The single buildings of the castle Leuchtenburg mirror the 800-year-old continuous history of its use from the 12th/13th century to the 21st century. Each construction period left some traces. Up to today the constructional development has not been concluded: During extensive reconstruction a new visitor centre set in the same place as the former ducal pavilion on the castle forecourt, a new mechanical equipment building as well as a northern annexe to the lodge were built and are still being built until 2013. With those the castle is revitalised in all parts. Only the constant use permanently secures the castle's preservation and existence.
Read more about the different eras!
The 12th, 13th and 14th century
Lobdeburger, Schwarzburger and Wettiner
1150 The construction of Castle Leuchtenburg goes back to the Frankish dynasty of the Messrs. of Auhausen originating from around Nuremberg. King Konrad III enfeoffed them with estates in Thuringia. After the erection of their ancestral seat Lobdeburg near Jena, they started to call themselves the Messrs. of Lobdeburg. They became a respected noble family and introduced a functioning provincial administration.
1216 After the death of the Lobdeburger founders Hartmann and Otto, the ownership was divided amongst their heirs. The line Lobdeburg-Leuchtenburg emerged. The first documented mention of Castle Leuchtenburg dates back to 15th April 1221 when Hartmann of Castle Leuchtenburg was an arbitrator in a legal dispute. The construction of Castle Leuchtenburg can therefore be dated between the late 12th and early 13th century.
The construction of the castle was inspired by the natural conditions of the rocky plateau. The main castle including the castle keep, domestic buildings and fortifications were erected on top of the hill whereas the lower level terrain makes up the outer bailey with sheds and utility rooms. The steeply sloping castle mount formed a natural protection against attackers to all its sides. Today, from the original castle buildings only the stone keep remains. Being 30 m high, 8.65 m in diameter and its walls up to 2.40 m thick, it still dominates the premises today and has become a landmark.
1333 On 15th February the Messrs. of Lobdeburg-Leuchtenburg sold the castle to the Earls of Schwarzburg for financial difficulties. Owning the premises was meant to strengthen their position towards their Wettin competitors in their battle for dominance over Thuringia. However, the Schwarzburger also had to give up Castle Leuchtenburg for financial insolvency only a few decades later.
1389 They pledged the castle to Heinrich von Paradies, a citizen of Erfurt. A legal dispute between the Wettin Landgrave Frederick I Elector of Saxony and Henry the Rich with the citizen of Erfurt finally brought Castle Leuchtenburg under Wettin ownership: When Heinrich von Paradies had a farmer executed for fishing the pond belonging to Castle Leuchtenburg illegally in 1392, the House of Wettin understood that as an infringement upon their legal sovereignty and besieged Castle Leuchtenburg on 25th November. The seizure took place without resistance.
1396 The House of Wettin legitimized their claim of ownership by paying 2100 Schock Freiberger Groschen. From that time on, Castle Leuchtenburg used to remain in permanent ownership of the House of Wettin until 1918.
The House of Wettin started to convert the castle to their official seat within their nationwide congregation of sovereignty from 1396. Owing to its elevated location Castle Leuchtenburg embodied the presence and dominance of the regents. The authorities Castle Leuchtenburg with its dependent offices in Orlamünde to the south remained to be the highest administrative and legal authority for more than 40 surrounding villages up to 1705. The authority comprised hundreds of acres of forest, meadow and arable land which were cultivated through drudgery and with the help of local subordinates. Up to today, the area around Castle Leuchtenburg is characterised by lush forests. In the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age, the sales of wood were the most important source of income for the authority, and besides, the Earls of Wettin had their preferred hunting reserve there. However, the lords of Castle Leuchtenburg never resided here. They engaged governors who substituted them. For this reason, the castle has always been simply and functionally furnished. Ballrooms, splendid furniture or luxurious equipment will be looked for in vain.
The 15th and 16th century
Expansion into a fortification for use of defence and imprisonment
1446-1451 During the Fratricidal War Castle Leuchtenburg was affected by fighting for a few days. Duke Wilhelm left Castle Leuchtenburg to his Vassal Apel von Vitzthum, as a pledge for his financial support in the battle against his brother Elector Frederick. After the end of the war, Vitzthum attacked an Electoral legation and imprisoned them at Castle Leuchtenburg.
