Wartburg Castle is situated on a 1230-foot precipitous hill to the southwest of and overlooking the town of Eisenach in Thuringia. The castle was founded in 1067 by the landgrave Ludwig the Springer.
It was the seat of the Thuringian landgraves until 1440. It was a place of courtly culture and around 1207 became the venue of the Sängerkrieg, the Minstrels' Contest, with contestants such as Walther von der Vogelweide, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Albrecht von Halberstadt, and many others, and which was later to be treated with poetic licence in Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser.
From May, 1521 until March, 1522, Martin Luther stayed at the castle, after he had been taken there for his safety, at the request of Frederick the Wise, after being persecuted for being one of the originators of the Reformation. It was during this period that he, under the name of Junker Jörg (the Knight George), translated the New Testament into German.
The Castle has been renovated throughout its existence with many earlier parts being overbuilt by later constructions and additions. From 1952 to 1966, for example, the East German Government restored it to what it looked like in the 16th century, which included Luther's Room with its original floor and panelled walls.
The Romanesque Palace (the Palas, Landgrafenhaus, or Great Hall) is the oldest and architecturally most impressive of the buildings. Besides the chapel, it contains the Sängersaal (Hall of the Minstrels), which is in fact Wagner's setting for Tannhäuser and the Festsaal (the Feast or Festival Hall), both of which contain fine frescoes by Moritz von Schwind with the theme of the minstrels' contest in the Sängersaal and frescoes of the triumphs of Christianity in the Festsaal. Part of the Palace consists of the original castle as it was between 1157 and 1170, as an image of power and residence of the Thuringian landgraves.
The castle gate behind the drawbridge is the only access to the Castle, and it has remained exactly as it was throughout the centuries.
The Knights' House on the western side of the drawbridge is half-timbered, and dates back to the 15th century. It probably served as a hall of residence for the servants and guards. (The English word knight almost certainly deriving from the same stem-word as the German word "Knecht" for servant or squire).
There are two towers, the South Tower (the only tower preserved of the medieval castle, having been erected in 1318 and which has the dungeon; and the Castle keep (finished in 1859, partially incorporating the foundations of its medieval predecessor, and which has the landmark four-meter Latin cross at its top; the Vogtei (the Bailiff's Lodge) in which the Luther Room is situated and to which a 15th century oriel was attached in 1872; two covered walks, the Elisabeth and the Margaret Hallways form part of the 15th-century defence ring and its projecting beams are supported by wooden consoles; and finally the New Bower (the Kemenate or Women's Chamber) contain the Wartburg collection.
Mention should be made, however, of the armoury Rüstkammer of the Wartburg, which used to contain a magnificient collection of about 800 pieces, from the splendid armour of King Henry II of France, to the items of Frederick the Wise, Pope Julius II and Bernhard von Weimar. All these objects were confiscated by the Soviet Occupation Army in 1946 and have disappeared in the Soviet Union. Two helmets, two swords, a prince's and a boy's armour, however, were found in a temporary store at the time and a few pieces were given back by the USSR in the 1960s. The new Russian Government has been petitioned to help locate the missing treasures.
Over the many years of its existence, the Wartburg has become a place of pilgrimage to many people from home and abroad and its overall significance in the history of Germany cannot be estimated highly enough