Marksburg Castle in Germany (with Viking River Cruises)

Marksburg Castle was the most fascinating castle I have ever visited, and I’ve visited quite a few. It’s not because it was the most opulent or important castle I’ve ever seen. (It was neither.) It’s because our Viking River Cruises tour guide gave such an intriguing glimpse into what life was like during the time of castles, kings, knights, and princesses. Let me tell you, it wasn’t nearly as romantic as Disney would have us believe. Here’s why you will want to visit Marksburg Castle with Viking River Cruises.

Marksburg Castle with Viking River Cruises

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Marksburg Castle History

Located in Braubach, Germany – Marksburg Castle has been perched on a hill above the Rhine River for over 700 years. In fact, it is the only hill castle on the Rhine that has never been destroyed. First mentioned in the 13th century, the castle was occupied by noblemen and royalty for hundreds of years. In the 1800s the castle became a home for disabled soldiers, a prison, and eventually, apartments. Today it has been returned to its Middle Ages “glory” and is showcased for tourists.

Cannon at the ready to defend Marksburg Castle
Cannon at the ready to defend Marksburg Castle (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Defense During the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, thick outer walls were built and cannon batteries added. Marksburg Castle’s strong defense is what warded off serious attacks and destruction for so many centuries. Its gate kept the town safe during attacks when inhabitants of the valley below would crowd into the castle grounds.

A fancy Middle Ages bathroom with a lock on the outside
A fancy Middle Ages bathroom with a lock on the outside (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

There’s a lock on the castle’s toilet door; not on the inside for privacy, but on the outside to prevent intruders from crawling through the loo and entering the residence. The toilet protrudes from the building, offering a seat over a hole…and look out below! Situated right off the central dining room, our Viking River Cruises guide explained that it would have been rude to leave guests in order to relieve oneself so the door was kept open so conversations could continue mid-duty.

Marksburg Castle kitchen
Marksburg Castle kitchen (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

The Castle’s Kitchen

In the kitchen, meat was hung to keep it from being eaten by rats and crawling bugs. (Yum!) Our tour guide showed us how the pots and pans were lowered and raised by the castle’s cooks over the fire using a handy hook system to prepare food at just the right temperature.

Ice box "refrigerator" at Marksburg Castle
Ice box “refrigerator” at Marksburg Castle (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

The wealthy castle residents were treated to technological wonders of the Middle Ages, like an ice box “refrigerator.” Slabs of ice were kept within it to keep foodstuffs cool.

Wee bed and cradle at Marksburg Castle
Wee bed and cradle at Marksburg Castle (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Night, Night at Marksburg Castle

This wee bed shown above would never fit all 5′ 5″ of me, much less my tall husband. But people were not only much shorter in the Middle Ages, but also they slept sitting up. Why? They believed lying flat resembled death and would allow their souls to be taken in the night. The curtains around the bed protected dozers from spiders and other creepy-crawlies.

Medieval torture implements on display at Marksburg Castle
Medieval torture implement on display at Marksburg Castle (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Time for Torture

What would a castle be without a dungeon? At Marksburg we got a tour of the implements used to ward off crimes during the Middle Ages. A long metal caged face mask shaped like a pig’s snout with a weight at the tip was placed on women who committed adultery so their crime could be known to all as they walked on all fours to push the heavy contraption forward. Makes the Scarlett letter seem minor, doesn’t it?! The lock above was used for thieves, who were placed on display in the town center with their feet and hands secured between the wooden slats; sometimes spikes were placed in the holes to add to the misery.

A chastity belt, breastplates and weapons at Marksburg Castle
A chastity belt (at top), breastplates and weapons (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

The Truth About Chastity Belts

You’ve probably heard the rumor that chastity belts were used by knights to keep their wives faithful while they were off fighting wars, or by kings to keep their daughters’ virginity intact. According to our trusty Viking River Cruises tour guide, though, this is just untrue. The belts were extremely uncomfortable and not meant for longtime wear. In fact, chastity belts were used to protect noblewomen and girls from rape during travel away from their own villages.

View of the Mosel River, just off stream from the Rhine, from Marksburg Castle
View of the Rhine River from Marksburg Castle (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

Marksburg Castle Tour

Our tour of Marksburg Castle with Viking River Cruises may not have evoked romantic images of princesses in ball gowns and charming princes, but it was incredibly interesting and informative. In fact, Marksburg Castle was my husband’s favorite stop on our Viking Cruise on the Rhine. At other castles I have visited in France, England, Ireland, Germany and beyond, I have received merely a brief history lesson relevant to the location. But here I gained a real understanding of the need for castles (defense!) and the harsh reality of life in the Middle Ages. Fascinating!

Would you like to visit Marksburg Castle with Viking River Cruises, or do you prefer to explore sites on your own?

A Note from The Travel Mama: Our cruise and castle tour was hosted by Viking River Cruises. All opinions are mine, as always.

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  1. Viking Rhine River Cruise: Far exceeded my expectations in every way—————Marksburg Castle: Fascinating tour——————Walk up the hill to the castle (including the rocks which were steps): Darned near killed me. Would I do it again? You bet

    1. Scott – Agreed! Getting a tour with a good tour guide makes seeing a castle so much more meaningful than wandering through on your own.

    1. So true! I used to be anti-tour because it seemed too “touristy” but now I LOVE them. Who cares if I’m a tourist? I want to learn and enjoy while I travel!

  2. I’ve visited a few castles in Europe, but way more in Japan, where I lived after University. The castles in Japan weren’t romantic, they were fortresses for defence and that really opened my eyes up to this world. This one looks pretty interesting and I loved getting the DL on chastity belts.

  3. I love a good castle tour… and you are right the guide makes it or breaks it. My fav tour was at The Tower of London and it was for the exact same reason. An amazing passionate guide.

    1. Mama Munchkin – I don’t think I’ve ever toured the Tower of London. Or if I did, it was so long ago, I don’t remember! In either case, I’d love to do that tour.

    1. Robin – Such an incredible trip! I highly recommend a Viking River Cruise for couples, or any adults, really.

  4. I love this post! And I love the look of this castle. What a fascinating place to visit with so many great stories. I never knew that people slept sitting up or that the toilet door was kept open to ensure a flow, ahem, in conversation. Great piece, thanks!

  5. That is really cool! Not sure about how I feel about cruises yet but I love castles. I always want to go behind those linked off areas though, why do they do that?? LOL Just makes me more curious!

  6. I loved our Viking Cruise but the Marksburg castle was my biggest highlight. I credit our Viking tour guide for making it so cool…he was fantastic! He went at just right pace and was extremely knowledgeable about the castle, the land, and the time periods. After this experience I cant imagine walking through the castle without a guide or a less-knowledgeable one. But with his narrative and in those sorroundigns you can’t help but transport back in time and really imagine what it was like. This was by far the coolest castle I’ve ever visited.