Unesco Ruins of Ehrenfels Castle

In the 17th century, it was still a castle as stately as a palace – today, the once proud residential and customs site is a ruin: as a picturesque landmark, Ehrenfels forms the entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage Upper Middle Rhine Valley with its famous chain of castles. It can only be visited from the outside.

At a glance

65385 Rüdesheim am Rhein

Currently closed for nature conservation reasons

A map of Hessen HESSEN


At the end of the Rheingau, the Rhine bends sharply from its course westwards towards the north. There, about 80 metres above the water level at river kilometre 530.2, lies the ruin of Ehrenfels Castle. It rises near Rüdesheim on the Rhine as a landmark at the entrance to the 67-kilometre-long UNESCO World Heritage Upper Middle Rhine Valley. It is the prelude, so to speak, to a large density of castles lined up in rows that characterise this ancient cultural landscape in the narrow break of the Rhenish Slate Mountains. They are actually rebuilt mountain castles with hotels and restaurants. Or they are the remains of destroyed castles as sights.

Ruins of Ehrenfels Castle, view from the Rhine

View from the Rhine of the Ehrenfels Castle ruins on its rock and steep slope.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2019

Ruins of Ehrenfels Castle

The ruins of Ehrenfels Castle is located on the right bank of the Rhine behind the town of Rüdesheim am Rhein.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Ruins of Ehrenfels Castle, slope path

Ehrenfels lies in the middle of vineyards. A medium slope path leads to it from Rüdesheim.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2019

Ehrenfels, surrounded by vineyards, is one such castle. Its old glory was extinguished because the French “Sun King” Louis XIV (1638-1715), who was a warlike prince, left little of it standing. When he laid claim to the extinct Counts Palatine of Lautern and of Simmern in the War of the Palatinate Succession, his troops covered the areas with a brutal military strategy.

Scorched Earth

The castle fell victim to the “scorched earth” on 30 May 1689, and today it provides little information about its original architectural condition. Despite several sieges, it survived the Thirty Years’ War from 1618-1648 largely unscathed.

The “castrum in Erenvails” was a jewel and more castle than fortress. A depiction in the “Thesaurus philopoliticus” or “Political Treasure Chest” from the middle of the 17th century, probably gives a good representation of its beautiful shape.

"castrum in Erenvails"

Between 1208 and 1220, Philip III of Bolanden probably built it in place of a previous building. There are no further documents about it – it only appears in writing when his widow had to hand it over to his former employer, the archbishop of Mainz.

The trapezoidal inner bailey with a narrow courtyard had an elongated, three-storey palas facing the Rhine as well as a colossal shield wall with battlements and two round towers on the northern slope rising to the Niederwald. A moat protected this side.

Reconstruction and Extensions in the late Middle Ages

In the 14th century, when the archbishops and electors of Mainz used it as a residence and temporary stronghold for the cathedral treasure, it was rebuilt for the first time and later extended to the east. New upper storeys and crowns were added to the flanking towers, which were now 33 metres high, a second battlement and, behind a circular wall, another residential building next to a gateway, and finally an additional gate with a drawbridge.

Ruins of Ehrenfels Castle, interior

View of the narrow inner courtyard with a for the times elaborately constructed filter cistern.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Ruins of Ehrenfels Castle, access to former residential building

View of the entrance to the former residential building, a three-storey palas.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Ruins of Ehrenfels Castle, shield walls

The shield wall had two battlements. This is the upper crenellated one.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Ruins of Ehrenfels Castle, crenellation

Even after its destruction, the castle was inhabited in the 19th century.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

On the banks of the Rhine, at the foot of the castle, there were houses that had not been preserved, for Ehrenfels also fulfilled the function of a customs revenue centre for the Mainz archbishopric, the cathedral chapter and other beneficiaries as early as the early 14th century.

There Was No Getting past This Station

This also included the “Mäuseturm” (Mouse Tower) on an offshore island. All in all, a perfect clamp on the difficult-to-pass Binger Loch in the Rhine, along which merchant ships made only slow progress. The toll tower, which became the Mouse Tower through a legend, can be visited, the ruins of Ehrenfels Castle unfortunately only from the outside. A pair of falcons has been breeding there for many years and in case of doubt, nature conservation takes precedence over tourism.