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Durnstein Castle

February 29, 2016
Richard the Lionheart
Richard the Lionheart

Mrs. Chatterbox and I were headed toward the famous Melk Monastery in the Wachau Region of Austria when our bus stopped so we could tour a vineyard in a region famous for producing Riesling wine. Having worked in a winery during college (Almaden Vineyards) I wasn’t much interested in seeing another winery but didn’t fancy sitting on the bus while everyone else toured the facility and sampled wine.


As we were walking among well-tended vines beneath a darkening sky, the ruins on a nearby hilltop caught my eye. I asked our guide about it.


“That is Dürnstein Castle,” I was told in a casual manner belying the historical significance of the site.


“Can we climb up there?” I asked, no longer caring if I got rained on.


“No. Nothing much to see up there. It isn’t on this or any other tour.”



Dürnstein Castle


Unfortunate! Dürnstein Castle once housed a rather important prisoner—Richard I of England, better known as Richard the Lionheart. Richard had made an enemy of Leopold of Austria at the Battle of Acre during the Third Crusade, and on his way home to England in 1192, Richard was captured by Leopold and held for ransom at Dürnstein Castle. Leopold was excommunicated by the Pope for imprisoning a prince of Christendom but that didn’t prevent Richard from remaining a prisoner for several years.


I was fascinated to lay my eyes on the place where this famous English monarch had been held captive. It was obvious that the site for this castle had been chosen for its high vantage point making it easy to spot approaching armies, but its position above the Danube was without a water supply making it vulnerable to sieges. The castle was eventually abandoned, fell into disrepair and was all but destroyed by Swedish troops in 1645.


Some of this might sound familiar since it figured prominently in the legend of Robin Hood. You might recall that Robin of Locksley returned from the Crusade to find his king imprisoned in Austria. The king’s brother, Prince John, was in no hurry to ransom him, preferring to rule in his stead. Robin was determined to raise the ransom needed to free Richard, robbing tax money from Prince John and his henchman, the Sheriff of Nottingham. The ransom was eventually raised and Richard released.


Interesting how the legend morphed into Robin being a Zorro-type hero who took from the rich and gave to the poor, when in actuality (presuming there was an actuality) he only wanted to return a despot to the throne of England, a king who wasn’t interested in ruling England and never bothered to learn more than a smattering of English.


As I studied the abandoned stones beneath a darkening sky, I couldn’t help wishing I could climb those rocks and soak up all that history instead of trooping off to a wine tasting.


Dürnstein means “dry castle” because the area was dry and the castle made of dry stone, but in spite of the fact that only a pile of rocks remained, its history was far less dry than the overpriced Riesling we were encouraged to sample.



Dürnstein Castle on a sunnier day (Thanks to the Internet)




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Shame you couldn't go see it. Ruins or not, old castles are fascinating. Interesting how Robin Hood's tales morphed over time.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on February 29, 2016
I never knew the real Robin Hood story--thanks!!
By: fishducky on February 29, 2016
I think I'd love to lay my eyes on this place as well. Oh how lovely some of your pictures are.
By: Michael Offutt on February 29, 2016
By: The Bug on February 29, 2016
Lucky for us... you're varied skills and talents also include curiosity.
By: Daniel LaFrance on February 29, 2016
You don't mince any words when it comes to your preferences. You do tell of some very interesting history. these old guys were not very nice people.
By: red on February 29, 2016
Can't believe that has not become an accessible part of the tour. Some cool history there. I can only imagine that working for a winery as a college student was a dream job.
By: Arkansas Patti on February 29, 2016
Fascinating. This was all news to me. I'll see Robin Hood in a more enlightened way now. Thanks.
By: Tom Cochrun on February 29, 2016
I was there! actually my ex and I passed by it. we took a 3 hour cruise (no Gilligan in sight) from Vienna to Melk. We first saw Durnstein from the boat and that beautiful church. in fact, my hubby kept taking Pics of the church which felt like a slide show:) I loved that castle ruin and immediately read up on it since I had a Fordor's book. I love ruined castles and I would have broken away for sure to see that castle. I loved Melk which was very Baroque
By: Birgit on February 29, 2016
Ha - I was there, too! As a teenager, I had a pen pal in St. Pölten (about 20 miles from Dürnstein), and once visited her as an adult during a visit back to Germany. She and her husband took me there and told me that this was a popular place for young people to camp, have bonfires, etc. Still - I did not know the true story of Robin Hood.
By: Pixel Peeper on February 29, 2016
OK, not sure how my Umlauts got butchered...but that should be "St. Polten" with two dots over the o, and - of course - Durnstein with two dots over the u.
By: Pixel Peeper on February 29, 2016
You and Mrs. C should have made a break for it! What was he gonna do, tackle you?
By: Val on February 29, 2016
If you dig back to the original legends, Robin was considered little more than a petty thief. The legends have changed indeed. The castle would be my choice, too, if the other option was a winery.
By: messymimi on February 29, 2016
Great account.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on March 1, 2016
castles! I actually have a castle in my heritage. a long past ancestor owned/built Berkeley Castle. my direct ancestor was a second son though so the castle passed out of my line. or my line passed out if it.
By: ellen abbott on March 1, 2016
Incredible that this would be considered of no interest while another winery was the place to stop.
By: Mitchell Is Moving on March 1, 2016
Interesting. It's easy to see how the castle looks incredibly majestic from a distance - only from a distance. I'm sad to learn that Robin Hood didn't actually steal from the rich and give to the poor. He was my idol for that. Welll, I still have my Bernie.
By: Robyn Engel on March 1, 2016
Fascinating- looks like you had yet another glorious adventure!
By: Kathe W. on March 1, 2016
I'm with you: I'd totally want to climb up there. History is so fascinating. I'd sit amongst those stones and try to imagine Richard imprisoned, what the castle looked like before it's decay, the view from the prisoner's window...yep, I'd be climbing.
By: Cherdo on March 2, 2016
I love history and I think I would have enjoyed seeing that over the vineyard too. Interesting the tour company doesn't seem to think it's significant. R
By: Rick Watson on March 4, 2016
I think I would have climbed up there and to hell with it. It looks amazing!
By: Jenny on March 17, 2016

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