Unlike many medieval castles in Europe, Burghausen Castle still has almost all of its fortifications intact. The castle complex extends over a length of more than half a mile (1.05 km), making it the longest in the world.
Modern excavations have established that the hill upon which Burghausen Castle is situated has been occupied by humans since at least the Bronze Age. The castle itself dates back to before 1025, the date of its first documentation. The castle complex today includes the main gothic castle structure, a gothic-style chapel, several museums (including a torture museum and a collection of gothic art), one inner and five outer courtyards, and modern apartments whose exterior architecture conforms to the original castle style.
With few exceptions, the castle walls are made of travertine stone. Burghausen Castle sits atop a ridge overlooking the Old Town section of Burghausen, Bavaria (pop. 18,000). (Photo above.)
In 1168 the castle passed to the Lower Bavarian Wittelsbach dynasty following the death of the last count of Burghausen, Gebhard II. In 1180 Duke Otto I (a Wittelsbach) had the castle expanded. In addition to the Trausnitz Castle in Landshut, Burghausen Castle became the second residence of the dukes of Lower Bavaria in 1255 and, at the behest of Duke Henry XIII, construction began on what is today the main castle structure.
Besides serving as a royal residence, Burghausen Castle was also of military importance. By around 1500, the castle had become one of the strongest fortifications in Europe. It served to help thwart invasion by the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries, and played a role in several European conflicts, including the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). During French occupation around 1800, parts of the castle were torn down.
In 1809 Napoleon I declared the castle outmoded. Several renovations and reconstruction projects took place after that, and the castle continued to house troops for several decades. The garrison was dissolved in 1891 and there were plans to demolish the castle. Thanks to the efforts of the citizens of the town of Burghausen, the castle remained largely intact. The first steps to preserve the castle, which continue to this day, occurred in 1896.
For much of its early history Burghausen was the site of torture and executions. Many unfortunate souls suffered at the hands of the official torturers. Today visitors can see the tools of that torture in the castle’s Torture Museum. The castle dungeon (Kerker) held not only lowly prisoners, but also notables such as the Swedish field marshal Gustav Graf Horn (from 1634 to 1641).
The hangman was also busy, but most executions took place in a field a few kilometers north of the castle or in the town where the condemned person lived. The last official hanging at Burghausen was in 1831.
Burghausen Castle Today
Visitors to the castle these days discover a very pleasant place with lawns and gardens. The castle today, with its six courtyards and medieval architecture, offers a pleasant place to stroll and enjoy impressive views of the town and river on one side, or the lake (the Wöhrsee with public bathing) and the Powder Tower on the other side. There are several museums on the castle grounds.
Exhibitions at the Castle
In 2004 Burghausen and its castle were the site of the State Garden Show (Landesgartenschau), attracting a million visitors to the city. In 2012, in cooperation with the Austrian province of Upper Austria (Oberösterreich), Burghausen co-hosted the annual Bavarian State Exhibition (Bayerische Landesausstellung) with the Austrian town of Braunau. The exhibition ran from April 27 to November 4, with the theme of “Bavaria and Austria in the Middle Ages” („Verbündet – Verfeindet – Verschwägert“).
Burghausen is located on the Salzach River on the Bavarian side of the Austrian-German border, about two hours by car from Munich. There is also passenger rail service between Munich and Burghausen. A public bus runs between the Burghausen rail station and the castle, but on a nice day it is a pleasant walk. There is no charge to enter the castle grounds, but admission to the Castle Museum costs 4.50 euros per adult. Seniors (65 and older): 3.50 euros. Children and students (with I.D.) free.
Burghausen’s Altstadt (Old Town), located along the river below the castle, is also worth a visit. (See photo above.) See the Burghausen weblinks below for more information.
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AT THE GERMAN WAY
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ON THE WEB
- burg-burghausen.de – Official website (Bavarian Dept. of Palaces), in English or German
- Burg zu Burghausen – Official website (Burghausen), in English, German and other languages
- Burg zu Burghausen – Wikipedia (in German)
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