Thuringia’s southernmost tip is home to Heldburg Castle, also known as the “Franconian lantern” for the way it dominates the surrounding countryside from its hilltop site. The counts of Henneberg chose this extremely favourable strategic location as their official seat.
The commanders’ building at the extreme western end of the complex with its “Hausmannsturm” viewing tower documents the castle’s medieval use, but the ensemble was remodelled in the 16th century. Wall paintings from that century still survive in the Castle Chapel housed in the adjacent “Jungfern” wing, possibly the work of Lucas Cranach.
In the 19th century the new owners, the dukes of Sachsen-Meiningen, undertook efforts to preserve the castle. Georg II in particular used it as a retreat in the company of his third wife, a commoner on whom he conferred the title of Baroness of Heldburg. Dating to this period are numerous interior remodellings and additions in the Eclectic style, among them the Neogothic baroness’s apartments. On the exterior, the duke’s alterations included adding more stories to the Hausmannsturm and building a terrace with crenellated walls.
In 2016 the German Castle Museum opened at Heldburg. Visitors will be treated to a representative overview of the development of castles and castle architecture in the German-speaking region, including scenes depicting the everyday lives of the castle’s inhabitants based on their activities in the various rooms. The museum’s largest and most important exhibit is of course Heldburg Castle itself.