“Medieval” is a key part of Nuremberg, which delivers on its history promise as well as any German city I know.
What follows is an abbreviated, impressionistic return to a city that was home 50 years ago.
You find “medieval” throughout the old city, starting with the three miles of 40-foot-high, 16-foot-thick defensive walls that stretch almost all the way around the center. The walls have roots that go back 1,000 years.
More than 80% of the original (with restoration) wall curves around the old town. The wall created one of most substantial city defense systems in Medieval times.
Emperors and kings traveled via the city because of the security provided by its walls, towers and moat. The city was not taken by military force for almost 1,000 years (until it was attacked by air during WWII).
Ninety percent of Nuremberg was damaged by WWII bombing, but detailed pre-WWII photography aided in rebuilding walls, towers and moat. The city wall has 70 towers today, but the city has been rebuilding another since 2022, more than 1,000 years after the original went up.
The “Blue G” (wall towers are named with colors and/or letters) stands in a new three-terraced park and will include a partial museum to showcase how fortifications of the medieval powerhouse were created. The original tower was destroyed in WWII bombing.
Key to understanding the Nuremberg of old is the fortress that overlooks the central city with the wide, open square beneath. Sitting atop a rocky promontory, the imperial castle became one of the most important fortified palaces of the Old Holy Roman Empire.
The fortress, first mentioned more than 10 centuries ago, crops up above and between buildings all over town. Construction probably began around 1,000 CE, and most of what’s left was started in the 1500s.
The fortress was bombed heavily during WWII and only the chapel survived. The rest has been rebuilt.
The castle and the city served as the location for numerous imperial assemblies. From 1356 on, the “Golden Bull” of Emperor Charles IV, much of which was written down here, raised questions about the right of kings to rule absolutely, as if by the will of God.
The spires of St. Sebaldus church are prominent in a view of red-roofed Nuremberg from the fortress wall. Nuremberg’s central city is split by the Pegnitz River, and the halves are named after their parish churches.
The northern half is known as the Zebalderstadt; the southern as the Lorenzstadt (after the mighty Protestant Lorenz cathedral there).
My dad, an engineer, brought the indentations in the rock walls to my attention. He hypothesized that something like ice tongs were used to hoist the chiseled boulders into place during construction.
When we went down into the castle, photos and diagrams on the walls showed huge wooden, “teeter-totter” tongs that used the stones’ own weight to secure them as they were lifted.
A secure water supply was critical to the castle inhabitants, especially in a siege. The shaft of the Deep Well in the center of the castle was cut into the rock to a depth of nearly 150 feet.
A guide poured water from a pitcher back into the well, and he counted off five seconds before we heard the splash from the water surface below.
Next: First Reich features