Castle Grafenstein

(Merzalber Schloss)

Castle Gräfenstein was originally built by the Saarbrücken counts as a replacement for a previously destroyed stone fortress already existent. The exact origin date is not known, but based on the structural components, a period between 1150 and 1200 can be supposed when one considers the restoration of the stone fortress as the earliest date of the castle's construction (1168). The upper castle, or keep, was built on a 12 meter high shelf of rock, and has a unique seven sided high tower. The Castle is well preserved. From atop the tower platform one has a good view over it, it's lands, and far parts of the Palatinate forest.

It was first granted in possession

to the younger line of the von Leininger counts, who were related and in service to the counts von Saarbrucken. The location of the castle explains it's main function: It lies in the direct intersection of the Diocese of Worms, Speyer and Metz. The borders of Grafenstein's dominions overlapped the borders of all the above. Thus their major task was in the protection of the uncertain borders plus the surrounding forests and villages.

The first documentary mention of Grafenstein takes place in 1237 during the estate division of the von Leininger brothers Friedrich III. and Emich IV. According to the document, Friedrich III receives the "castrum Grebinstein" along with the villages Rodalben, Merzalben and Thaleischweiler.

The Counts von Leiningen transferred the administration of the castle and accompanying lands to an official, designated as a "Viztum" or "governor in place of" who took control of the castle. The extensive southern lower castle was built in 1250. In the following years castle rulers appointed by the Leiningers had taken the name of the castle and are mentioned, for in 1275 there appears in documentation a Dancrad, (or Dancret) von "Greuensten".

During the estate division in 1317 between Friedrich V. and Gottfried von Leiningen, the castle goes to Friedrich V. von Leiningen-Dagsburg. The Leiningens were not at all pleased with the incomes generated by the castle and office of Gräfenstein, and permanent money difficulties forced many mortgagings on parts of the castle and it's dominion rights.

By 1345 the castle is already mortgaged several times, and by1367, 7/8ths of the ownership is held by Cure prince Ruprecht I in lieu of debt settlement.. Cure Palatinate strove in the following years with all diligence to acquire the eighth share, which remained yet in other hands, and to permanently secure for itself the important "opening rights" of the Castle. The Cure Palatinate, just as the counts of Leiningen, regarded the castle as an exceedingly prime estate, and as such didn't wish to struggle over it, so Ruprecht therefore granted his shares of the castle on lien successively to the Counts von Sponheim (1371), Hanemann von Sickingen (1393), and the MarkCounts von Baden (1420). From there it did not take long for the castle to return to the Leiningers. In 1421, it was given to Count Emich VI von Leiningen-Hardenburg as a dowry on the occasion of his marriage to the daughter of Bernhards von Baden.

This Leiningen family branch possessed the dominion of the castle until 1535.They expanded and reinforced the northern lower castle as well as the stables and gate concern. Nevertheless, the Alsace was an almost unrelenting field of conquest, and they lost control in the farmer war, 1525. During the farmer war the castle was conquered with little resistance by the Alsacian farmer army. It was then looted, reduced to a heap and set on fire.

At the death of Emich VII von Leiningen-Hartenburg in 1535, Grafenstein passed into the possession of Palatinate Count Johannes von Simmern and in the care of official office administrators. He then sells it five years later for the sum of 9000 guldens to Palatinate count Duke Ruprecht of the Zweibrucken-Veldenzer line. Starting in 1540, Ruprecht extravagantly restored and expanded it, spending the exorbitant amount of 5172 guldens on construction. He then proclaimed it as his master seat. It would not stay so for long.

After Ruprecht's death in 1544 it was administered by Duke Wolfgang von Zweibrucken in trust for Ruprechts children, but from then until the next owner it was basically an "empty room"

Between 1560 and 1570, the castle and office of Gräfenstein was in the exclusive possession of the Mark Count von Baden-Baden, who took the name "von Grafenstein". After the extinction of his line in 1771 it passed to the government of Baden-Durlach, with which it remained until the French revolution. In the thirty-year war, the castle is supposed to have been burned down by the carelessness of the Imperial troops garrisoned there. From then on, it decayed to ruins.

In 1909/10 it is administered by the town of Merzalben and first restorations are undertaken in 1936/37. Newer restorations originated in the years 1985/86, which saved the ruin from further decay with the promotional help of the Rhineland-Palatinate. The local inhabitants of the area have now named it the "Merzalber Schloss". This is one prime castle to add to your "to visit list".


View from the top of the tower

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