The Main River is best known for the larger cities upon it -- including, of course, Frankfurt am Main with its major international airport. But whole sections of the Main cross steep mountain terrain that affords little room for open farmland or industry like Frankfurt. It is in these stretches that several smaller cities are positioned, ones that have defied urbanization but remain key to the economic well-being of the region. Wertheim, sitting at the confluence of the Main and Tauber rivers, fits this category nicely -- an important city with a tremendously historic past that has remained true to its medieval roots.
Wertheim's claim to fame is its fabulous castle ruins, shown in the first photograph. Positioned on the cornerhills between the rivers, the Burg Wertheim appears quite striking on first glance, leaving little indication of the many times it has been conquered, destroyed, and rebuilt. Also in the first photograph is the Pointed Tower (or Spitzeturm), the most prominent of the city towers still standing.
When we arrived at Wertheim, we parked the car in the lot near the hafen (or port), located right on the confluence just left of the first photograph. The port was very active with passenger boats similar to the ones shown -- ferry boats frequently run among the major cities and towns on the Main. We proceeded toward the downtown and the main market square to find a place for lunch. The market square was heavily under construction at the time, but there were a number of very impressive structures.
Among them was the Grafschaftsmuseum, the Stiftskirche, and the Engelsbrunnen, or Angel's Well. The former was a yellow building with a large staircase tower that housed the city's industrial and agricultural museum. The Angel's Well was made of red sandstone in the 16th century, and was decorated with fan-shaped carvings, looking more like a king's throne than a well. The Stiftskirche, painted in bright yellow, was nearby and shone like the sun as we climbed the steep trails over it towards the Burg.
The first looks at the Burg indicated that it was one single building complex, but our exploration of it found that the word 'complex' was more accurate. In reality, it was a triple-structure -- an outer wall, an inner palace, and a separate outer series of bastions separated by a six-meter deep moat. We didn't get an appreciation of this until we were inside and following the pathway (rundgang) that took us through the bottom of the moat -- surrounded on both sides by tall rocky cliffs separating the structures, accessible only by stairways.
As the second photograph shows, the castle complex provided an excellent view of the river valley and the town. This was only one of about twenty-five pictures we took at various points in the complex. This one shows the confluence, although the junction was partially obscured by the highway bridge. The two domed gray towers at the foreground were the castle's entrance gate which you can see clearly in the first photograph.
The third photo shows part of the castle's interior ruins... in particular the main palace, of which only the partly-reconstructed facade and the hollowed-out staircase tower remain. In fact, we found much of the interior structure was similarly skeletal and partially (only partially) reconstructed for tourism, a testament to the extent of the damage the castle suffered centuries ago. (Indeed, one of the draws for us was the knowledge beforehand that the castle was the victim of a spectacular ammunition fire during the Thirty Years War that engulfed the whole hillside.) Of course, not all the structure is this bad -- the main Watch Tower still stands and provides the most impressive views of the Main, and the base of the inner complex is a nice, sophisticated café and restaurant that hosts concerts during warmer months.
After getting some pretty darned good exercise climbing up and down the various structures, we returned to the downtown to seek out one of Wertheim's better-known museums, the Glasmuseum, shown in the fourth photo. The Glasmuseum celebrates Wertheim's history in the glass industry, from the medieval production of glassware and bead jewelry to the industrial forms of glass (fiberglas and optic fiber) of the 20th century. The most intriguing part of the museum was watching an old glassmaker (we estimated him to be in his 70s or 80s) entertaining a circle of elderly ladies as he molded molten glass with his open-flame torch. (We casually ignored the fact that most of the museum was made of dry wood, but we digress...). For a couple Euro, the Glasmuseum was easily worth the price of admission -- very informative and entertaining.
From there, we ventured along the banks of the Tauber River, shown in the fifth photograph. Appearing along the eastern bank at left are the Kittstein Gate and Tower along with the Tauberpromenade (upon which the folks are walking). This shot was taken from the Tauberbruecke (Tauber Bridge), the oldest bridge in the city that connects Wertheim's downtown with the Stadthalle, or city hall. The Stadthalle was a large, impressive yellow palace still decorated with bright purple flowers despite the cold autumn weather. Beyond the western bank was an old red sandstone Catholic church and abbey that has mostly been converted to government buildings.
We should also mention the wonderful people we encountered along our travels, particularly the homey restaurant where we had lunch that was as simple and down-to-earth as one could hope to find. Being far enough away from the big cities of Frankfurt and Wuerzburg and the like probably helps.
Trip taken 17 October 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin