Königstein Fortress (German: Festung Königstein), the 'Saxon Bastille', is a hilltop fortress near Dresden, in Saxon Switzerland, Germany, above the town of Königstein on the left bank of the River Elbe. It is one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe and sits atop the table hill of the same name.
The 9.5hectare rock plateau rises 240metres above the Elbe and has over 50 buildings, some over 400 years old, that bear witness to the military and civilian life in the fortress. The rampart run of the fortress is 1,800metres long with walls up to 42metres high and steep sandstone faces. In the centre of the site is a 152.5metre deep well, which is the deepest in Saxony and second deepest well in Europe.
The fortress, which for centuries was used as a state prison, is still intact and is now one of Saxony's foremost tourist attractions, with 700,000 visitors per year.
By far the oldest written record of a castle on the Königstein is found in a deed by King Wenceslas I of Bohemia dating to the year 1233, in which a witness is named as 'Burgrave Gebhard of Stein'. At that time the region was split between the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Bishopric of Meissen. The medieval castle belonged to the Kingdom of Bohemia. Its first full description as Königstein ('King's Rock') occurred in the Upper Lusatian Border Charter (Oberlausitzer Grenzurkunde) of 1241, that Wenceslas I 'in lapide regis' (Lat.: at the rock of the king) sealed. In this charter the demarcation of the border between the Slavic Gauen of Milska (Upper Lusatia), Nisani (Meißen Depression) and Dacena (Tetschen region) was laid down. Because the Königstein lay left of the Elbe, it was independent of the 3 aforementioned Gauen.
It belonged at that time to the Kingdom of Bohemia and was expanded by order of the Bohemian kings, as the Elbe became more intensively used as a trade route, into a fortified site that dominated the north of their territories, controlling the Elbe above Pirna, and an outpost of strategically important Dohna Castle located in the nearby Müglitz.
After the king and later emperor, Charles IV had Eulau Castle, which dominated the southern region, destroyed in 1348 by townsfolk from Aussig, he spent from 5 to 19 August 1359 on the Königstein and signed the authority for shipping rights. The castle was pledged several times in the 50 years that followed, including to the Donins. Because this family were enemies of the margraves of Meißen, the latter finally captured the castle in 1408 during the Dohna Feud that had been raging since 1385. But not until 25 April 1459 was the transfer of the castle to the Margraviate of Meißen finally completed once the Saxon-Bohemian border had been settled in the Treaty of Eger. Unlike the other rock castles in Saxon Switzerland the Königstein continued to be used by the Saxon dukes and prince-electors for military purposes. At one stage the Königstein was also a monastery. In 1516, Duke George the Bearded, a fierce opponent of the Reformation, founded a Celestine abbey on the Königstein, the Kloster des Lobes der Wunder Mariae. It closed again in 1524 - after the death of Duke George, Saxony became Evangelical.
It is probable that there had been a stone castle on the Königstein as early as the 12th century. The oldest surviving structure today is the castle chapel built at the turn of the 13th century. In the years 1563 to 1569 the 152.5metre deep well was bored into the rock within the castle - until that point the garrison of the Königstein had to obtain water from cisterns and by collecting rainwater. During the construction of the well some 8 cubic metres of water had to be removed from the shaft every day.
Between 1589 and 1591/97 Prince-Elector Christian I of Saxony and his successor had the castle developed into the strongest fortification in Saxony. The hitherto very jagged table hill was now surrounded with high walls. Buildings were erected, including the Gatehouse (Torhaus), the Streichwehr, the Old Barracks (Alte Kaserne), the Christiansburg (Friedrichsburg) and the Old Armoury (Altes Zeughaus). The second construction period followed from 1619 to 1681, during which inter alia the John George Bastion (Johann-Georgenbastion) was built in front of the Johann-Georgenburg. The third construction period is seen as the time from 1694 to 1756, which included the expansion of the Old Barracks. From 1722 to 1725, at the behest of August the Strong, coopers under Böttger built the enormous Königstein Wine Barrel (Königsteiner Weinfass), the greatest wine barrel in the world, in the cellar of the Magdalenenburg which had a capacity of 249,838 litres. It cost 8,230 thalers, 18 groschen and 9 pfennigs. The butt, which was once completely filled with country wine from the Meißen vineyards, had to be removed again in 1818 due to its poor condition. Because of Böttger, Königstein Fortress is also the site where European porcelain started.
Even after the expansion during those periods of time there continued to be modifications and additions on the extensive plateau. St. John's Hall (Johannissaal) built in 1631 was converted in 1816 into the New Armoury (Neues Zeughaus). In 1819 the Magdalenenburg castle was turned into a provisions magazine that was fortified to withstand bombardment. The old provisions store became a barracks. The Treasury (Schatzhaus) was built from 1854 to 1855. After the fortress had been incorporated in 1871 into the fortification system of the new German Empire, battery ramparts (Batteriewälle) were constructed from 1870 to 1895 with eight firing points, that were to have provided all-round defence for the fortress in case of an attack that, in the event, never came. This was at this time that the last major building work was done on the fortress.
Because Königstein Fortress was regarded as unconquerable, the Saxon monarchs retreated to it from Wittenberg and later Dresden during times of crisis and also deposited the state treasure and many works of art from the famous Zwinger here; it was also used as a country retreat due to its lovely surroundings.
The fortress played an important role in the History of Saxony, albeit less as a result of military action. The Saxon Dukes and Prince-Electors used the fortress primarily as a secure refuge during times of war, as a hunting lodge and maison de plaisance, but also as a dreaded state prison. Its actual military significance was rather marginal, although generals such as John Everard of Droste and Zützen (1662–1726) commanded it. For example, Prince-Elector Frederick Augustus II could only watch helplessly from the Königstein during the Seven Years' War, when right at the start of the war in 1756 his army surrendered without a fight to the Prussian Army at the foot of the Lilienstein on the other side of the Elbe. The commandant of the fortress from 1753 was the electoral Saxon Lieutenant General, Michael Lorenz von Pirch. In August 1813 the clash at Krietzschwitz took place in front of its gates, an engagement that proved an important precursor to the Battle of Kulm and the Battle of Leipzig.In October 1866 Alexander von Rohrscheidt (1808–1881) was nominated as commandant of the fortress. It lost its military value with the development of long-range guns at the beginning of the 19th century. The last commandant of Königstein Fortress was Lieutenant Colonel Heinicke who commanded it until 1913. The fortress had to guard the Saxon state reserves and secret archives during times of war. In 1756 and 1813 Dresden's art treasures were also stored at the Königstein. During the Second World War the large casemates of the fortress were also used for such purposes.
The fortress was never conquered, it had too much of a chilling reputation after it had been expanded by Elector Christian I. Only the chimney sweep, Sebastian Abratzky, managed to climb the vertical sandston...