An ancient city that is home to the ruins of the Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberg us a romantic city that attracts visitors from all over Europe to see the picturesque lights of the that reflect off the River Neckar, and stunning centuries-old architecture of the Old Town.
Founded along the banks of the River Neckar in the 5th Century BC by Celtic peoples as a fortress and a place of worship, Heidelberg has long been an urban center and defense for its strategic positioning in the Rhine-Rift Valley. While the oldest urban structures date to several centuries BC, the earliest evidence of the area being lived in points back to the “Heidelberg Man,” a skeleton found in the area that dates back to between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago.
The most well-known and most visited structure in the area is the Heidelberg; the ruins of a fortress perched high above the Old Town and the Neckar River below. The ruins date back to the Renaissance period, and is considered the most important Renaissance structure in the Northern Alps.
The castle actually began deconstruction in the 17th and 18th Centuries after severe structural problems, but reconstruction of the castle began soon after the initial calls for demolition, as the people of Heidelberg quickly realized the historical and aesthetic value that it added to the area and the town.
The oldest incarnation of Heidelberg Castle dates back to 1214 AD, when it was constructed as a single imposing castle on the hill above Old Town Heidelberg. In 1294, the single castle was turned into two separate but connected castles, giving the basic large structure that shapes the castle today (with a great deal of existing damage and ruins). Lightning strikes, fires, and damage from European wars added greatly to the damage and decay of the castle; and while there has been much work to restoring certain sections of the castle, it is mostly a garden of ruins, with very little of the structure being “habitable.”
Today, the ruins of Heidelberg Castle can still be toured and enjoyed by visitors, as it has been for several centuries by Romantic enthusiasts. In fact, one of the oldest descriptions of Heidelberg and the castle from 1465 labels the area as “frequented by strangers.” Mark Twain, upon seeing the ruins of the castle was quoted as saying:
Misfortune has done for this old tower what it has done for the human character sometimes – improved it.
— Mark Twain
Known officially as the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, the Heidleberg University is a public research university, the oldest university in contemporary Germany, and the 5th oldest university in all of Europe. The university still educates students today, running consecutively since 1386, and offers undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral programs. While the old campus houses the centuries-old buildings and many of the faculty and student services, the University added a new campus to better serve more students and allow for new research programs and curriculum, including German Cancer Research Center that calls the new campus home.
Today, the town of Heidelberg has stretched further away from the banks of the Neckar River and the old town, with modern suburbs and accommodations popping up on the outskirts of the area, but the Old Town area — called the Altstadt — is by far the most popular area for tourists. Here, the greatest architectural examples from Gothic to Renaissance periods can be found including the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Old Bridge — erected in 1786.
The Karl’s Gate
Another architectural wonder in Heidlenberg, the Karl’s Gate was built in honor of Prince Elector Karl Theodor in 1775, designed by Nicolas de Pigage; another example of the spanning of architectural styles found in Heidelberg that spans the ages.