The Löwenburg Castle in Kassel

A fake castle ruin built in the 18th century

by the Landgrave of Hessen Kassel 

in Kassel Wilhelmshöhe in Germany

Within the Wilhelmshöhe Hill Park which sits on one end of the city of Kassel, there stands what appears to be a medieval castle.  However, the Löwenburg or "Lion's Castle" was ordered to be built by the Landgrave Wilhelm IX from Hessen Kassel (1743 -1821) (later he gained the higher title of Elector Wilhelm I - Kurfürst Wilhelm I), the Walt Disney of his era, over a period of eight years between 1793 and 1801 as a romantic ruin.  It was carfelully designed by his royal court building inspector Heinrich Christoph Jussow (1754 - 1825) who had been trained as an architect and construction project manager in France, Italy, and England, and who had gone to England specifically to study romantic English ruins and draw up a plan for the Landgrave's garden folly.  Today scholars regard Löwenburg Castle ruins as one of the most significant buildings of its genre, in addition to being one of the first major neo-Gothic buildings in Germany.
What the Landgrave did here was the eighteenth century equivalent of Disney World Tokyo.   It is a central element of the Wilhlemshöhe castle park which, starting in 1785, the Landgrave transformed into a landscaped garden modeled on the English pattern, and filled with themed areas - fake Roman aquaducts, fake English Castle Ruins, fake Grecian temples, and even a fake Chinese Village.  In terms of sheer monumental size, however, the fake monumental castle ruin of the Löwenburg stands apart from the numerous antiquated and pseudo-medieval constructions that served as decorative motifs for landscaped parks in other parts of Europe. 

As one of the first pseudo-medieval "castle complexes" which was really lived in, it is a forerunner of the world-famous historical castles of the 19th century such as Babelsburg or the mad king Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein, or the 20th century's Disney Cinderella Castle.  Behind the crenellated ramparts, the gates secured with drawbridges, and the tall towers, the castle was a private place of retreat for the Landgrave Wilhelm IX (Elector Wilhelm I - Kurfürst Wilhelm I).  Here he spent time with his mistress, Karoline von Schlotheim, far removed from the stiff, ceremonial life of the court ...and his wife. 

The Löwenburg was not intended to ward off enemies but as a monument to the history of the state of Hesse (Hessen) and its ruling dynasty, a family which several times in European history came within a hairs breadth of substantial centralized power, and at the time of the Landgrave was chomping at the bit to do so yet.    Landgrave Wilhelm IX (Elector Wilhelm I - Kurfürst Wilhelm I) endowed the building with all manner of curiosities - authentic historical items culled from his various pleasure palaces and and the houses of his forefathers.  At times, the Löwenburg was not simple a pavillion to relax in, but also a showcase to exhibit to high-ranking guests that demonstrated the history and prestige of the Landgrave's family.  What the building meant for the Landgrave can be construed from the fact that at a very early stage he designated that the Löwenburg's chapel should serve as his gravesite.  The Löwenburg is thus, at one and the same time, a decorative park element, a pleasure castle and a mausoleum -- as well as being a unique work of European art of the highest order with in the park.

With the castle's deliberately romantic setting and its almost completely intact splendid furnishings from over five centuries, it is one of the few castles in the German federal state of Hessen (Hesse) which has been, by and large, authentically preserved - provided you can overlook the massive damage it underwent during World War II, when entire floors of the castle were bombed to smithereens.  In a unique fashion, it allows visitors to feel and experience what court life must have been like in around 1800.  If you've always wanted to see what an eighteenth century absolutist ruler's hidden away love-nest looked like - this is the place for you.

Artificial ruins were a standard feature in landscaped gardens in the late 18th century and were built, not just in England, but on the European continent as well.  These ruins, designed as picturesque, decorative motifs for parks, gave expression to the new romantic spirit of the age.  They also came to serve more and more as the romantic backdrop for members of the royalty, striving to demonstrate their authority and legitimize themselves as the age of absolutism waned.


