Marksburg Castle, a Jewel in the Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site

Photo of Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
We hung out on the upper deck of our river boat with our eyes peeled on the surrounding hills as we made our way through the Rhine River Valley, admiring the some 40 castles overlooking the river. The Marksburg, featured above, was special. Not only is it the best preserved castle along the Rhine, it is considered a jewel in the Rhine Gorge UNESO World Heritage Site and we had just visited. We were excited to see it from below.
One advantage of our leisurely trip up the Rhine, was that it provided us with ample opportunity to enjoy different perspectives of the castles. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

It’s hard to imagine a better way to kick off a journey through Rhine River Valley from Koblenz to Mainz than a visit to Marksburg Castle. Originally built in 1100 CE as protection for the town of Braubach, it was owned by various noble families down through the centuries until it was sold to the German Castles Association in 1900. It had been established a year earlier to preserve castles in Germany. Today, Marksburg serves as headquarters for the Association.

We made our way up to the castle via a route that challenged our bus driver to maneuver along a curvy, narrow road that had originally been built to accommodate foot and horse traffic. If you’ve spent any time driving in medieval European towns, you are familiar with the problem. We were met by our guide who ushered us into the castle and provided an excellent tour. Three things captured my attention: The structure of the castle, its collection of knights and their armor, and a bit on medieval life.

All of the photos in this post are taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

Photo of Marksburg lion by Curt Mekemson.
Just inside the massive entry door were four lions that represented the different noble families that had owned the castles. The lion is a common feature in heraldry representing courage, valor, strength, and other characteristics that nobles liked to claim they had, rightfully or not.
Photo of "butter churn" tower on Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
While many of the castles along the Rhine were designed as homes for nobility first and defense second, Marksburg was designed first for protection. Its two towers were designed to fight off the enemy. Together, the two are commonly called a butter churn tower because of their look. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Marksburg tower photo by Curt Mekemson.
A different perspective of the tower.
Ramparts above Marksburg Gate photographed by Curt Mekemson.
Situated above the castle gate, these ramparts are designed to provide protection for the gate and surrounding walls.
Photo of castle ramparts by Curt Mekemson.
Anyone who has ever watched a movie involving castle defense understands the purpose of this structure. It’s designed to provide the defender with a clear line of fire while at the same time providing an element of protection. The long, slender hole in the right shadow is designed to shoot arrows through while providing even more protection.
Marksburg Castle arrow slit photo by Curt Mekemson.
A close up of an arrow slit. Hard to get much more protection than this. Finding a target might be more of a problem! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The ramparts of Marksburg Castle used to frame a photo by Curt Mekemson.
I found another use for the ramparts. They made a great frame for a photo.
Photo od Marksburg Castle canon by Curt Mekemson.
By the 1600s, cannons were in common use use as both defensive and offensive weapons in Europe. Marksburg had both short cannons and…
Photo of long canon at Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
…long cannons depending on the latest technology. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Canon port view of the Rhine River from Marksburg Castle by Curt Mekemson.
The view of the Rhine through the cannon port. Rather commanding, I’d say. Before international agreements on Rhine River traffic were agreed to, a great deal of money was made by charging tolls to passing boats. Usually, a chain was stretched across the river. I have to assume that this was an added incentive to pay up.
Weapons in Marksburg Castle armory by Peggy Mekemson.
The armory included a number of wicked looking weapons including these. The shadows are even scarier. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Marksburg Castle knight by Peggy Mekemson.
Even more interesting, there was display on the evolution of what knights wore. This one carried a huge broadsword. Interesting helmet. Eyebrows and a beak. Just ducky? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Horny?
Furry?
Flowery. Okay, here’s the question. Assuming you needed a hero to represent you on the field of battle, which one would you choose: Ducky, Horny, Furry, or Flowery? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Artichoke in flower at Marksburg Castle photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Moving right along… how about the lives of the rich and famous in Marksburg Castle. I’m not sure they grew artichokes but we found this one blooming outside. BTW, our niece fed us artichokes for dinner when we visited her last week. We both love artichokes, but we had never made a complete dinner out of them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A variety of spices, I assume were representative of ones used during the Middle Ages, were hanging in the kitchen.
As were a variety of cleavers. Chop chop!
Photo of Bed in Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
The bedroom featured this bed, which struck me as short and uncomfortable. It was designed for privacy, however.
Photo of musical instrument in Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
Possibly a little romantic music is called for. The instrument, BTW, is a hurdy-gurdy. I looked it up. Peggy informed me there was a musical group in the late 60s called the Hurdy Gurdy Band. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Romantic tapestry in Marksburg Castle photographed by Curt Mekemson.
Romantic love grew out of the age of Chivalry. What better way to recognize it than on a tapestry. This lovely maiden and her dandy duke seem to be sharing a moment as their beasties’ tails entwine to form a heart. Not quite sure what role the ferocious bird on the maiden’s right represents. Maybe it’s a message to the duke not to trifle with her emotions. Kind of like “If you dump me, I’ll stork you.”
If marriage is in the future, the castle has a chapel, complete with Madonna who has lost her hand.
And this is what I could only assume was a flying nun who has lost her bottom. If you are old enough, you may remember the TV series: The Flying Nun. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of chapel ceiling in Marksburg Castle by Curt Mekemson.
We found the chapel’s ceiling quite impressive. Note the lion.
No discussion of life in a medieval castle is complete without a discussion of the garderobe. “The what?” you say. It’s the small room hanging out over the wall. I call it the throne room. Peggy got a photo from inside.
FYI, the garderobe was the medieval equivalent of an outdoor toilet. Aren’t you glad you asked. It could get rather cold on a wintry day. And you never, ever wanted to stand under one, which made me wonder what it was doing hanging over a gate. Maybe it was a defensive measure. Grin. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Join us next week as we take you along the Rhine River Valley and feature a whole plethora of castles and small towns along the way. Also, be sure to check in on Monday when we celebrate Halloween and blogging friends.

