Castles along the Middle Rhine; My Top Reason to take a Rhine River Cruise
There is a magical part of a Northern Europe cruise that includes the middle Rhine in Germany. Specifically, its dozens of castles that have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This stretch of the Rhine has a higher density of castles than any other river valley in the world – nearly one every mile for about 40 miles! This is the highlight of the cruise, and the reason many people take a Rhine cruise. It’s one of the oldest and most iconic scenic river cruise routes in the world. Long before Disney made little girls everywhere dream of pink organza party dresses and fake tiaras, travelers were flocking to the middle Rhine for some romantic medieval escapism.
Really, a river cruise is the ONLY way to really get the full picture and the impact of history on the Rhine. Even though modern times have included road development, the castles pop up in the landscape along both sides of the river, and this was the original ‘highway’ through the region, so the castles face the river. From the sundeck of the Viking Sun, we get the full impact, even on a cloudy day – it gets us in a Gothic kind of mood, and makes us appreciate the surroundings even more.
Of course, the big question, and what everyone wants to know is WHY? Why so many castles so close together? They look romantic, but the answer is not quite so charming.
The castles date back to the Middle Ages, when local warlords built them on hilltops where they could see to protect their little patches of land in the valley. It was like an early keeping up with the Joneses with a Darwinian twist: if the count, duke, or prince next door had more power, a bigger castle, you didn’t just lose your social status, you lost your land, and often, your life, too.
They also served as early toll booths! the Rhine was vitally important for communications and shipping even in Roman times. In the Middle Ages, it was the passage into Italy, traveled by rich merchants with their wares. The castle owners controlled the flow of traffic, and the strongmen of the castles could strong arm payments for passage.
But today, they do seem romantic, whether well-preserved or in picturesque ruins. And it’s hard to prevent fairy tale imagery from popping into my head: It’s not like I was expecting – or even hoping – a Prince Charming would gallop up on his trusty steed… but a girl can dream, right?
Certainly along the Middle Rhine!
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