The Building History of the Löwenburg

Surrounded by thick vegetation, the apparently antiquated ruin was built high above a valley called the Wolf's Ravine about a half a kilometer from the castle where the Landgrave had his court.  Begun as a picturesque piece of oversize landscape ornamentation for the park behind his normal royal castle called Wilhelmshöhe, the Löwenburg which started with a few rooms that could be used, hadwithin eight years, turned into a completely Gothic mountain castle..  In consequence, the design of the facade and how the rooms were used, experienced many changes over time.

The cornerstone for this fake castle ruin, today called Löwenburg, was laid in December of 1793.  Thanks to of the castle's stunningly picturesque location above the Wolf's Ravine, the new building was at first referred to as Felsenburg (Cliff Castle).  The first and main building of the castle, is the 30 meter high round tower building which jots deeply into the ravine.  This type of tower in castle architecture is called a Keep.  This first impressive tower  was supplemented by kitchen quarters, as well as parts of the later royal living quarters and the apartment of the castle´s live-in manager.

The important characteristic features of this first phase of construction in the 1790's were the irregular open stonework, the enlivening effect of the masonry (made of a stone called tuff) with its richness of variation and its centuries-old-ruin-like appearance, and the building's precarious position perched on the edge of the Wolf's Ravine -- design elements which were, in keeping with the theory of the time, supposed to lend the building appearance of antiquity.

In 1794, while work on the first buildings was still in progress, the royal architect cum project manager, Jussow,  was already planning the expansion of the Felsenburg (Cliff Castle).  By and by, the original concept of a picturesque castle ruin underwent a radical change.  A whole row of domestic office buildings, stables, coach houses, as well as additional apartments, reception rooms and servants' quarters, came to supplement the original plans.  Jussow grouped the buildings around a roughly oblong courtyard which could be accessed through castle gates on each of its small size.  The two main buildings were positioned in the middle of a long sides -- the Representative keep tower on the east side facing the valley and opposite, on the west side and facing the ravine, the castle chapel with the owners to them.  The design of the facade now in events is a clear symmetry.  In the first building phase of the effect of the mostly one-story buildings was characterized by the ruin like walls, he irregular niches, and the antique looking masonry.

In 1796 Jussow began making plans for the third building phase.  Additional flaws were added to the existing buildings and the remaining building gaps were filled up.  After this extensive rebuilding, the Löwenburg exhibited almost all of the features of a typical baroque palace.  On the other hand, the layout of the rooms had to be adjusted to the design of a more traditional "castle" style of architecture.  The work of building additional stories took a number of years and again changed the exterior appearance of the castle.  The previous predominant effect of deterioration was decreased by these additional floors.  Purely decorative ruin elements -- unused until then -- were now converted into functional rooms.  The facade received an increasingly representative design.  The character of a castle complex, though, which had developed over the centuries, remained intact.  Some window openings in the connecting passageway, characterized as a hall keep tower, were, for example, apparently bricked up.  The viewer was supposed to get the impression that such measures were the result of the building having undergone numerous changes in use over the years.  In point of fact, the walls and the bricked up windows were built at the same time.  In the same manner, the fake touchups in the masonry were supposed to be read as repair work necessitated by the buildings advanced age.  The deliberate use application on the courtyard's facade was designed to appear as the result of a natural process of decay.  In contrast, Jussow, concentrated his efforts to create an effect of war damages on the outside walls of the castle, for example, in the shape of the ruined towers or the chunks of stone masonry domain abandoned in the castle's moat.  It appears that the castle due to the nightly valor of its noble lord -- was able to withstand attacks over the centuries.  By identifying himself with this tradition, the present Lord of the castle, Landgrave Wilhelm IX (Elector Wilhelm I - Kurfürst Wilhelm I), was less able to reinforce his position as a rightful ruler.  In keeping with its representative character the Felsenburg was renamed the Löwenburg in 1796 after the animal featured in the Hessian coat of arms.

