Staufian centre of power

Staufian centre of power It takes a little imagination to picture the imperial pfalz of Gelnhausen today, amidst its remains, as a centre of power of the then vast Holy Roman Empire. Under the rule of Emperors Frederick I Barbarossa (c. 1122-1190) and Henry VI (1156-1197), it stretched from the North and Baltic Seas to the shores of the Mediterranean. With the two most important representatives of the Staufen dynasty, their economic and cultural promotion, Gelnhausen experienced a powerful upswing. Kings (usually crowned emperors) and their court moved from one settlement to the next in the 12th century due to the lack of permanent residences. As such a station, Barbarossa (Italian: Redbeard) had a moated castle founded on an island in the Kinzig around 1169/70, which was conveniently located on the Via Regia trade route, and combined three settlements (including “Geilenhusen”) that had been raised to a town.
Gelnhausen, Burgmannenhaus

Today’s museum was originally a Burgmannenhaus (castle man’s house)

Photo: Stephan Peters, 2011

Gelnhausen, gate hall

The gate hall is the only completely preserved room of the pfalz.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2019

Imperial Pfalz of Gelnhausen

View of the tower, the gate hall with the chapel above, and to the right the row of columns of the former assembly hall

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2019

Confrontation with Henry the Lion

The new pfalz – the word derived from the Latin ‘palatium’ – became the seat of administration, including a farm, a place of jurisdiction, receptions, festivities and imperial diets. Several meetings with secular and ecclesiastical princes are attested; the first probably took place in the castle as early as 1180 and produced the famous “Gelnhausen Document”: It cannot be ruled out that behind the façade of the palas, of which only fragments remain, the final act of the disempowerment of an adversary of Barbarossa took place: the Guelph Henry the Lion (c. 1129/30-1195). A single long sentence of this document sums up the duke’s misdemeanours. The defendant himself had not come to the central residential and hall building, which once had three storeys.

Gelnhausen, so-called Barbarossa head

The alleged Barbarossa head on the palas façade is a 19th century addition.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2019

Stonemasons Left behind High Art

In addition to the ruins of the palas, a square gate tower and a two-aisled gate hall have survived, above which there are relics of a chapel. A kitchen building was lost, as were residential and farm buildings, and a keep in the courtyard was probably never completed. A high ashlar wall surrounded the complex. Although only remains can still be found: Among the German Staufen castles, the architecture and architectural sculpture of the Gelnhausen pfalz, with its Upper Rhine-Alsatian and southern French forms, is the most artistically sophisticated. The highlight is the ornamentation of the palas façade with its cloverleaf arch portal and staggered arcades, where no two column capitals are alike. However, with the end of the Staufen dynasty and the pfalz system in the 13th century, the complex lost its importance. A long decline set in, accelerated by its use as a quarry. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the castle was secured against decay and destruction.

Gelnhausen, eagle capital

Four standing eagles on this capital symbolise the power of the emperor.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2019

Gelnhausen, chapel

The chapel of the pfalz used to consist of two naves of equal height.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2019

Gelnhausen, privy

An original abort has been preserved on the southern circular wall.

Foto: Stephan Peters, 2011