Last week-end, we played tourists in our current residing country, Luxembourg, and visited one of the most impressive Medieval castle of the region: the Vianden Castle.
The Vianden Castle dominates the river Our valley and the charming Vianden town. As it it set on a rock promontory 310 m high, it offers lovely views of the Luxembourg countryside.
Come along the visit of one of the largest fortified castle of the region!
The castle was accessible by 4 different gates, the first of which had a draw bridge and the last one, a portcullis. The picture above shows the lower bailey and the covered battlement (as well as a nice collection of modern garbages!).
The last gate. The portcullis has been removed but can be seen on some of the pictures inside
The Petit Palace
The visit starts by the Petit Palace and the Arms Hall or Armory, is the first room you see once inside. The Little Palace which dates from the 12th century. The Gothic vaulted ceiling was added in the 15th century.
This body armour was richly decorated and must have been worn by someone very important.
Next in the Little Palace, you can access the Captain’s Hall which displays sone fire arms and the below pillory. (Although if you follow the signs you should only see this after the chapel)
From the Armory, the visit takes you to an unusual space in a castle: the archeological crypt. During some excavations, the remains of the Roman walls of the 3rd century Castellum and of the Carolingian settlement in the 9th century were found. You can now admire them from a clever superstructure where various artefacts found there, are also displayed, in suspended cases.
From there, passing through a small room which used to be a kitchen, you arrive in the lower chapel.
The chapel is probably the most amazing part of the castle, or at least the most singular as the chapel is built on 2 separate floors which communicate by an opening in the middle. The lower ground was for the commoners and the servants. They could follow the religious ceremonies, without being able to enter the rest of the castle. The upper level was of course for the Count and his family.
The lowest ground of the chapel
The view from the lower ground
The upper part of the chapel
To give you a better idea of the incredible architecture of the chapel I also took pictures of some of the drawings which can bee seen in the castle:
The next most amazing thing in Vianden is undoubtly the Byzantine gallery. It is 28m long and has 6 magnificent trefoiled windows facing the valley and 4 additional ones facing the courtyard.
(Picture by Mr A!)
The visit continues and leads you in the Jean pierre Koltz Hall, originally the grain loft, which is located above the Byzantine gallery. You are still in what’s called the little Palace, despite the fact that there were originally 2 additional floors above this hall which makes a total of 4 floors! I had to mention as I find it truly incredible.
This hall is dedicated to J.P. Koltz, vice president of the association ‘Friends of the Vianden Castle’ and displays numerous pictures of the reconstruction works.
At the end of this Hall, you will find the Charles Arendt Hall which is basically the transformed roof of the chapel (dates from the 15th century). There you will learn about Victor Hugo’s love for Vianden and of his opinion on the restauration work conducted in the 19th century on the chapel!
The Nassau Mansion
The visit then continues in the Nassau Mansion added in the 17th century on the location of the damaged dungeon.
The Banqueting Hall (picture above) and the bedroom (pictures below) are the 2 main rooms which displays furniture from the 17th to 19th centuries although the fireplace in the Banqueting Hall dates from 1450. The adjacent room called the Genealogy Hall displays the Nassau and Count of Vianden coat of arms.
The Grand Palace
Next on, the visit takes you into the Grand Palace which was constructed in the early 13th century.
The Petit Palace was obviously pretty big already: 28m long and almost 8m wide, 4 floors… gives plenty of room. But the Grand Palace is of course bigger, as the Festivity Hall is 30m long by 10m wide, and 7m high.
There were 2 fire places to heat such a big Hall but they have been removed. The tapestries are mostly from the 17th century.
The Knights Hall which is located just below the Festivity Hall is also magnificent.
A medieval castle wouldn’t be complete without a super cool kitchen! (located in the Nassau Mansion) and a well which is 53m deep and surprisingly located inside the walls of the castle and not outside in the courtyard (might have been before the construction of the Grand Palace).
On your way out, don’t forget to admire the roof of the castle and to check out the wine cellar.
(Hey another great view from Mr A!)
The Vianden Castle is truly remarkable and totally worth the trip from Luxembourg city if you are there for a visit.
The Venice charter
If you are interested in castles like I am and are still there, let me tell you a bit more about the history of this castle:
The Vianden Castle was constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries on the remains of a Roman “Castellum” and a Carolingian refuge. Until the mid 15th century, it was the official residence of the Vianden Counts. The House of Nassau was added in the 17th century.
In 1820 the castle was sold piece by piece and felt into ruins. 🙁
The Grand Duke of Luxembourg transferred the ownership of the castle to the state in 1977 and the castle was thereafter restored.
Such brief description of the history of the castle is meant to highlight that, the Vianden Castle, like many other medieval castles in Europe of course, has required extensive work to look the way it looks today, and despite the efforts to make the restauration as authentic as possible, some of the original architectural elements have been lost.
So why mention this? Because of the International Council on Monuments and Sites and in particular the Venice Charter. (www.icomos.org)
The Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Site, which was created in 1964, is a code of professional standards that gives and international framework for the conservation and restoration of ancient buildings.
The 2 articles I wanted to point out are
“The process of restoration is a highly specialized operation. Its aim is to preserve and reveal the aesthetic and historic value of the monument and is based on respect for original material and authentic documents. It must stop at the point where conjecture begins, and in this case moreover any extra work which is indispensable must be distinct from the architectural composition and must bear a contemporary stamp.“
and article 12:
“Replacements of missing parts must integrate harmoniously with the whole, but at the same time must be distinguishable from the original so that restoration does not falsify the artistic or historic evidence.“
Although they are probably extremely hard to put into action, I think these articles are pretty clear and can explain a lot of the restauration choices done on castles or even restauration / reconstruction that do not get done.
It is important to know this when you are visiting castles, as these guidelines and best practices have most likely had a huge impact on what you are seeing now.
Do you like Medieval castles? I certainly do!
And that’s why I created a mini pocket guide of Medieval Castle Vocabulary.
Check it out here. And download it before your next visit! (yes, it’s free!)
The Technical bits:
- The official website for the Vianden Castle is: www.castle-vianden.lu (includes floor plans, pictures and detailed explanation)
- There is a parking lot, not far from the castle. The walk to the entrance is short but steep!
- The visit is self guided and you can stay as long as you want! If you chose this option, buy the little book available at the entrance (EUR 3,50, it’s a bargain!), it is very interesting and will help you make the most of your visit. Most signs in the castle are only in French and German. Audio guides are also available and guided visits can be organized in advance.
- It takes a bit less than one hour to drive from Luxembourg city to Vianden. The drive itself is pleasant as you will get to see Luxembourg lush countryside and you will get the opportunity to stop by some of the other medieval castles that can be found along the way.
- The Vianden Chairlift (the only one in Luxembourg!) is very popular and offers great views of the castle and the valley.
- Vianden is a lovely city. A walk through its narrow cobbled streets, a stop by the Trinitarian Church or the Victor Hugo museum, a stroll by the river enjoying the view of the castle… complement the visit of the castle perfectly!
- The Vianden Castle is a lively place. Lots of events are organized year long like Medieval fairs, concerts and art exhibitions. You can also rent part of the castle for private venues. Would you fancy getting married in the Chapel or would love to organise a cocktail party in the Byzantine Gallery? Well dreams can come true!!
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