1451 In consequence of that, Duke Wilhelm marched in with advanced military technology, besieged the castle and captured it peacefully on 16th December. Upon this conquest, the defensive defects at Castle Leuchtenburg became obvious, so that Duke Wilhelm commissioned the construction of fortifications with four towers as well as an inner and outer wall that can still be seen in almost original condition today. However, nobody ever made use of the new defence system. After the Fratricidal War the castle was never besieged again, so that the Landgraves ordered some alternative use of the fortification towers. With their massive walls, they provided an ideal place for a prison.
1535 The fortification towers were rebuilt to make them escape-proof. This was done by bricking up the embrasures in the lower levels and backfilling the spiral staircases with debris. A hole was punched between the floor of the upper and the arches of the lower levels through which the prisoners were lowered down on a rope into their dark cell. Some of them only stayed in their dungeon for a night – others, however, had to withstand odd years under questioning and torture. Many were damned to be executed after imprisonment. In the years that followed a substantial amount of court trials against religious dissenters was carried out at Castle Leuchtenburg. The authorities particularly resented the religious group of the Anabaptists, whose name derived from their aversion towards infant baptism and the introduction of believers’ baptism for adults. In the case of Hans Schleier no other than Phillip Melanchthon personally was consulted for the questionings at Castle Leuchtenburg. Up to these days, the name of this prisoner has remained in one tower’s name „Schleier“.
1552 Another prominent visitor at Castle Leuchtenburg was Electress Sybille von Kleve, when she sought shelter with her three sons behind the thick walls of the castle while her husband Elector John Frederick I of Saxony was held captive. On the occasion of that Electoral stay, Castle Leuchtenburg was fortified and the old well was maintained.
1552/53 Under the supervision of master builder Nicol Gromann four miners from Saalfeld dug into the rock for half a year until they found water at a depth of 75 m. The well was dug further down to a depth of 80 m in order to get a 6 m-water column. In order to achieve long-lasting stability, the well was brick-lined with sand stone blocks up to 9 m in the upper section and 22 m in the lower section.
The 17th century
War, fires and term of authority
1602 The 17th century at Castle Leuchtenburg was characterised by fires and the effects of the Thirty Years War. On 23rd July the castle keep was hit by lightning resulting in heavy fires that damaged the adjacent residential and administrative buildings.
1658 The fires of 18th July were likewise fatal since they affected the whole main castle and only left the front commercial buildings intact. The maintenance work lasted more than 12 years resulting in a design of the main castle that is still to be seen today.
1640s The territory around the authorities Castle Leuchtenburg was mainly affected by the consequences arising from army troops marching through during the second half of the Thirty Years War. The troops mainly marched along the river Saale and caused pilferages of stock and cattle of the farmers, devastation of fields and arson. Moreover, the inhabitants were burdened with high taxes that the authorities Castle Leuchtenburg collected. Delinquent taxpayers were often imprisoned in the towers.
1700 Towards the end of the 17th century, the claims to relocate the authorities increased. The extremely high location of the castle became a real burden especially for the administrative staff. But economic aspects such as the ever increasing need for maintenance work finally made relocation to Kahla necessary.
The 18th and 19th century
Prison, workhouse and lunatic asylum
Its location on top of a hill gave Castle Leuchtenburg a new use in the 18th and 19th century:
1710 In preparation for its new purpose, the western moat, which had ever since divided Castle Leuchtenburg into two parts, namely outer bailey and main castle, was backfilled. The wooden drawbridge had then become unnecessary and was then replaced by a simple, from 1839 by a double-winged staircase made of stone. The “prison architecture” with its large and functional buildings still dominates the front part of the castle.
1720 The annex which is commonly known as lodge was constructed for use as a workhouse for the prisoners. Locally-based manufacturing companies used the cheap labour, who they could hire from the prison directors, to produce toys, porcelain, clothes, fabrics and cigars. The castle inn located opposite used to look similar to the workhouse in terms of size and structure and used to accommodate male prisoners.
1724 to 1871 Castle Leuchtenburg used to be a sovereign prison, workhouse and lunatic asylum. Almost 5,200 people were imprisoned during that time, mainly for offences they had committed out of social distress. They were mainly sentenced to work service.
1744 The chapel was expanded for its new use as a prison church. Evidence of that is shown by the sand stone blocks attached to the upper levels and to the east.
