Castle History Impresses Mull ’16

Wabash students explore the fortifications around Marburg’s castle

Jacob Mull ’16 – On Wednesday the 8th, we took a tour of the old castle that overlooks Marburg. The reddish-brown sandstone castle sits high above all the other parts of town. You’re almost always looking up at it, wherever you go, so we had been walking in its shadow for several days before we got the chance to explore it ourselves. For military and history buffs like me, this tour was a real highlight. Besides being a humble abode for various lords over the years, the castle also serves as a living history to the evolution of warfare in Europe. It has several fortifications that throughout its history have been modified to better defend it form the various weapons and tactics that were being developed.

The castle was built in 1228 and followed the standard format of the period with a commanding view of the area and steep narrow paths of advance for enemy forces. (Believe me, after climbing stairs for at least half an hour to get up there, I truly understand the tactical obstacle that steep, narrow paths present.) After the introduction of artillery into European warfare, it became necessary to renovate the castle’s defenses. This led to the construction of the so-called Witches Tower in 1500. The Witches Tower served two roles: first, it was an artillery bastion to aid in defending the castle, and second, it was as place for accused “witches” to be held.

After we finished our tour of the Witches Tower, we proceeded to walk along the old ramparts and bulwarks of the castle where the cannons were placed overlooking the old city. We then headed underground, through the cave-live tunnels that run beneath the fortifications. The castle’s fortifications, even in their current impressive state, are still nowhere near the glory they would have been in their prime. Several of the older fortifications made obsolete by improved weapons were destroyed by Napoleon’s army in 1807. The outer walls which once stood 15 meters now stand a mere 1.5 meters tall. These factors aside, the castle is still an incredibly defensible position and would prove a challenge for even a modern army to occupy or take from a determined defending force.

These military fortifications were for me probably the most fascinating part of the tour, but the castle is significant for other reasons as well. For example, in 1529, it was the site of the Marburg Colloquy, a meeting between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli that attempted to resolve some of the disputed points in Protestant theology.