It is set upon a series of small slopes in the midst of an undulating, sandy plain, some 900 feet above the sea. Here and there on every side fringes and patches of the mighty forest which once covered it are still visible ; but for the most part the plain is now freckled with picturesque villages, in which stand old turreted chateaux, with gabled fronts and latticed windows, or it is clothed with carefully cultivated crops or veiled from sight y the smoke which rises from the new-grown forest of factory chimneys.
The railway sets us down outside the walls of the city. As we walk from the station toward the Frauen Thor, and stand beneath the crown of fortified walls three and a half miles in circumference, and gaze at the old gray towers and picturesque confusion of domes, pinnacles and spires, suddenly it seems as if our dream of a feu-dal city has been realized. There, before us, is one of the main entrances, still between massive gates and beneath archways flanked by stately towers. Still to reach it we must cross a moat fifty feet deep and a hundred feet wide. True, the swords of old days have been turned into pruning-hooks; the crenelles and embrasures which once bristled and blazed with cannon are now curtained with brambles and wall-flowers, and festooned with virginia creepers; the galleries are no longer crowded with archers and cross-bowmen; the moat itself has blossomed into a garden, luxuriant with limes and acacias, elders, planes, chestnuts, poplars, walnut, willow and birch trees, or divided into carefully tilled little garden plots. True it is that outside the moat, beneath the smug grin of substantial modern houses, runs that mark of modernity, the electric tram.
But let us for the moment forget these gratifying signs of modern prosperity and, turning to the left ere we enter the Frauen Thor, walk with our eyes on the towers which, with their steep-pitched roofs and myriad shapes and richly colored tiles, mark the intervals in the red-bricked, stone-cased galleries and mighty bastions, till we come to the first beginnings of Nurembergthe Castle. There, on the highest eminence of the town, stands that venerable fortress, crowning the red slope of tiles. Roofs piled on roofs, their pinnacles, turrets, points and angles heaped one above the other in a splendid confusion, climb the hill which culminates in the varied group of buildings on the Castle rock. We have passed the Spittler, Mohren, Halter and Neu Gates on our way, and we have crossed by the Hallerthorbrucke the Pegnitz where it flows into the town. Before us rise the bold scarps and salient angles of the bastions bnilt by the Italian architect, Antonio Fazuni, called the Maltese(1538-43).
Crossing the moat by a wooden bridge which curls round to the right, we enter the town by the Thiergartnerthor. The right-hand corner house opposite us now is Albert Durer’s house. We turn to the left and go along the Obere Schmiedgasse till we arrive at the top of a steep hill (Burgstrasse). Above, on the left, is the Castle.
We may now either go through the Himmels Thor to the left, or keeping straight up under the old trees and passing the “Mount of Olives” on the left, approach the large deep-roofed building between two towers. This is the Kaiserstallung, as it is called, the Imperial stables, built originally for a granary. The towers are the Luginsland (Look in the land) on the east, and the Funfeckiger Thurm, the Five-cornered tower, at the west end (on the left hand as we thus face it). The Luginsland was built y the townspeople in the hard winter of 1377. The mortar for building it, tradition says, had to be mixed with salt, so that it might be kept soft and be worked in spite of the severe cold. The chronicles state that one could see right into the Burggraf’s Castle from this tower, and the town was therefore kept informed of any threatening movements on his part.
To some extent that was very likely the object in view when the tower was built, but chiefly it must have been intended, as its name indicates, to afford a far look-out into the surrounding country. The granary or Kaiserstallung, as it was called later, was erected in 1494, and is referred to y Hans Behaim as lying between the Five-cornered and the Luginsland Towers. Inside the former there is a museum of curiosities (Hans Sachs’ harp) and the famous collection of instruments of torture and the Maiden (Eiserne Jungfrau). The open space adjoining it commands a splendid view to the north. There, too, on the parapet-wall, may be seen the hoof-marks of the horse of the robber-king, Ekkelein von Gailingen. Here for a moment let us pause, consider our position, and endeavor to make out from the conflicting theories of the archeologists something of the original arrangement of the castles and of the significance of the buildings and towers that yet remain.
Stretching to the east of the rock on which the Castle stands is a wide plain, now the scene of busy industrial enterprise, but in old days no doubt a mere district of swamp and forest. Westward the rock rises by three shelves to the summit. The entrance to the Castle, it is surmised, was originally on the east side, at the foot of the lower plateau and through a tower which no longer exists.
Opposite this ‘hypothetical gate-way stood the Five-cornered tower. The lower part dates, we have seen, from no earlier than the eleventh century. It is referred to as Alt-Nurnberg (old Nuremberg) in the Middle Ages. The title of “Five-cornered” is really somewhat a misnomer, for an examination of the interior of the lower portion of the tower reveals the fact that it is quadrangular. The pentagonal appearance of the exterior is due to the fragment of a smaller tower which once leaned against it, and probably formed the apex of a wing running out from the old castle of the Burggrafs. The Burggrafliche Burg stood below, according to Mummenhof, southwest and west of this point. It was burned down in 1420, and the ruined remains of it are supposed to be traceable in the eminence, now overgrown by turf and trees, through which a sort of ravine, closed in on either side by built-up walls, has just brought us from the town to the Vestner Thor.
