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Würzburg: Market, Churches, and Fortress

December 9

Written December 27

Dear Friends and Families,


We have to admit, we've hardly ever been to the tourist attractions of Würzburg. For four-and-a-half years we have shuttled between Frankfurt and the Nürnberg area of Bavaria, passing the Würzburg exits a couple hundred times. And that doesn't count the times when we would go to the American PX at the local Army Base - not real Würzburg. Now, we tried an introductory visit. I had a business meeting nearby and, rather than simply drive home, Marianne and I tried a 24hour tour of one of the old centers of German history.

The oldest historical record are the remnants of Celtic fortifications and settlements from 1000 BC. The Romans held the area as a border stronghold before German tribes took the river and highway crossroads back again. In the mid-7th Century, the Irish monk Kilian converted the locals to Christianity and was martyred as his reward. He was followed by Boniface and a millennium-long church dynasty that exerted control over this part of Europe, often from the fortress and settlements at Würzburg.

Indeed, the Marienberg citadel on the hill overlooking the city provided an almost-perfect defensive redoubt, only falling to the Swedes in the 17th Century and to 300,000 British bombs on March 16, 1945. That 20-minute bombing run leveled 80% of the ancient city and, even today, only the most significant of the landmarks have been rebuilt. But, those alone proved worth a visit - or more.



We arrived Friday evening, just in time to watch the Christmas Market close. (We did grab one "Glüwein" - hot spiced wine - before the kiosks closed.) There was just enough time to spot a pair of the churches we would need to visit: Mary's Chapel by the Market Square and Kilian's Cathedral at the end of a busy shopping street.


The next morning, we were back in the cold gray streets. Marienkappele, Mary's Chapel, started in 1377, was an imposing presence over the Christmas Market. Inside, the chapel was grand, but re-construction somehow leaves places like this less than they were. It will take another few centuries of peace for the feeling to come back.

When this was one of the leading churches of Christian Germany, important bishops were buried here - in part. Actually, their entrails were buried here in the Marienkappele, their bodies in the nearby Killian Cathedral and their hearts in the monastery in the town of Ebrach, down near our Bavarian home.



Back in the streets, the Christmas Market was warming up. Glüwein at 10:30 a.m. wasn't appealing but the street activity was fun. We even managed to get caught in a noisy crowd protesting some sort of school closing. Somehow the noise was welcome and we certainly sympathize with the need for improved schools. (In the picture, the reference to "Pisa" is a reminder that EU-wide rankings of public schools, first published at a conference in Pisa Italy, had Finland first and Germany almost last.)


Our next stop was Neumünster Church, which was started in the 11th Century and, judging from the scaffolding, will be finished in the 21st. The altar reconstruction was strictly contemporary, but the ceilings were were impressive examples of an older style.




Finally, we made it to the Dom or Cathedral. Here, too, the reconstruction was part traditional and part contemporary. I find Romanesque churches such as this to be cold and uninspiring, possibly because they were built as fortifications in the first place. Dom Kilian seemed more museum than church. Oh well, it's not like we have run short of properly ornate churches in the neighborhood.





We were ready to see the "castle" part of the church-castle-square trilogy by which we judge all European cities. In Würzburg there are two choices: the Residenz, the palace-castle where the price-bishops lived from the 16th Century and Marienberg, the older military fortress on the western hill above the city. We chose military.

There have been fortifications on Marienberg ever since the original Celtic settlers and the Roman invaders a thousand years later. The hill is steep along three sides so the gates and bridges are all on the western side, just past a convenient parking lot. (We also judge tourist attractions by parking facilities and Marienberg, in the off-season, was good. In the summer I suspect a visit may involve considerably more climbing by the tourist hordes.


After the first gate, the entrance path winds between two walls, past a cottage (new project?) and into a long and curving tunnel. This was a classic fortified entry: a low ceiling to discourage mounted attacks, a rising slope to make fighting entry difficult, a bend to hide defensive forces from the attackers and a centrally located hole in the ceiling through which to pour boiling oil. No wonder that Marienberg fortifications were praised by Napoleon.


Two more gates guarded the route to the courtyard. This was not a place to come uninvited.



The tower "keep" was the last of the fortifications, with rooms on the top and storage below. The tower reportedly dates from Roman times.



Next to the tower was St Mary's Chapel, a round church that is one of the oldest post-Roman parts of Marienberg. It remains the burial place for many of the local royalty.


  Nestled up against the chapel is the octagonal well house and inside was a well descending 340 feet (104 meters). The key to a fortification was a secure source of water and this source has been secure since it was dug at the end of the 11th Century.



I know this diary is running on a bit, but we're not done yet. On our way out, we decided to stop at the Main-Franken Museum, housed in buildings along the intermediate wall of the fortress entry. It looked worth a quick stop at least and the people inside were very friendly and welcoming - a benefit of off-season travel I suspect.

Our "quick stop" turned into an hours-long pilgrimage, as we discovered just how expansive the museum was. It was filled with historic art work, furniture, and, as any really old display must have, shards, those broken pieces of pottery that tell experts this was a long-settled place. Normally, we yawn at shards but here, we may have discovered the secret to a shard found on our own castle grounds. But, that's later, first we'll share a small percentage of what we saw.


This is Friedrich Carl von Schönborn, the builder of outer fortifications at Marienberg. He would be famous enough for that, but this particular painting made him known by everyone in Germany as it appeared on the 50-mark bill in the pre-EU days.



Next to the 50-Mark painting was this family group, I believe from later relatives of Friedrich Carl. In any event, I was taken by the reality of the painting, especially the faces.


My favorite "furniture" piece was this clock. The heavy pendulum swung above the clock mechanism, imparting it's energy via elaborate eccentric gears. I had never seen such a clock.


Other one-of-a-kind furniture pieces included a 1830 vertical piano, called a giraffe-bird (Girraffe Flügel). As for the massive pair of ornate cabinets, I thought they may be a bit too large for our tastes and our castle.


This desk would have fit in our house, I suppose. But the exquisite wood inlay would put it well outside any budget I could imagine.


By this time, we were tired and running out of patience. It didn't matter, we had discovered there was just one way in and one way out and we were just barely half-way through! For your sake, we will not show much from the Second Half.


This is my idea of a good travel safe. The complicated mechanism was a work of metal art, as was the iron casting of the box itself. Probably wouldn't make airplane luggage limits today through.


This was the shard room, testimony to settlement - and wine production - in this neighborhood for 3,ooo years. This display of wooden shields may explain one of our own mysteries. In digging around our old house, we had uncovered a round metal piece, very much like the center hub of these shields. That will be our new story: it's a piece to an ancient shield! (Good stories need only be plausible, so we won't push farther to insist on proof of truth.)


OK. We're almost done. Just one or two more halls. This one had eight or ten of the largest grape presses I'd ever seen. The hills around Würzburg, including those below Marienberg, have grown grapes for a millennium or more. These massive presses were proof of serious production.



Finally, the entrance/exit hall. Goodness, this was a big place, interesting but big. We definitely needed to sit and rest a bit.


Overall, it was a great 24-hour tour. We saw good examples of our required trilogy: church, castle, square. We learned quite a bit about Würzburg and the Schönborns, the original neighbor back home in Pommersfelden. If you come to visit, we'll even volunteer a return visit, because there are still more highlights in this Frankonia capital.


John and Marianne.


town website: http://www.wuerzburg.de/system/international/englisch/


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