A common sight for everybody who spends their holiday on the Moselle: Landshut castle ruin, enthroned majestically above the old town of Bernkastel-Kues.
Landshut castle is a 30 minute walk from the historic market square of Bernkastel. Should the way appear too far or too steep for you, “Burg Landshut Express” offers a comfortable bus shuttle service.
From Landshut castle, you have impressive views of the scenic cultural landscape along the Moselle. Not only is it one of the most popular destinations in the whole region; on top of that, newest discoveries prove that it is one of the oldest building sites on the Moselle.
In June 2012, particularly massive wall fragments of a Roman fort were discovered in the cause of routine works at the outer fortifications. Archaeologists date these finds to the late 4th and early 5th century.
The newly discovered wall fragments on the castle hill in Bernkastel district are significantly older than the castle that was erected by Heinrich von Finstingen around 1276, whose ruins can still be inspected today. They are even older than the two preceding castles from 1017 and 1201, which were destroyed and slighted.
On the basis of recent findings, a rectangular basement of 60 x 30 metres with five or six square towers can be traced. These towers are quite unusual and do neither fit into the late antiquity nor Middle Ages style of construction. They are most similar to late Roman forts, as they were found for instance in Ludwigshafen and Passau. Two found pieces of glass and pottery indicate that the walls are from the 4th to 5th century. Further findings of a stone ax and several handmade shards are indications of even older usage from pre-Roman times.
The castle as part of a sophisticated military concept
Until today, we know of 19 late Roman fortifications situated high above the Moselle (including Landshut castle). Supposedly, it did not function as a refuge, but rather as part of a whole military concept. Under the initiative of Emperor Constantius I. (293-306), the Romans began with the erection of a whole range of fortifications in uniform distance along the Moselle. The idea was to protect both the highly important waterway and also the new imperial residence in Trier.
Bernkastel´s fort was only partly built over with the medieval castle, hence it is the first of the 19 sites in the Moselle valley of which we know the exact proportions and the floor plan.
In his cosmography, the anonymous “geographer of Ravenna” writes: “…furthermore, the towns of Trier, Neumagen, Bernkastel, Karden and Koblenz are on the Moselle.” It was written in the 8th century, yet the geographer based his text on older sources and probably refers to the situation before 496.
In the Latin translation of the originally Greek text, Bernkastel is referred to as “Princastellum”, which has to be interpreted as “primum castellum” - “the first castle”, later being modified to today´s “Bernkastel”. So, the newly discovered Roman fortification is one of the few places in the region, where an antique designation can be precisely matched with a findspot.
The impressive size of the fort points towards a large settlement at the bottom of the hill. In this light, Bernkastel´s age has to be dated back almost 1000 years. Other Roman findings around Bernkastel-Kues, like the wine presses in Erden, Piesport and Neumagen-Drohn, are further indications of a large population.
Those who do not want to walk up the hill might as well take the “Burg Landshut Express”, a yellow vintage bus.