Castle hopping in Frankfurt Rhine-Main

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Hotel Jagdschloss Kranichstein

The Frankfurt Rhine-Main (website only in German)is a diverse region in Germany where the two rivers of the Rhine and Main meet by the city of Mainz. The region, the centre of which is city of Frankfurt am Main (more commonly just referred to as Frankfurt) stretches across parts of three federal states; Hessen, Rhineland-Palatinate and Bavaria.

The landscapes, forests and hills around Rhine and Main are the setting for a number of historic castles and palaces with unique architecture built in the beautiful gardens. The region’s economic power combined with the cultural heritage makes it one of the most attractive destinations in Europe. A high-speed train service from London St Pancras to Frankfurt is even possible although you have to connect in Brussels plus many flight options from Aberdeen, Birmingham, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, (as from March) Heathrow, London City and Manchester airports makes it an accessible destination and popular place to visit for business and leisure travelers

some of the crossbows on display

In the whole of Germany there are thousands of castles and palaces. In the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region, there are hundreds. You cannot obviously visit them all. I concentrated on two on my visit.

The castle hotels in the region are the ideal places to stay for convenience and learning about the local culture, traditions and the past heritage of the region such as the Hotel Jagdschloss Kranichstein near Darmstadt. The three-wing castle of Kranichstein, built in the sixteenth century by Landgrave George I of Hessen, was constructed in the renaissance style. Its purpose was to act as a grand hunting lodge for royalty and the aristocracy. Over the centuries the castle has seen several structural changes and renovation so that it has added Baroque elements and Neo-Renaissance elegance as well.

s of long-past hunting trips

At the end of the eighteenth century the castle was no longer a hunting lodge and it became the main residence of Grand Luke Ludwig X. In 1917, the main wing of the castle was converted to a museum featuring a large collection of hunting tools, carriages, clothing and possessions in addition to many paintings. Preserved by the State of Hesse, the castle is open to the public. One item intrigued me. Scratched into a glass window in the octagonal reception and music room overlooking the garden you will find Queen Victoria’s signature. She visited the castle in 1881 but who knew that royals would stoop to leave such a mark?

In keeping with it once being a hunting lodge, the corridor was decorated with many paintings of deer and many deer heads were mounted on the walls. The main reception room is also an impressive presence portraying as it does the opulence of the time with a collection of paintings and more deer heads. A wing of the Kranichstein Castle has been renovated for the purpose of the hotel amenities and the old chapel is now available for weddings.

One of the many fossils on display at the Messel Pit

Just a few kilometres from the castle is the UNESCO World Natural Heritage site of the Messel Pit, which used to be a place for oil shale mining. But oil shale isn’t the reason for the status it has. This location is an important geological and scientific site for the study of fossils. 47 million years ago, this area was a lake surrounded by a tropical forest. It is believed that a variety of insects, birds, fish and other animals died as a result of some volcanic activity. The Messel Pit is famed for the intact recovery of the animal’s skeleton and preservation of fossils. An information centre overlooking the pit provides a stimulating background to what you can see.

On the following day I ventured into the  Elsava Valley within the Spessart forest which is to be found between Frankfurt and Wurzburg. Here you will find the Mespelbrunn Castle (German language website only) which is a must see tourist attraction for those who are interested in history and architecture. The fortified, moated castle was built with walls and a tower over a lake in 1427 by Hamann Etcher, a representative of the ruling prince who, as was common in those days was a cleric, the Archbishop of Mainz. The castle was initially built in the medieval style but it was rebuilt and its appearance was changed to Renaissance style in sixteenth century. Today, the castle is owned by the family of the Counts of Ingelheim who are descendants of the Etcher family and they still live in one wing of the castle.

Mespelbrunn Castle and its moat

The red sandstone façade of the castle is reflected in the lake which is surrounded by swathes of green,, flowers and forest all of which creates a picturesque and romantic scene. Small wonder that it has been used as the setting of a film.

The square courtyard that you find once you enter the castle perimeter is adorned with flowers and  encloses a two storey buildings on three sides and a tower centered next to an arch in front of the lake. A large reception hall on the ground floor is decorated with mediaeval steel armour and arms. In the corner of the hall was a small Romanesque revival chapel ornamented with religious paintings on the walls.

arched entrance with the two figure carvings above

A beautifully arched entrance adorned with two figures and dates of 1564 and 1569 marked at the top along with two symmetrical columns welcomes you. A spiral stone staircase takes you to the second floor where there were one bedroom and two reception rooms which resembled a small museum full of artifacts and old books that belonged to the family. One point; visitors are not allowed to take pictures of this part of the castle. A library is located in the tower but this, and some other rooms, are not open to the public.

A detached building in the grounds of the castle serves as a café where visitors can relax and enjoy watching the picturesque scenery of the Mespelbrunn Castle. This castle has played host to many dignitaries over the centuries and the scene and the charming features of the castle have inspired novelists and poets.

Don’t just think of this area as being the home of the financial powerhouse of Frankfurt because of the name. There is much more and, for those interested in heritage sites, these two castles give an indication of how much more there is to visit.

Images and story © Mohammed Reza Amirinia

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