WARTBURG, THE, a castle near Eisenbach in the grand-duchy of Saxe-Weimar. It is magnificently situated on the top of a precipitous hill, and is remarkable not only for its historical associations but as containing one of the few well-preserved Romanesque palaces in existence. The original castle, of which some parts—including a portion of the above-mentioned palace (Landgrafenhaus)—still exist, was built by the landgrave Louis “the Springer” (d. 1123), and from this time until 1440 it remained the seat of the Thuringian landgraves. Under the landgrave Hermann I., the Wartburg was the home of a boisterous court to which minstrels and “wandering folk” of all descriptions streamed; and it was here that in 1207 took place the minstrels’ contest (Sängerkrieg) immortalized in Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Some years later it became the home of the saintly Elizabeth of Hungary (q.v.) on her marriage to Louis the Saint (d. 1227), to whom she was betrothed in 1211 at the age of four. It was to the Wartburg, too, that on the 4th of May 1521, Luther was brought for safety at the instance of Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, and it was during his ten months’ residence here (under the incognito of Junker Jörg) that he completed his translation of the New Testament.
From this time the castle was allowed gradually to decay. It was restored in the 18th century in the questionable taste of the period; but its present magnificence it owes to the grand-duke Charles Alexander of Saxe-Weimar, with whom at certain seasons of the year it was a favourite residence.
The most interesting part of the castle is the Romanesque Landgrafenhaus. This, besides a chapel, contains two magnificent halls known as the Sängersaal (hall of the minstrels)—in which Wagner lays one act of his opera—and the Festsaal (festival hall). The Sängersaal is decorated with a fine fresco, representing the minstrels’ contest, by Moritz von Schwind, who also executed the frescoes in other parts of the building illustrating the legends of St Elizabeth and of the founding of the castle by Louis the Springer. The Festsaal has frescoes illustrating the triumphs of Christianity, by Welter. In the buildings of the outer court of the castle is the room once occupied by Luther, containing a much mutilated four-post bed and other relics of the reformer. The famous blot caused by Luther’s hurling his ink-pot at the devil has long since become a mere hole in the wall, owing—it is said—to the passion of American tourists for “souvenirs.”
The armoury (Rüstkammer) contains a fine collection of armour, including suits formerly belonging to Henry II. of France, the elector Frederick the Wise and Pope Julius II. The great watch-tower of the castle commands a magnificent view of the Thuringian forest on the one side and the plain on the other.
- Walther von der Vogelweide (ed. F. Pfeiffer 1880, No. 99) and Wolfram von Eschenbach (Parzival vi. 526 and Willehalm 417, 26) both refer to the noise and constant crush of crowds passing in and out at the Wartburg “night and day.”
- Wagner, with a poet’s licence, has placed the Sängerkrieg during Elizabeth’s residence at the Wartburg.