Hohenzollern Castle (Burg Hohenzollern) is the ancestral seat of the imperial House of Hohenzollern. The third of three hilltop castles on the site, it is located atop Mount Hohenzollern, above and south of Hechingen, on the edge of the Swabian Jura of central Baden-Württemberg, Germany. With battlements and towers, this castle looks straight out of a storybook.
As Kaiser Wilhelm II said: “The view from the Hohenzollern Castle is truly worth the journey.”
Inside, there is also plenty to see, including Kaiser Wilhelm II’s famous “Hohenzollern Crown,” made in 1888. Beneath a diamond-studded cross is a huge sapphire, but there are also 142 rose-cut diamonds, 18 more diamonds and 8 large pearls. The castle is in Hechingen, about 40 miles/65 km south of Stuttgart.
The Neo-Gothic complex dates from 19th century, but there has been a fortress here for almost 1,000 years.
The first personal related reference of the Hohenzollern House dates back to 1061 (“Wezil et Burchardus de Zolorin”). First direct mention of the Castle complex (“Castro Zolre”) was in 1267. Appearance, size and furnishing of the original Castle are unknown, but presumably it was in the first decade of the 11th century. At that time it must have been a vast and artistically valuable furnished complex. Contemporary sources praised it as “Crown of all Castles in Swabia” and as “the most fortified House in Germany”. However in 1423, the Castle was completely destroyed.
From 1454 the second Hohenzollern Castle was constructed bigger and even more fortified than before. Later, during the Thirty Years War, the Castle was converted into a fortress with repeatedly changing owners. Since the maintenance of the building was neglected, it dilapidated and turned into ruins at the beginning of the 19th century.
In 1819 Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia decided to have the ancestral seat of the Hohenzollern House reconstructed. In 1844, being King Frederick William IV, he wrote in a letter: “The memories of the year 1819 are exceedingly dear to me and like a pleasant dream, it was especially the sunset we watched from one of the Castle bastions, … now this adolescent dream turned into the wish to make the Hohenzollern Castle habitable again…”
The final castle was built between 1846 and 1867 as a family memorial by Hohenzollern scion King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Architect Friedrich August Stüler based his design on English Gothic Revival architecture and the Châteaux of the Loire Valley. No member of the Hohenzollern family was in permanent or regular residence when it was completed, and none of the three German Emperors of the late 19th and early 20th century German Empire ever occupied the castle. In 1945 it briefly became the home of the former Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany, son of the last Hohenzollern monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Among the historical artifacts of Prussian history contained in the castle are the Crown of Wilhelm II, some of the personal effects of King Frederick the Great, and a letter from US President George Washington thanking Hohenzollern descendant Baron von Steuben for his service in the American Revolutionary War.
After the castle was rebuilt, it was not regularly occupied, but rather used primarily as a showpiece. None of the Hohenzollern Kaisers of the German Empire lived there; only the last Prussian Crown Prince William stayed for several months following his flight from Potsdam ahead of Soviet army forces during the closing months of World War II. He and his wife Crown Princess Cecilie are buried there, as the family’s estates in Brandenburg had been occupied by the Soviet Union at the time of their deaths.
Starting in 1952, Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia began adding valuable artwork and Prussian memorabilia from the collections of the Hohenzollern family and the former Hohenzollern Museum in Schloss Monbijou. Two of the major pieces are the Crown of Wilhelm II and a uniform that belonged to King Frederick the Great. From 1952 until 1991 the caskets of Frederick Wilhelm I and his son Frederick the Great were in the chapel, but were moved back to Potsdam following German reunification in 1991.
The castle was damaged in an earthquake on 3 September 1978, and was under repair until the mid-1990s.