The “Altes Schloss”in the heart of Stuttgart
More than 1,000 years of history, myths and legends entwine around Stuttgart’s Old Castle. It is the centre of the city. Across the ages, this imposing building visible from afar in the Stuttgart valley symbolized self-confident rule. A place of history, residence of the mighty, fortified castle and royal burial site, magnificent and famous example of German Renaissance architecture, victim of severe war damage, and, last but not least, a cultural asset risen from the ashes of the war.
The Old Castle:seven stages of history
The moated stronghold at Stutengarten
The Old Castle is one of the oldest buildings in Stuttgart. Around 950, Duke Liudolf of Swabia, a son of Emperor Otto the Great, had a moated stronghold built on the site where the Old Castle stands today. It was intended to provide protection for a stud farm of great importance for the war against the Hungarians – the “Stutengarten” (mares’ garden), which gave its name to the city of Stuttgart. The jumping horse in the city’s coat of arms also reminds us of this origin. Remains of walls dating back to the Staufer era, which can be visited on special occasions in the building’s so-called “Vault 2”, still remind us of the Old Castle’s past as a moated stronghold.
Residence of the House of Württemberg
In the mid-13th century, after several changes of ownership, the castle passed into the hands of the Counts of Württemberg through a marriage connection to the Margraves of Baden. In 1311, following the destruction of their family castle and the family graves in Beutelsbach Abbey, Count Eberhard I the Illustrious (r. 1279-1325) shifted his residence to Stuttgart. From then on, the Old Castle was to remain the main residence of the rulers of Württemberg for 400 years.
The stronghold becomes a castle
Over time, the residence was expanded and transformed to be worthy of its new function. In 1325 the Dürnitz wing was built to replace older parts of the building and serve as the gathering place of the close court retinue. The name “Dürnitz” (or dirnitz, “heated parlour”) refers to the fact that its rooms were heatable – a great luxury in castles of that time. At the same time, the collegiate church closeby became the burial place of members of the House of Württemberg. Here rest the mortal remains of Counts Eberhard I the Illustrious (died 1325) and Ulrich V the Beloved (died 1480) as well as Dukes Frederick I (died 1608), John Frederick (died 1628) and Eberhard III (died 1674).
Building activity reached its climax in the 16th century. In order to express his striving for more ducal power in the region and for a stronger position of Württemberg in the empire, Duke Christoph of Württemberg (r. 1550-1568) had the old castle redesigned into a prestigious modern residence. Upper floors were added to the Dürnitz, and three wings with the characteristic three large round towers were built, creating the four-winged complex we know today. The courtyard and its arcades are considered one of the most beautiful courtyards of the Renaissance. One wing of the castle was chosen to house the castle church, the first Protestant church in Württemberg, consecrated in 1562.
Outwardly, the building has retained its medieval character despite the many alterations. An unusual highlight never fails to amaze many visitors, young and old: a special staircase allowed horsemen to ride directly up to the Knights’ Hall, the new ceremonial great hall built above the Dürnitz! Today these stairs take museum employees and visitors (but please, no horses!) from the main entrance directly to the exhibitions “A Wealth of Treasures” on the 1st upper floor and “Legendary Master Pieces” on the 2nd floor.
The “Altes Schloss” on the sidelines
Despite the numerous building measures, the castle at some point no longer satisfied the requirements of a court of appropriate status. In the early 18th century, the ducal residence was shifted to the baroque palace at Ludwigsburg. And once Duke Charles Eugene (r. 1744-1793) had commissioned construction of the New Palace in 1746, the heyday of the Old Castle was definitively over. It became a mere outbuilding of the court household, which for instance housed (in the castle church) the court pharmacy and the apartments of various court officials. Later on, the building only narrowly escaped demolition, as it no longer suited the spirit of the times and, as Goethe sharp-tonguedly remarked in 1797, “was hardly suitable even as a theatre backdrop”.
It was not until the age of historicism that interest in the Old Castle was reawakened. King Charles (r. 1864-1891) had the castle church restored by Alexander von Tritschler and a crypt built under the church for himself and his wife, the Russian Czar’s daughter Olga.
The castle as exhibition space
The Old Castle began its life as a museum at the end of the 19th century: starting in 1899, the Dürnitz wing housed the Württemberg Army Museum and the ancestral portrait gallery of the royal family. From 1930 onwards, parts of the collection of antiquities that had previously been on display in the State Library were presented in the arcade wings.
Two devastating fires in just 13 years
On 21 December 1931, the Old Castle suffered its most dramatic catastrophe until then: a chimney fire got out of control and largely destroyed the Dürnitz wing with both of its towers. Worse still: the reconstruction, which was financed by donations, was not yet completed when an air raid again caused devastating damage in 1944. Two thirds of the arcade courtyard were destroyed.
After the war (1947-1971) the arcade courtyard and the Dürnitz wing were rebuilt in their original style under the direction of architect Paul Schmitthenner. This second reconstruction – like the previous one – was not intended to be a historically accurate restoration of the building, but was planned as a new building for the Württemberg State Museum. The museum as we know it today had been created in 1947 with the combination of the antiquities collection and the holdings of the Palace Museum.
The building in its outer form now largely corresponds to the residential palace of the Reformation period. The characteristic outline of the building and the appearance of the courtyard have been preserved throughout all the renovations, so that the Old Castle still looks as it did to Duke Christopher during the Renaissance: solid on the outside and festive in the courtyard.
Das Alte Schloss heute
The Old Castle was the residence of the Counts and Dukes of Württemberg for four hundred years and thus the centre of power in the state. In the inner courtyard today stands an equestrian statue of “Eberhard the Bearded”, first Duke of Württemberg (r. 1459-1496), designed in 1859 by Ludwig von Hofer. The characteristic features of the intricate building complex are the Gothic Dürnitz wing with its large hall on the ground floor (today the entrance hall of the museum) and the arcade courtyard. It is this courtyard that makes the Old Castle one of the most important Renaissance buildings in southern Germany.
Today, the castle is home to a modern museum operating within the historical shell: the largest museum of cultural history in the state of Baden-Württemberg, with works of art from the Stone Age to the present and exciting stories from more than 250,000 years.
The royal cryptunder the castle church
With its impressive sculptured marble tombs, the Württemberg royal crypt in the Old Castle is one of the authentic places of remembrance in Stuttgart. Five prominent members of the royal family are buried here under the castle church: King Charles of Württemberg, his wife Queen Olga, their adopted daughter Vera and her husband Eugene as well as the latter couple’s son Eugene, called “Egi”, who died at the age of 10 months.
In the newly designed anteroom, a presentation provides information about them and other members of the royal family. Visitors can also read about the funeral rites and burials in the House of Württemberg. A historical city map shows the traces left in Stuttgart by Queens Katharina and Olga and Duchess Vera through their charitable foundations: prominent institutions in today’s state capital still bear the names of these committed women.
Visitors who are interested in the crypt should ask about current opening hours directly at the admissions desk. Please note: Access to the crypt is possible only via the 1st upper floor and thus not barrier-free.