Shortly after the festive inauguration in August 1798, the Landgrave gave orders for further building measures.  Again another floor was added to the Landgrave's mistress's quarters in the northeast corner of the castle, extending it even further into the ravine.

Landgrave Wilhelm IX also had the stables enlarged and added a coach house.  In 1800 the new guard building with a bell tower next to the southgate was the last building to be completed.  The more recently constructed buildings no longer displayed any fake ruin like features in their design.  By 1801 the interior decoration for all the rooms in the Löwenburg was completed.  Only a few minor renovation measures such as the Gothic vaulting of the Weapons Room as well as work on the grounds lasted up until 1805.

The Löwenburg in the 19th and 20th Centuries
The use of the building material tuff, which is very susceptible to weathering, the careless construction in a heterogeneous design, led to the first signs of construction damages within just a few short years after completion of the building.  The poor condition of the keep tower required the most comprehensive measures.  The main tower of the Löwenburg and the upper part of the stairway tower had to be torn down in the middle of the 19th century and rebuilt.  In the course of these rebuilding measures, the ballroom was redecorated in a conspicuously Gothic style in keeping with the fashion of the times.

In 1866 the little kingdom of Hessen-Kassel was annexed by Prussia and the royal family dispossessed.  The most serious damage to the castle occurred during the 20th century, in January 1945, when allied bombing blew a good part of the keep tower away.  The neighboring connecting passageway building and the kitchen quarters in the southwest part of the castle, were also heavily damaged.  Most of the furniture, paintings and artifacts, however, could be saved, as well as some parts of the built in wall furnishings, among them some valuable leather tapestries.

Description of the Löwenburg

From the castle a winding path leads one past lovely meadows and brooks, through thick woods and over a flight of stairs that seems to be hewn out of the rock, to the south gate of the Löwenburg.  In terms of both content and design, the grounds surrounding the Löwenburg form a harmonious whole with the building complex itself.  A castle garden was laid out in front of the north gateway.  With its paths shaded by wooden arbors, it's outdoor birdcages, hedges and straightforward structure, the garden was designed to underscore the medieval character of the Löwenburg, as understood by its viewers at that time.  A tournament field with a terraced slope and a "Gothic" tournament house was laid out before the south gateway.  On the large castle meadow a kitchen garden was planted for the provision of the guards and the manager of the castle.  The castle grounds were bordered on the west by an well hiddden tree-lined avenue which allowed the Landgrave to his mistress and secret lovenest in the Löwenburg by horse-drawn coach, without his ife seeing him from the main castle.  A wall topped by battlements and a moat encircled the castle on the sides which faced flat ground, while the ravine offers the supposedly necessary protection on the other sides.

In their completed state the artificial ruins form a four sided castle complex.  The two castle gates are safeguarded by a drawbridge, a portcullis and an iron gate.  The mechanics for these devices is on the platform above the Northgate, respectively in the room, known as the "dungeon", which is above the passageway of the south gate.

The south gate has around the tower on each of its four corners.  An attendant's chamber has been built on the platform crowned by battlements.  On the exterior side facing the ravine, the gatehouse is flanked on the one side by the round slate covered stairway tower leading to the servants' quarters of the manor house, and on the other sides by the guard room with the bell tower jutting out into the castle moat, as well as the ruined style tower of the kitchen quarters.

The north gate has a blind balcony facing the courtyard and the castle garden.  It is flanked on the exterior by two round towers.  The western tower, conspicuously in the ruined style, rounds off the platform above the gate passageway.  Between the northgate and the reception rooms on the east side facing the ravine, there is a three story apartment for the castle manager.

In the courtyard the square stairway tower with its high steeple provides access to the rooms in the upper stories of the castle manager's apartment.  At the same time, it functions as a servants' stairway for the lady of the manor's quarters to the east and provides a connecting element between the north and east sides whose stories are at different heights.

