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Wolfgang Moroder - GFDL

The castles and fortresses of the Eisack Valley - South Tyrol

The Eisack valley hosts one of the most important transit routes in the Eastern Alps. The enormous economic and strategic importance of the valley is reflected not least in the many castles and palaces that are strung here almost like pearls on a necklace.

Trostburg - Photo: Wolfgang Moroder - GFDL
Burg Reifenstein-Elzenbaum
Burg Reifenstein-Elzenbaum
Mareit with Castle Wolfsthurn
Mareit with Castle Wolfsthurn
Hofburg in Brixen
Hofburg in Brixen

Emperors and kings, popes and bishops, merchants, traders, pilgrims, poets and artists, and entire armies - they all used the route over the Brenner, the lowest and most important pass in the Eastern Alps. The Eisack Valley is the connection from Germany to the Po Valley, from Central Europe to the Adriatic. The list of famous names who traveled through the Eisack Valley and made a stop here is almost endless. From the Fuggers to Albrecht Dürer, Goethe, Mozart and Heine, to Sigmund Freud or Ezra Pound, they all came on their travels through South Tyrol.

The many castles along the Brenner route served both for defense and control of the traffic route, and increasingly also as representative buildings that testified to the power and wealth of their owners, so that the news of it should spread throughout the world.

Around Sterzing are the two castles Sprechenstein and Reifenstein. The latter, as it was never destroyed in its nearly 900-year history, is considered the best-preserved castle complex in South Tyrol. A little further into the Ratsching Valley is the beautiful Wolfsthurn Castle, the only pure Baroque castle in South Tyrol and the seat of the South Tyrolean State Museum of Hunting and Fishing.

The Hofburg in Brixen is also a magnificent building. The water castle, built in 1265, was converted into a Renaissance palace in the 16th century and was the seat of the Brixen prince-bishops until 1972. Quite different is the Franzensfeste, located north of Brixen: it was built under Emperor Franz I after the Napoleonic Wars to secure the Brenner route against attacks from the south. However, the gigantic fortress complex never had to prove itself and was already militarily outdated and obsolete a few years after its completion.

Cozy Castles

At the entrance to the Puster Valley is Rodenegg Castle, one of the safest and almost impregnable fortresses of the Middle Ages. The impressive castle houses the famous Iwein frescoes by Hartmann von Aue from the 13th century.

Further south near Klausen are the castles Branzoll, Summersberg Castle, and Gernstein Castle. The castle Branzoll, located above the roofs of the artist town Klausen, has always dominated the cityscape. Summersberg Castle in Gufidaun was the seat of the court until 1829. Gernstein Castle, dating back to the 12th century, was originally intended to secure the route from Brixen to the south through the mountains. By the 19th century, it had already become a ruin before being rebuilt in the neo-Romantic style in 1880. The magnificent Renaissance castle Veldthurns was the summer residence of the Brixen bishops for centuries.

Finally, at the entrance to the Gardena Valley, we come to Trostburg. It dates back to the 12th century and is now the seat of the South Tyrolean Castle Institute.

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Photo: Wolfgang Moroder - GFDL
Trostburg in the Eisack Valley
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