityscape from the late 19th century. The notable buildings include a variety of city palaces now owned by various government agencies for use as guest houses. The only one open to the public is the Blücher Museum. The museum offers a number of preserved rooms and inventory that showcase life on the Rhine in the late 18th century.
With the end of the Katzenelnbogen Dynasty in 1479, most of their territory fell to the Counts of Hessen. Later successions ceded the former Rhenish holdings to a branch called Hessen-Rheinfels. The residence was in the mighty fortress of Rheinfels, but the secondary holding was the castle Marksburg in Braubach. By the 16th century, the medieval castle was no longer the ideal place to hold court. The Counts ordered the construction of a palace at the base of the castle, the Philippsburg Palace. Construction would start in the early 16th century and carry on to the mid 17th century. Most of the palace was dismantled in the late 19th century to build the railway along the Rhine. What’s left is a mixture of Renaissance and early baroque palace architecture, emblematic of a period of architectural experimentation and changing stylistic preferences.
Lahnstein is a small village with a predominantly historicist cityscape. The largest contribution to the Baroque is the Castle Martinsburg. The Medieval castle technically counts among the few such buildings on the Rhine to never have been destroyed. However, it was completely rebuilt by the Archbishops of Mainz in the early 18th century. Today nothing of the interior remains, and has been entirely renovated into a collection of modern apartments.
Koblenz was the administrative capital of the Archbishops of Trier. After the 17th century, the Bishops themselves only traveled to Trier for major religious holidays. Their state was otherwise administered from the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel. To reinforce the image of Kobenz as a capital worthy of a European state, the Archbishops ordered the capital of a massive palace complex at the base of the largely Renaissance Ehrenbreitstein castle. The castle and palace were almost entirely destroyed by Napoleon, and the ruins largely cleared to make way for the railroad. Only some isolated administrative buildings mark where the palace once stood.
The cityscape of Koblenz would been baroque-ified at the same time. Though very little of it survives to the present day. Much of the baroque cityscape was removed as the city became an important Prussian garrison in the 19th century and the population outgrew the existing infrastructure. The only baroque parish church was destroyed in WWII and not rebuilt. Of the once substantial baroque cityscape only the Jesuit Monastery and a handful of baroque town-homes survive. This is best seen in the corresponding Jesuit’s Plaza and Florin’s Market.
Of some note is that although the Renaissance church of the Jesuits was destroyed and not rebuilt, the monastery complex itself was largely spared, and numerous rooms have original decorations, especially the staircase with its stucco work and ceiling fresco.
Dominated by the might Fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, the city of Koblenz has controlled the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine River for centuries. Let’s explore the forgotten history of the Fortress of the Rhine.
The palace in Engers is an example of the Rhenish Rococo, heavily influenced by the Franconian styles of the Schönborn court, i.e. Balthazar Neumann. The legendary architect was dead by the time constructed started in 1759. Instead it was designed and carried out by his student Johannes Seiz. The great frescos are the works of Januarius Zick. He was a Swabian painter that had made his way north to the courts of Mainz and Koblenz. The Archbishops of Trier would never see the castle completed, as the French Revolutionary Troops under Napoleon conquered the region.
Engers is the most spectacular Baroque monument in the Middle Rhine. You have to imagine that the entire length of the river would have been adorned by such buildings. It is also noteworthy for being the only Palace of Trier to have largely survived the centuries. Along with the palaces in Strasbourg, Rastatt and Brühl (Bruchsal or Mannheim might also count, but both are complete reconstructions), it counts as one of only very few surviving palaces of the great Rhenish states.
Travel Note: Engers can be exceedingly difficult to get to by train. You will first have to transfer in Neuwied or take a slower regional train up the right bank from Koblenz. Do note that the best views of the town are from the other side of the railway bridge, which will require a bit of walking.
The counts of Wied needed a modern administrative capital following the destruction of the Thirty Years War. They opted to build a new city from the ground up in 1653. Neuwied is the only planned city in the Middle-Rhine region and is unique for being one of the few major Protestant settlements in the region. The counts of Wied were tolerant and open to religious refugees. This can be seen today as the city still has an active minority religious community called the “Herrnhuter”. Their street and church are marked by a distinctively baroque and austere architecture. The palace itself is also of a very simple design and is still owned and inhabited by the Counts of Wied. The rest of the town is a mixture of 19th century architecture and post-war housing blocks. There are few other notable buildings, including the home of David Roentgen, a Baroque cabinet maker, that has been preserved despite more modern urban planning.
Andernach offers a varied cityscape with a mixture of Renaissance, Baroque and Historicst architecture. The most interesting monument from the mid 17th century is the chapel of the former hospital of St. Joseph, itself housed in the former Monastery of St. Johanna. The old hospital is no more, torn down in a fit of unfortunate urban renewal in the 1980s. It is in fact surrounded entirely by the modern hospital building, which makes it somewhat difficult to find.
The interior is unique, representing the life and times of St. Johanna of Valois, the patron of the short-lived monastery at the site. The frescos are done in the early Bohemian baroque style, which contrasts greatly with the Franconian-influenced designs of Trier.
As we put the center of Trierian influence further behind us and head north, the architecture takes a distinctly North-Rhenish turn. We see a shift in colors and styles, with half-timbered construction increasing in density over the more traditional stone constructions of the south. The styles are all distinctly Baroque, but reflect a transition zone of sorts. Once we are out of the Middle-Rhine we enter into the lands of Cologne, Mark and Berg, each with their own stylistic preferences. Instead of the shale-sided timber constructions of the Markian lands or the square and checkered timber frames of the Westerwald we still retain the figurative forms of the South German baroque. These two towns are a good detour for their well preserved, if somewhat small, baroque town centers.
Travel Note: Erpel is right across the river from Remagen and both are accessible to each other by ferry. This makes visiting both quite straight forward.
- Luzie Bratner, and Rheinland-Pfalz. Generaldirektion Kulturelles Erbe Rheinland-Pfalz. 2014. Mit Allen Sinnen : Reisewege Zum Barock in Rheinland-Pfalz. Regensburg:Schnell & Steiner.
- Manfred Böckling. 2012. Festung Ehrenbreitstein. Regensburg Schnell + Steiner.
- Georg Ulrich Großmann. 2010. Renaissanceschlösser in Hessen : Architektur Zwischen Reformation Und Dreissigjährigem Krieg. Regensburg: Schnell + Steiner, Cop.
- All Maps made with Datawrapper