This Landgrave's private rooms of the Löwenburg are on the east side facing the Castle Wilhelmshöhe.  At the heart was the key, which only parts of, escaped destruction can be seen today.  Jussow plays to the reception rooms in this part of the complex, comparable to their central function in a baroque palace.  The dining hall was on the ground floor, the library on the first floor above it and a large, magnificently decorated ballroom on the second floor.  The guest rooms were on the third floor.  There was a magnificent view over the castle park from the ruined style platform.  The keep is encircled on three sides by a two-story passageway which, together with the window arcades which the upper story once apparently featured, gave the castle the characteristic look of a "hall keep tower".

It links the rooms in the keep tower with the Landgrave's private quarters to the south and the lady of the manor's quarters facing the castle garden.  This passageway building is processed to the east between the lady in lord of the manor's quarters, thus forming a sort of honorary courtyard which is separated from the castle courtyard by a balustrade with two stone lions.  The rooms can be assessed centrally via the Knights gateway in the middle of the passageway building, which is distinguished by its sandstone walls.The importance of the rooms on the east side is underscored by the many windows and decorative elements of the facade.

With the exception of the castle chapel, the buildings on the west side are much simpler in design.  They each have several entrances to the castle courtyard.  The main building on the west side is the castle chapel.  Light the "hall keep tower" opposite, it is processed back several meters and separated from the courtyard by a balustrade.  Analog to the lions of the "hall keep tower", statues of St. Bonifatius and St. Elisabeth, the mythical ancestor of the Hessen ruling family, framed the entrance way to the chapel.  The castle chapel is not still formal and architectural counterpart to the keep tower.

The chapel is symmetrically framed by the Weapons Room to the right and the kitchen quarters to the left.  North of the Weapons Room lies the quarters for the servants with its high stairway pediment and the stables, marked by a gateway featuring two stone horse heads.  The popular medieval motif of the stairway pediment also appears in the kitchen quarters, here in the form of a double pediment.

Tour of the Interior

Just like the architecture, the interior design of the rooms was supposed to fulfill the double function of appearing antiquary and and, at the same time, satisfying the royal demand for an opulent, representative style of life.  For this purpose Landgrave Wilhelm IX (Elector Wilhelm I - Kurfürst Wilhelm I) chose medieval, renaissance and baroque objects.  As sovereign he had recourse to the furnishings and fittings of numerous castles, monasteries, and churches throughout the land.  These objects were augmented by furniture featuring lion claws which Jussow designed for the Löwenburg.  The rich assortment of paintings, gobelins, tapestries, weapons, and artifacts were supposed to demonstrate the tradition, wealth, and power of the prince, thus legitimizing his position as ruler.  The layout of the rooms on the east side confirmed to the unusual pattern in baroque palace buildings.  Due to its construction as a "castle", the relatively small rooms of the Löwenburg could not usually be laid out as a flight of rooms.  With the keep tower as a point of reference, the rooms to both sides were increasingly private: from the library on the first floor, for example, one could reach the study of the Landgrave via an antechamber.  Beyond the study, there is the bedroom, dressing room, and servant' s stairway. 

Since 1945 the reception rooms in the keep tower and the passageway building no longer exists, or if so, only in rough form.  This is why one now accesses the royal rooms in the manor house through the servants entry way.

On the ground floor of the Landgrave's living quarters there is a guest apartment with dressing room, bedroom, and a toilet room.  Via the servants' stairway one arrives at the Landgrave's apartment on the first floor.  Through a door in the antechamber one enters the dressing room.  Today it houses an impressive gold leather tapestry which belongs to the gallery in the northern part of the passageway building.  The Landgrave's bedroom is beyond the dressing room.  The alcove with the bed is separated from the rest of the room by two partly goldplated columns and a railing, necessary because there were at times so many spectators to see the Landgrave awake in the morning.  As on the ground floor, the bedroom has its own toilet with chamberpot.  Next the bedroom is Landgrave Wilhelm IX's study in the passageway building.  Due to damages suffered in World War II, this study and passageway can only be viewed today in a stripped down state as the damage is slowly repaired and the room restored.