The Rhine River Trip Begins… The River, a Cathedral and a Chocolate Factory!

While the first part of our journey lacked the beauty and castles of the Rhine River Valley we were about to explore, it wasn’t lacking in charm.

Birthdays are important to Peggy. When we first met, she told me “Forget my birthday and you are toast.” She was kidding, sort of. Apparently her first husband forgot the warning. I never have. Grin. Decade birthdays are even more important. For her 70th, Peggy planned a special outing. We would take the whole family on a riverboat trip up the Rhine. The kids and grandkids loved the idea (who wouldn’t), tickets were purchased, excitement grew, and then Covid struck. 

While Peggy is usually laid back and willing to ‘go with the flow,’ she assumes a more regal persona when it comes to her birthdays. I laughed when I came across this crown chair in Rheinstein Castle and asked Peggy to pose under it, which she did good naturedly. Note the shocked expressions on the faces of the two Norse gods.

Fortunately, our kids came up with an alternative for Peggy’s big 70. They rented a large house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the celebration. We hopped in Quivera, our small RV/van, and zipped across the country. Carefully. Covid was raging. It was a great celebration and Peggy was quite happy. But the riverboat trip was not forgotten. We still had the tickets and would use them as soon as Covid calmed down and Europe let us back in, which happened this past summer.

I’ve already done two posts on Amsterdam where we started and ended the adventure. Today, I am kicking off the series about our trip up the Rhine. 

It was special, no doubt about it. The boat trip in itself was a delight— good food, nice rooms, and great service. (Admittedly, Peggy went first class. But what the heck, it’s only the kids’ inheritance.) While I am not a fan of mega-cruises with thousands of people and their impact on local communities, I will admit they are good for family outings. People have their own space. They can come together or go their own way. No one has to plan entertainment, no one has to cook, and no one has to clean up. It reduces the likelihood of the trauma that sometimes accompanies family get togethers. Our riverboat offered all of these advantages plus one more, a big one: there were only a hundred people.

Our boat, the River Empress of the Uniworld Boutique line.
An example of the gourmet food we were served. I’m lucky I only gained a couple of pounds on the cruise.

Today, I am going to feature the first part of our journey. The countryside was relatively flat and industrial centers frequent. While it lacked the scenery and castles of the romantic Rhine River Valley we were about to experience, there was beauty and charm. And, we ended up in Koln/Cologne where we visited one of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals— and a chocolate museum/factory. Have I ever shared how much Peggy loves chocolate?

The photos for this post and all of the Rhine River series are all taken by Peggy and me unless otherwise noted.

There was plenty to capture our attention along the lower Rhine including colorful towns…
Historic buildings…
Attractive, modern cities and, I might add, a lot of beautiful bridges.
If we ran out of other things to entertain ourselves with, there were always barges, scads ands scad of them, each carrying up to 2500 tons. Annually, more than 300 million tons of goods are shipped along the Rhine serving Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, making it the most important river in Europe for commerce.
The ease and inexpensive nature of river travel has encouraged the development of industry along the Rhine. For example, one fifth of the world’s chemical industries are located along its banks.
As might be expected, fighting pollution in and along the river is a major challenge. Global warming presents another problem: Drought has lowered the level of the river so much by late summer that it limits the ability of barges to navigate it.
Coming into Cologne, one of our first views was of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral that we were going to visit. First up was the chocolate factory, however. Peggy does have priorities. It was like Christmas to her…
She found a chocolate Santa and made a beeline for it. Who needs chocolate bunnies?
Of course there were chocolate bunnies, and even chocolate elephants. This is the mold for one.
But the prize, from my perspective, was the purple cow. Our grandson Cody agreed to pose with it and I recited the old poem to him: “I’ve never seen a purple cow, I never hope to see one. But I can tell you anyhow, I’d rather see than be one.” Maybe the last line should be changed to “I’d rather see than eat one.” I’m 99.9% sure the cow would agree with me.
The pre-Columbian artifacts on display caught my attention even more that the purple cow.
I’m not sure if the ancient artists had a sense of humor in creating their art, but these made me smile.
As we left the Chocolate Factory/Museum, our five grandsons agreed to sit with Peggy for a photo. It’s something akin to herding cats. I think she bribed them by buying them chocolate goodies. Cooper, the youngest is in front. He just turned 10 this past week.
As we left the museum, we took a final photo from outside.and started our hike over to the Cathedral.
The Hohenzollern Bridge loomed up in the distance.
As we approached the bridge, we saw that it was filled with people walking across. Most of them were involved in Cologne’s Gay Pride festivities that were taking place.
We also passed by another of Cologne’s famous landmarks, the Great St. Martin Church.
Finally we reached our objective, the Cologne Cathedral, which kept both of our cameras busy in an effort to capture its beauty. This is the back of the church.
Every angle provided a different perspective.
A view from the side.
We discovered gargoyles lurking near the top.
Making our way toward the front of the cathedral.
A front view.
Looking up from below.
Another perspective.
A view from inside.
Looking up.
Stained glass windows.
I’ll finish up today with one of the things I find strange, if not downright weird, about so many of Europe’s medieval churches is their collections of pieces of long dead saints, like a finger, or a toe. The Cologne Cathedral is known for its collection of Magi parts, the Three Kings who came to see Christ bearing gifts. I believe they are stored in this gold reliquary.

Next Friday we will visit our first castle as we begin our trip up the Romantic Rhine River Valley. And— we meet some old friends we had never met before!