The Palatinate

View on the Rhine Valley from the Palatinate Forest
View on the Rhine Valley from the Palatinate Forest

The Palatinate, called Pfalz in German, is part of the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. It is located between the Upper Rhine River and the German state of Saarland. In the northwest it borders the Hunsrück Mountains and in the south it shares the border with the French region of Alsace. The Palatinate has two key characteristics: First, one third of the region is covered by the Palatinate Forest, which forms together with the bordering Vosges Biosphere Reserve a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Second, it is home to the Palatinate wine region, which is located between the Palatinate Forest and the Rhine River Plain Germany.

Palatinate Forest
Palatinate Forest

Historically, the former Celtic region was conquered by the Romans about 2,000 years ago. For several centuries Romans settled in the Palatinate and were taking advantage of the Rhine River as a natural border to protect them against the Barbarians. Romans were the first to discover the potential for wine cultivation in the Palatinate and archaeological excavations near the village of Ungstein prove the existence of Roman wineries.

Trifels Castle in the Palatinate Forest
Trifels Castle in the Palatinate Forest

During the Middle Ages about 500 castles were built in the Palatinate Forest, illustrating the region’s importance as a center of royal and even imperial power. The most famous castle is the castle of Trifels, near the town of Annweiler, where at the end of the 12th century the English king, Richard the Lionheart, was captured when he was returning from the Third Crusade. The legend says that his bard Blondel moved from castle to castle looking for his king. Every time he approached a castle he was singing a secret song that only he and the king knew. When the king answered him by singing the second verse, Blondel found the secret prison of his king.

From the Middle Ages to the end of the 18th century, the Counts of the Palatine region achieved the status of Prince-elector, providing them special privileges in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Despite the power of the Counts, the Palatinate was not immune against wars or conflicts. The most devastating war for the region was provoked by the French king Louis XIV. While his troops were pillaging the towns and villages in the Palatinate, one town escaped such a destiny. It is told that when the French troops were approaching the city of Neustadt, its municipal council decided to send one beautiful girl, named Barbara Kirchner, to convince the general not to destroy the town. Impressed by her courage and beauty, the general complied with her request and later even married the girl.

Summer residence of King Ludwig I
Summer residence of King Ludwig I

After a short period of occupation by Napoleon I, the region was incorporated into the Bavarian Kingdom in 1816. As a sign of appreciation for the Palatinate the Bavarian King, Ludwig I, built his summer residence Villa Ludwigshöhe near to Palatine villages of Edenkoben and Rhodt at the foot of the Rietburg castle. The château is a masterpiece of neoclassical architecture including Greek columns, Roman mosaics and various frescoes. Today, the château has been transformed into a museum, so most of its 60 rooms can be visited.

Hambach Chateau - Symbol for German democracy
Hambach Château – Symbol for German democracy

Influenced by the French revolution, the Palatinate was a center of democratic and liberal ideas in the middle of the 19th century. Remarkable is the peaceful protest of more than 30,000 German, Polish and French citizens in 1832, also known as the march to the Hambach Château. Historically, the march to the Hambach Château has become a symbol of democratic movements in Germany. One of the flags used at this event became later the official flag of Germany consisting of the colors black, red and gold.