The Landgrave was able to gain direct access to the now destroyed library on the first floor of the keep tower via an antechamber.  He kept a large collection of books, including stories of chivalry, ghost stories, and adventure books. Howerer some of the books were books in appearance only.   The books were fake.  Just the bindings decorated the shelves and they were only there for looks and atmosphere.

Via the so-called gallery, a narrow room with many windows in the northern part of the passageway building, the rooms of the Landgrave were connected to those of his mistress.  The antechamber on the first floor of the lady's quarters, here the ladies once gathered socially and for games.  It has a unique wallcovering, the so-called Pearl Tapestry.  The tapestry was made in the early 1700's and contains many panels depicting court figures in old fashioned Renaissance costume and fashions from different cultures and eras.  The stove in this room is a typical example of the Löwenburg's stylistic mix.  The clay body with its neo-Gothic shape, rests on a cast-iron box with rococo ornament., and is crowned with a neo-classical vase.  It was made specifically for the castle to create a medieval atmosphere in the room.

From the antechamber a passageway leads to the Green Cabinet which features an open fireplace in the Gothic style.  The bedroom of the lady of the manor, in which there is a noteworthy equestrian statue, is just beyond the small round room.  In the neighboring dressing room, there is a painted tape history with scenes of nightly tournaments with buildings of Wilhelmshöhe in the background.  In many rooms the Löwenburg is to pick it and paintings, I'm tapestries or in the form of wooden models, which not only reflects the importance of the building for its owner, but also served as a means of presentation for its creator.  In the connecting dressing room, today one can see the royal glassware from the renaissance era with the family coat of arms and imperial eagle from the keep tower.  In around 1800 small pictures with the depictions of animals were brought to the Löwenburg from Sababurg, a nearby fortress with animal park created in the 1500s.  There they must have served as name patrons for the various rooms, as can be conjectured by such appellations as "in the wild" or "in the unicorn".

The Weapons Room was an integral part of the stage management of the castle. The Weapons Room with its ceiling vaulting and numerous coats of armor, served to demonstrate royal power and legitimize it.  Pride of place goes to the best-known armor from the Löwenburg -- the "Black Knight" a complete tournament set of armor for rider in horse from the 16th century decorated with black mourning feathers.  This fluted armor was worn by the standard-bearer at funeral processions whenever the current Landgrave of Hesse died. The last use was in 1821 when Wilhelm IX (Elector Wilhelm I - Kurfürst Wilhelm I) himself was laid to rest.  Wilhelm IX was an accomplished soldier who had fought militarily todefend the old order against the French revolution.  The weapons in this room, mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries, show the tradition from which he sprang and his almost chivalrous commitment as the noble son of one of the oldest princely dynasties in the Holy Roman Empire.   Due to the vaulting, the room is very high and has an almost sacred air about it.  The ceiling was splendidly decorated with painted and embroidered crests.

The Gothic style castle chapel is one of the most important buildings of the Löwenburg.  The recourse to medieval form of design was not religiously motivated, but rather served to create an appearence of antiquity.  The accoutrements are of high quality.  Numerous paintings in the 16th and 17th centuries depicting the life of Jesus can be seen on the walls of the chapel.  The stone monument of a knight's tomb stands in the choir.  The church pews with their tracery design, as well as the lion heads and paws, along with the Gothic style pulpit and organ gallery in the south side aisle, were made according to designs by Jussow.  Seven high tracery windows and one round window provide daylight for the interior of the church.  Originally, they were made of stained glass from the 14th to the 16th centuries.

A stairway in the South side aisle leads down into the crypt.  Under the choir in a marble sarcophagi completed by Johann Christian Ruhl as early as 1804, lies the body of the royal prince.

With the death of its bill to the Löwenburg became, in a sense, one big mausoleum.  Even after his death, it stood as a permanent showcase of the prince and his claims of sovereignty.  the castle became a genuine ruin in World War II, and so few rooms have remained in their historical condition.  Others, like the Pearl Tapestry Room in the ladies' wing, have been reconstructed talking the surviving chamgers as a guide.

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