Today we sailed all morning, while Jeannette (our ship Cruise Director) gave a talk in the lounge about different areas on the “Romantic Rhine” River as we meandered through the gorgeous Rhine Gorge. According to our ship newsletter, the “Rhine may be about 825 miles long, but it is the 40 or so miles of the Middle Rhine Valley between Bingen and Koblenz that epitomize the romantic notion of the river.” We could see quaint village after village along here; vineyards everywhere we looked; huge churches and colorful buildings; but the most exciting views to most of us were the lofty sentinels on the hills, standing watch over many of the villages. I’m talking about the castles, of course! Some were in ruins, some were not, some were in use as museums or hotels, but all were fascinating! Every time we saw that one was coming up, most on the ship would run out on the deck or up to a window to snap a few photos.
Jeannette told us that most of the castles here were built between the 12th and the 14th centuries. Then many of them were refurbished in the 19th century. She also said that the German word “burg” means castle, so anytime you hear of a city with “burg” at the end of the name (such as Wurzburg or Regensburg), you will know it has a castle, usually situated above the town on a hill. From the ship newsletter, here’s some quick history of the area.
Around 1200 AD marked the beginning of construction of many of the Rhine fortresses. They were “often refined and expanded until well into the 16th century.” Then during the late 1600s, French troops invaded and destroyed many of the towns and castles along the Rhine River. From 1794 to 1812, much of the area was “occupied by the French Revolutionary Army before coming under the control of Napoleon’s France. Most of the remaining Rhine fortresses (were) rendered indefensible and (fell) into ruin.”
In 1817 the first steamship for tourists began carrying passengers up and down the Rhine River. The late 1800s was when many of the castles were refurbished, probably in large part because of the new tourism industry. In 1992, “the Middle Rhine Valley (was) declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”
The “first documentary evidence of a vineyard…in the Rhine Valley” points to 643 AD. The Romans introduced it into the region. It is also thought that wild grapes grew here for centuries, and then people discovered what a wonderful beverage they could make from the fruiting berry, and soon vineyards sprang up everywhere and wine became a staple. According to Wikipedia, “In the Middle Ages, wine was the only non-germinated storable drink for the common people, as beer was often expensive and of poor quality, water in urban areas was usually polluted and coffee and tea were still unknown.” White Rieslings are the major wines made here, because Riesling grapes grow the best.
A well-known landmark along the Middle Rhine near the town of St. Goarshausen is a large rocky outcropping bordering the narrowest part of the river, which makes it a harrowing area for ship captains trying to navigate. Jeannette told us all about the Lorelei. Folklore has it that a beautiful water spirit or mermaid named Lorelei would sing and lure sailors to the cliffs, only to have them crash and capsize on the rocks. According to Wikipedia, “heavy currents, and a small waterfall in the area…created a murmuring sound, and this, combined with the special echo the rock produces,” gave the rock its name. There is a bronze statue of Lorelei herself, which was erected in 1983, near St. Goarshausen.
Obviously, there have been many shipwrecks along this stretch of the river, but the latest one occurred in January of 2011. According to Speigel Online International, a German tanker containing 2,400 tons of sulfuric acid capsized near the Lorelei rock early in the morning. Two or the four crew members on the tanker were lost in the frigid water. The article said there were “no indications that the ship was leaking, and testing on the Rhine downstream showed no abnormalities,” so that was one bit of good news.
I was unable to get a good photo of the Lorelei while on the ship, so here is one from euratlas.com:
Enjoy the remainder of my photos of the Middle Rhine River, her villages and her castles!