Mysteries of Drachenfels Castle and the Heidenberg

Remains of Dragon Rock's castle tower. Commonly known as "The Molar Tooth"

Today we are near the Rhineland-Palatinate village of Busenberg, where we visit the impressive ruins of Drachenfels (Dragon Rock) Castle, which has been completely incorporated into a sandstone massif, and also explore the neighboring Heidenberg (Heathen Mountain).

My excursions so far have shown that not only did the Romans and the Catholic Church seek proximity to Celtic and even older sacred sites, but that the medieval nobility was also deeply aware of the significance of these places.

It therefore stands to reason that wherever castle ruins can be found today, there are ancient spiritual places not far away. Even if they are not documented in contemporary literature, anyone with a sharpened view can readily recognize such potential spots. These include distinctive rock formations, place names with “pagan” origins, or fields of rubble that suggest the remains of ancient structures.

Drachenfels (Dragon Rock) Castle

Little is known about the origins of this fortress, except that it was first mentioned in the 13th century in connection with its owner at the time, Waltherus de Drachenvels.

The tower, visible from afar, is the undisputed hallmark of the castle and is enthroned on a prominent sandstone rock on top of a mountain ridge at an altitude of around 370 meters. It is popularly known as the “Molar”, which is unmistakable when viewed from the front or back and needs no further explanation. To be able to reach its top, the rock was hollowed out to create a staircase.

A question arises whether it has always been a sole freestanding tower up here, or how much of the rock massif had to be removed and leveled in order to carve it out in this shape.

The “Molar”

In the bottom level, the so-called lower castle, several wooden buildings apparently once existed around the central rock in addition to brick constructions. This is evident by rectangular carved beam supports in various places. However, the core of the castle, i.e. the upper area, was largely carved out of the central rock massif itself.

Looking at these extensive stone workings, I had wondered whether it was actually the lords of the castle who went to the considerable effort of creating them, or whether they were repurposing something that had already existed long before. There is no archaeological evidence of settlement before the 13th century, but my intuition tells me that we find ourselves in the relics of something much older at its core.

As we will see later, the Heidenberg, less than 700 meters away, also features several mysterious chambers carved into a rock massif which are still unexplained today. Unlike here, however, a castle was never built around them.

But first a few impressions of Drachenfels.

The castle was literally dug out of the rock

If you look down from the main castle to the separately standing western rock, you will not only notice a seemingly purposeless niche but also a large hollowed-out room next to it that appears to have been partially enclosed by a brick wall.

Here, too, I cannot shake off the feeling that something that already existed before was possibly turned into a guardroom later on, which is assumed to be the medieval function of the latter.

The western tower of the castle

One might wonder about the origin of the name Drachenfels. A plausible explanation could be hidden within what appears to be the castle’s moat. There, etched into a rock face, exists a seemingly childlike depiction of a dragon.

The age of this carving and whether the castle and its massif were named after it, remain a mystery. If it ever existed before, then this rock trench was also present prior to the castle’s construction. Besides the sidewalls, which appear quite polished and thus somewhat out of place for a castle moat, there are no clues that suggest any further conclusions though.

The rectangular notches are beam supports that were added later. At one point, a wooden building was erected here by the castle owners.

The former moat

Rock Chambers on the Heidenberg (Heathen Mountain)

As previously noted, on the Heidenberg hill across from Drachenfels castle, enigmatic chambers are carved into the sandstone of the Buchkammerfels rock massif, situated 8 meters above the ground. Their origins, architects, and intended purpose are shrouded in mystery.

They are believed to be connected to Drachenfels, potentially as the castle’s lookout post. My suspicion too leans towards a link, but one that predates the Middle Ages. The hill’s name, Heidenberg (Heathen Mountain), is revealing, most likely indicating a site of ancient religious importance. The terms used locally for the cavities, Heidenkammern (Heathen Chambers) or Heidenlöcher (Heathen Holes), support this interpretation too.

Unfortunately, access is limited to skilled climbers, a category I don’t fall into. As a result, I don’t have any photos from the inside, just of the entrance. For those interested in getting a glimpse anyway, the best option would be to check the link below. Apparently, there were a few brave souls who dared to make the climb.

Click through the gallery to see some pics of the chambers’ interiors.

The Buchkammerfels rock massif and the “Heathen Chambers”

Further Discoveries

Other spots along the ridge of the Heidenberg indicate that there was once more here than what meets the eye today. For example, the Heidenturm (Heathen Tower), whose appearance and name alone point to its former cultic significance.

In a section of the passage, spanning maybe 30 meters, scattered stone blocks lie about, suggesting the remains of a structure that once stood here, now lying in ruins as if it had been blown up. The cluster of stones is confined to a small area, with no such accumulations before or after it. Right next to the rubble, there’s a kind of trench or depression with a heaped-up mound of stones in its center, further adding to the mystery of this place. Could this have been an old quarry, perhaps?

Another relatively reliable indicator of this mountain’s (hidden) historical significance, apart from what we’ve seen so far, lies in the medieval boundary stones standing along its ridge. The combination of old pagan site names, prominent landmarks, and other enigmatic spots along ancient border paths is something I often encounter on my excursions.

Further discoveries on the Heidenberg

A Perfect View

The final view from the prominent cliff edge known as Schlüsselfels (Key Rock) is a true feast for the eyes, offering a sweeping vista over the rolling hills. In the distance Berwartstein Castle can be seen, sitting enthroned on a rise.

View from the Schlüsselfels rock formation

Video & Map

Impressions from the area
Drachenfels Castle and the Heidenberg

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