Castle Hartenfels was constructed in Torgau, Germany, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a residence for the prince-electorates of Saxony. Situated on the Elbe River, the royal castle is the most visible building in Torgau, an early Renaissance jewel. In the 1500s, the town of Torgau was the political center of the Reformation, and the castle a historic participant in Europe’s religious schism. It was here that the first Protestant church in Europe was built. Martin Luther personally consecrated the castle church in 1544.
From the moment you step into the castle courtyard, you know you are about to experience something amazing. Hartenfels Castle is the only Early German Renaissance castle still standing today.
Now home to the district administration of North Saxony, Hartenfels was the most modern residential castle in the state in the 16th century. Over the years, it has been the setting for many historically important events. Some of the many figures associated with the castle’s history include Martin Luther and Saxon Electors Frederick the Wise and John Frederick the Magnanimous. There are also numerous anecdotes involving other famous historical figures, such as Tsar Peter the Great, Lucas Cranach and Napoleon. In the exhibition wing of the castle, the Dresden State Art Collections, district authority of North Saxony and the district town of Torgau have been holding annual special exhibitions as part of the Luther Decade.
In the lower courtyard room, the oldest part of the building, which is constructed from unique medieval building materials, and the impressive vaults under the castle church, visitors can explore Hartenfels’ fascinating architectural history. The lapidarium (Latin: stone collection) tells the story of the castle through a collection of “stone witnesses”.
This proud, medieval tower is Hartenfels’ highest at 53 metres, and connects the late Gothic Albrecht building with the grand John Frederick section, which dates to the early Renaissance. Inside the tower, visitors can explore two small exhibitions on the life of the court jester Claus Narr and the “flood of the century” in 2002.
In partnership with Ostdeutsche Sparkassenstiftung (East German Savings Bank Foundation) and Sparkasse Leipzig, WMF restored two of the castle’s notable architectural features: the Grosse Wendelstein (1533-37) and the Schöner Erker (1543-44).
The Grosse Wendelstein, also known as “the Impossible Staircase,” is a grand, enclosed spiral of stone steps, constructed without a central supporting column, in the castle’s main courtyard. The portal to the staircase is richly painted and ornamented with stone carvings depicting scenes from Saxony’s history and the Reformation. The restoration of the Grosse Wendelstein began in 1999, and in 2002 WMF supported the final phase of this project with the conservation of the elaborate sixteenth-century door surround and sculptural reliefs.
The Schöner Erker (“beautiful oriel”) is a two-story oriel with eight windows, framed in intricately carved sandstone, and also richly decorated. With WMF’s support, a conservation roundtable of international specialists convened in Torgau in 2004, and their recommendations guided the restoration of the Schöner Erker. The oriel, damaged by natural weathering and corroding iron, was disassembled, carefully cleaned and desalinated, and reassembled with some replacement parts. The project required two years of conservation work and was completed in 2011.
Today, the Grosse Wendelstein and the Schöner Erker are two of the most admired features of the Castle Hargenfels. With consistent stewardship and continued conservation, these sixteenth-century masterworks should survive for many years to come.