NUREMBERG: First Reich stronghold

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3 minutes

“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.

The fortress

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


6 responses to “NUREMBERG: First Reich stronghold”

  1. Richard Avatar

    A professor-friend with whom I”m taking a a course claims that the concept of Divine Right was developed by England’s Henry VIII. In this filing, you claim it’s in the Golden Bull of the 1300s. I looked it up in Wikipedia, but did not find any such reference. What did show appears to be something actually a bit democratic, in that the Ho roman Emperor was to be elected by constituent rulers. Can you now or on your return provide specifics?

    1. Clint Avatar

      I had thought that emperors agreed to be crowned by the pope for the preceding 700 years at least partly because it gave their rule the patina of divine authority. Thus when some roles of nobles and kings were delineated in the Bull, as you mention, it seemed to me an erosion of an emperor’s claim to rule absolutely by God’s authority.

      I used divine in quotes to differentiate it from the concept of “divine right.” But I’m going to bow to the superior knowledge of your colleague and reword the reference, in case I used it too cavalierly.

      Thanks for keeping me honest. It’s the best use of the comments.

  2. Ken Avatar

    Sad to hear that Nuremberg’s medieval structures were so heavily damaged in WWII air raids, but it speaks well for the authorities (and public) after the war that they invested so much in restoring the walls and buildings.

    1. Clint Swift Avatar
      Clint Swift

      The first rally-grounds post ended with a discussion of plans to use the congress hall to house the opera until the famous Wagner Square building is renovated. I can see some people’s concern that preserving and using the Nazi buildings could affect history’s judgment about the Third Reich. But that quote about why leave a Nazi building alone forever rings true, too.

  3. Bizzy Darling Avatar
    Bizzy Darling

    This is so interesting and really helps you understand the history. Thank you Clint for this blog and these fantastic photos.

    1. Clint Swift Avatar
      Clint Swift

      Glad you like it. Steve and you are just the kind of people the blog is for.

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