Ruins of Felsberg Castle

The castle ruin at Felsberg is one of the oldest buildings in the Hesse-Thuringia region. It towers 200 metres above a basalt cone and is a landmark that characterises the face of the North Hessian town to the west of Fritzlar. Over the centuries, it served as a residence, administrative and judicial centre, a refuge for the population, an alchemist‘s workshop and a defence base against the archbishops of Mainz with whom the town was in dispute.

At a glance

Opening Hours

34587 Felsberg

A map of Hessen HESSEN


The construction of the Steinburg castle above the Eder valley is documented as early as 1060. The builders and official counts of Felsberg (Old German: “Velisberc”) are documented as having lived in the castle until 1286, before retreating to other possessions.

The complex later fell into the possession of the Hessian landgraves, under whom Henry II (before 1302-1376) had the defences extended in view of the invention of gunpowder and firearms. Embrasures and battlements were added and the zwinger or outer ward also dates from this time.

In the struggle with the Electorate of Mainz for supremacy in the region, Landgrave Louis I (1402-1458) had the keep raised. This turned it into a “butter-churn tower”, a two-part, imposing defence tower with a narrower top. Louis was a patron of the castle and the town, but an erroneous belief earned the otherwise clever landgrave ridicule.

An Alchemist’s Workshop at Felsburg Castle

He had brought the alchemist Klaus von Urbach to the castle in the mistaken belief that he could produce gold. But like the other secret scientists, Urbach was not to succeed. He was expelled from the country.

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From the air, the location of ruins of Felsberg Castle on the 200-metre-high basalt cone is particularly easy to recognise. In the background is the picturesque Eder valley around Felsberg.

Foto: Andreas Strippel, 2015

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Coming out of the narrow outer bailey, the view opens into the former castle courtyard.

Foto: Stephan Peters, 2016

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The keep with its characteristic butter-churn shape and a proud height of almost 30 metres.

Foto: Andreas Strippel, 2015

Anna and Politics

In 1486, the Burgmannen families of Felsberg had died out and the castle served as the widow’s seat of various landgravine ladies – the most famous being Anna. As the mother of probably the most important Hessian landgrave, Philip the Magnanimous (1504-1567), who introduced the Reformation in Hesse, she resided for a time in the castle, which is also known as the “Schloss” or palace.

There she campaigned for the continued existence of the Landgraviate of Hesse and the regency of her son, who was still a minor. In a time dominated by men, she succeeded in asserting her political goals against the estates and knights at the Diet in Felsberg in 1514.

Ruins of Felsberg Castle, entrance portal

Steps lead up to the Gothic entrance portal of the Felsberg Castle ruins. The castle gate is flanked by a tower with a loophole – an additional protective measure at the time.

Foto: Stephan Peters, 2016

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View from the zwinger of the sandstone corner tower on the north side of the castle. It served to control the entrance area as well as to defend the zwinger wall.

Foto: Stephan Peters, 2016

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The castle chapel is one of the oldest parts of the castle and today houses the castle museum.

Foto: Stephan Peters, 2016

Immediately thereafter, Felsberg Castle was no longer used for manorial residential purposes. From 1550 onwards, the castle was gradually demolished in order to advance the construction of the new castle in Melsungen.

Fortunately, the Keep Has Been Preserved

The keep almost did no longer exist either, because documents show that in 1789 a citizen of Felsberg applied for permission to demolish it. The reason given was that he lacked stones for his house. Fortunately, this application was rejected.

The keep has been completely preserved to this day, while the rest of the complex suffered major damage during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Visitors will still find remains of the enclosure walls and the kennel towers, as well as a museum in the former castle chapel. Today, the members of the Felsberg Castle Association look after the stately ruins as tenants.