1767 to 1769 The last renovation took place whereby the truss was renewed. When Castle Leuchtenburg served as a prison, it had an own vicarage. The vicar provided the prisoners with pastoral care and taught them religion, reading, writing and arithmetic. The chapel was used as a house of God up to the year 1901. After years of use as a museum, the chapel has been given back its original purpose since 2008 with regular worship, service and weddings.
1836-1842 The gatehouse, forming the entrance gate to Castle Leuchtenburg today, was erected as barracks for the prison guards and replaced its smaller predecessor.
1838 The barracks that once stood in the enclosed courtyard of the main castle opposite the castle keep and the adjacent chapel were torn down.
1839 The guards moved to the new gatehouse at the entrance of the castle. In replacement of the old barracks a women’s prison was erected. A drainage system of that building at the west wall next to the stairs to the entrance is the last remaining visual evidence of that building.
1848 The lunatic asylum was separated from the other operations of the prison and an individual sanatorium in Stadtroda was set up.
1871 The prison at Castle Leuchtenburg was finally closed down. The last prisoners were relocated to Zeitz.
1873 The huge upper levels were torn down after closing the prison and were replaced by a “summer hall” with an inn. In the cellar rooms below the patio, that still exists today, one can still find the small cells to arrest the prisoners in darkness and in cowering posture.
1873 Upon closing down the prison the women’s prison was torn down.
After centuries in use as administrative offices and prison, Castle Leuchtenburg approached more peaceful times from 1873. The former workhouse of the prisoners was turned into a hotel with 25 rooms and two dormitories, and there is an inn now where the men’s prison once stood.
In order to allow the Dukes and their guests to visit Castle Leuchtenburg without disturbance during the operation of the prison, a pavilion was built in front of the gatehouse. Christiane von Goethe also reported stopovers there. It was destroyed by a fire in 1920.
The 20th and 21st century
Touristic development with establishment of a hotel, youth hostel, museum and foundation
1906 The Association has been presenting its collections and exhibits at Castle Leuchtenburg. From that time on, the museum Castle Leuchtenburg has existed and has continuously expanded its collection over the decades.
1920 In August reconstruction works at the old barracks had been completed and the first youth hostel of Thuringia moved into the new gatehouse. Most of the interior architecture was taken over by “die Neue Schar“ under the leadership of Muck Lamberty. The people of that youth association had found shelter for free at the castle in the winter of 1920/21. In reciprocation to that, the rooms were equipped with 120 beds, walls were panelled with wood and tables and chairs were built.
1920s/30s Castle Leuchtenburg took root in the German youth movementwhich had been set up to escape from the authoritarian constraints of the Wilhelminian society and aimed at living a simple life, close in touch with nature and in reflection with traditional folksongs and dances. Although to the nuisance of the hotel guests, the romanticism for castles made Castle Leuchtenburg attractive to such youth associations as a popular destination for excursions, and as a conference and political meeting place. Nude adolescents forcing hotel guests to escape weren’t a rare sight.
1945 The youth hostel and hotel operation was maintained further during World War II. Since the castle keep consisted of an artillery observation post, the castle was bombarded upon the intrusion of allied troops in May. The gatehouse and the main buildings of the castle suffered severe damage thereof.
The Ministry of State Security (MfS) of the German Democratic Republic planned nationwide isolation and internment camps. „Anti-socialist and politically-negative“ citizens of the GDR had been intended to be isolated and observed, whereas foreigners and transit travellers who stayed on the territory of the GDR for reasons of dispute or defence, had been intended to be kept in internment camps. At that time, Castle Leuchtenburg was close to being turned into such an internment camp for up to 600 people within only a few hours. Fortunately, such plans becoming reality passed the castle by.
1951 The youth hostel association took over the premises of the lodge and was then able to provide 200 beds.
1997 In the 1990s, toilet and washing facilities as well as the heating installations were in such poor condition that in that year the youth hostel in the lodge and gatehouse had to be closed down. After that, those rooms remained to be vacant for 14 years.
2007 The castle buildings were threatened to be sold to an unknown person in the scope of an auction, which could be prevented by means of setting up the non-profit foundation Castle Leuchtenburg through Sven-Erik Hitzer. The duties and aims of the Foundation Castle Leuchtenburg as the new castle owner are the funding of the historic monument, the permanent public accessibility as well as cultural support.