The Burggraf s Castle would appear to have been so situated as to protect the approach to the Imperial Castle (Kaiserburg). The exact extent of the former we can not now determine. Meisterlin refers to it as a little fort. We may, however, be certain that it reached from the Five-cornered tower to the Walpurgiskapelle. For this little chapel, east of the open space called the Freiung, is repeatedly spoken of as being on the property of the Burggrafs. Besides their castle proper, which was held at first as a fief of the Empire, and afterward came to be regarded as their hereditary, independent property, the Burggrafs were also entrusted with the keeping of a tower which commanded the entrance to the Castle rock on the country side, perhaps near the site of the present Vestner Thor. The guard door may have been attached to the tower, the lower portion of which remains to this day, and is called the Bailiff’s Dwelling (Burgamtmannswohnung). The exact relationship of the Burggraf to the town on the one hand, and to the Empire on the other, is somewhat obscure. Originally, it would appear, he was merely an Imperial officer, administering Imperial estates, and looking after Imperial interests. In later days he came to possess great power, but this was due not to his position as castellan or castle governor as such, but to the vast private property his position had enabled him to amass and to keep.
As the scope and ambitions of the Burggrafs increased, and as the smallness of their castle at Nuremberg, and the constant friction with the townspeople, who were able to annoy them in many ways, became more irksome, they gave up living at Nuremberg, and finally were content to sell their rights and possessions there to the town. Be-side the guard door of the Burggrafs, which together with their castle passed by purchase into the hands of the town (1427), there were various other similar guard towers, such as the one which formerly occupied the present site of the Luginsland, or the Hasenburg at the so-called Himmels Thor, or a third which once stood near the Deep Well on the second plateau of the Castle rock. But we do not know how many of these there were, or where they stood, much less at what date they were built. All we do know is that they, as well as the Burggrafs possessions, were purchased in succession by the town, into whose hands by degrees came the whole property of the Castle rock. Above the ruins of the “little fort” of the Burggrafs rises the first plateau of the Castle rock. It is surrounded by a wall, strengthened on the south side y a square tower against which leans the Walpurgiskapelle.
The path to the Kaiserburg leads under the wall of the plateau, and is entirely commanded by it and by the quadrangular tower, the lower part of which alone remains and is known by the name of Burgamtmannswohnung. The path goes straight to this tower, and at the foot of it is the entrance to the first plateau. Then along the edge of this plateau the way winds southward, entirely commanded again by the wall of the second plateau, at the foot of which there probably used to be a trench. Over this a bridge led to the gate of the second plateau. The trench has been long since filled in, but the huge round tower which guarded the gate still remains and is the Vestner Thurm. The Vestner Thurm of Sinwel Thurm (sinwel round), or, as it is called in a charter of the year 1313, the “Middle Tower,” is the only round tower of the Burg. It was built in the days of early Gothic, with a sloping base, and of roughly flattened stones with a smooth edge. It was partly restored and altered in 1561, when it was made a few feet higher and its round roof was added. It is worth paying the small gratuity required for ascending to the top. The view obtained of the city below is magnificent. The Vestner Thurm, like the whole Imperial castle, passed at length into the care of the town, which kept its Tower watch here as early as the fourteenth century.
The well which supplied the second plateau with water, the “Deep Well,” as it is called, stands in the center, surrounded y a wall. It is 335 feet deep, hewn out of the solid rock, and is said to have been wrought y the hands of prisoners, and to have been the labor of thirty years. So much we can easily believe as we lean over and count the six seconds that elapse between the time when an object is dropt from the top to the time when it strikes the water beneath. Passages lead from the water’s edge to the Rathaus, y which prisoners came formerly to draw water, and to St. John’s Churchyard and other points outside the town. The system of underground passages here and in the Castle was an important part of the defenses, affording as it did a means of communication with the outer world and as a last extremity, in the case of a siege, a means of escape.
Meanwhile, leaving the Deep Well and passing some insignificant modern dwellings, and leaving beneath us on the left the Himmelsthor, let us approach the summit of the rock and the buildings of the Kaiserburg itself. As we advance to the gateway with the intention of ringing the bell for the castellan, we notice on the left the Double Chapel, attaching to the Heathen Tower, the lower part of which is encrusted with what were once supposed to be Pagan images. The Tower protrudes beyond the face of the third plateau, and its prominence may indicate the width of a trench, now filled in, which was once dug outside the enclosing wall of the summit of the rock. The whole of the south side of this plateau. is taken up by the “Palast (the vast hall, two stories high, which, tho it has been repeatedly rebuilt, may in its original structure be traced back as far as the twelfth century), and the “Kemnate” or dwelling-rooms which seem to have been without any means of defense. This plateau, like the second, is supplied with a well. But the first object that strikes the eye on entering the court-yard is the ruined limetree, the branches of which once spread their broad and verdant shelter over the whole extent of the quadrangle.
On leaving the Castle we find ourselves in the Burgstrasse, called in the old days Unter der Veste, which was probably the High Street of the old town. Off both sides of this street and of the Bergstrasse ran narrow crooked little alleys lined with wooden houses of which time and fire have left scarcely any trace. As you wander round the city tracing the line of the old walls, you are struck y the general air of splendor. Most of the houses are large and of a massive style of architecture, adorned with fanciful gables and bearing the impress ! of the period when every inhabitant was a merchant, and every merchant was lodged like a king. The houses of the merchant princes, richly carved both inside and out, tell of the wealth and splendor of Nuremberg in her proudest days. But you will also come upon a hundred crooked little streets and narrow alleys, which, tho entrancingly picturesque, tell of yet other days and other conditions.
They tell of those early medieval days when the houses were almost all of wood and roofed with straw-thatching or wooden tiles; when the chimneys and bridges alike were built of wood. Only here and there a stone house roofed with brick could then be seen. The streets were narrow and crooked, and even in the fifteenth century mostly unpaved. In wet weather they were filled with unfathomable mud, and even tho in the lower part of the town trenches were dug to drain the streets, they remained mere swamps and morasses. In dry weather the dust was even a worse plague than the mud. Pig-styes stood in front of the houses; and the streets were covered with heaps of filth and manure and with rotting corpses of animals, over which the pigs wandered at will. Street police in fact was practically non-existent. Medievalism is undoubtedly better when survived.