dinsdag 21 augustus 2012

Germany, Upper Middle Rhine Valley

The 65km-stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley, with its castles, historic towns and vineyards, graphically illustrates the long history of human involvement with a dramatic and varied natural landscape. It is intimately associated with history and legend and for centuries has exercised a powerful influence on writers, artists and composers.

As one of the most important transport routes in Europe, the Middle Rhine Valley has for two millennia facilitated the exchange of culture between the Mediterranean region and the north. It is an outstanding organic cultural landscape, the present-day character of which is determined both by its geomorphological and geological setting and by the human interventions such as settlements, transport infrastructure, and land use that it has undergone over 2,000 years. As a result, it is an outstanding example of an evolving traditional way of life and means of communication in a narrow river valley. The terracing of its steep slopes in particular has shaped the landscape in many ways for more than two millennia. However, this form of land use is under threat from today's socio-economic pressures.
The appearance of the Middle Rhine Valley is characterized by the interaction between its physical natural features, the human interventions, and its 'tourist' image. In the 65 km stretch of the valley the river breaks through the Rhenish Slate Mountains, connecting the broad floodplain of the Oberrheingraben with the lowland basin of the Lower Rhine.
At the 5 km long Bingen Gate (Bingen Pforte), widened in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Rhine enters the upper canyon stretch of the river. Just before the Gate there are two small towns: Bingen on the left bank noteworthy for 'political' symbols, Rüdesheim on the right dominated by the 12th-century Brömserberg fortress. The vineyards of the Rüdesheimer Berg are among the best in the Rheingau. After the Bingen Gate comes the 15 km long Bacharach valley, which is indented with smaller V-shaped side valleys. The small town of Lorch extends at right angles to the Rhine up the valley, lined with terraced vineyards. It is notable for its fine Gothic parish church of St Martin. Bacharach, at the entrance of the Steeger valley contains many timber-framed houses and retains its medieval appearance. Kaub and its environs contain a number of monuments, among them the Pfalzgrafenstein castle, the town wall of Kaub itself, and the terraced vineyards, created in the Middle Ages. Oberwesel has preserved a number of fine early houses, as well as two Gothic churches, the medieval Schönburg castle, and its medieval town wall.
The valley landscape begins to change at Oberwesel with the transition from soft clay-slates to hard sandstone. The result is a series of narrows, the most famous of which is the Loreley. This stretch of river was once hazardous for shipping and is reputed to be the place where the fabulous treasure of the Niebelungs lies hidden. Across the river on the right bank is St Goarshausen, with its castle of Neu-Katzenelnbogen. The third Katzenelnbogen fortress is Burg Reichenberg; its design suggests that it may have been inspired by Crusader fortresses in Syria and Palestine. Bad Salzig on the left bank marks the beginning of the section known as the Boppard Loops (Bopparder Schlingen). On the right bank is the twin town of Kamp Bornhofen.
Located at the start of a horseshoe loop in the river, Boppard originated as a Roman way-station, and was replaced in the 4th century by a military fort. Beyond Boppard is Osterspai with its timber-framed houses from the 16th-18th centuries and a ruined moated castle. Oberspay and Niederspay have fused into a single town and contain more timber-framed houses than anywhere else on the Middle Rhine: there is a particularly fine group on the waterfront. On the left bank, Rhens is where the German Emperors were enthroned after being elected in Frankfurt and crowned in Aachen Cathedral. The fortress of Marksburg, along with Pfalzgrafenstein the only surviving medieval fortifications on the Middle Rhine, towers above Braubach. Although much altered after the coming of the railway in 1860, Lahnstein preserves its imposing parish church of St John the Baptist. The castle of Stolzenfels, which belonged to the Elector of Trier, was restored in 1835 by the Prussians. Of the buildings in Koblenz that survived severe aerial bombardment during the Second World War mention should be made of the Romanesque basilicas of St Kastor, Our Lady, and St Florin, and the New Castle, the first and most important early classicist building in the Rhineland.

There has been human settlement on the terraces of the Middle Rhine Valley since the last Ice Age. It came under Roman rule in the 1st century BCE, as a frontier province, and a military road was constructed on the left bank, linking military fortress and camps. The Rhine was also a major shipping route during this period, linking northern Europe with the Alpine massif and the Mediterranean lands, a role that exerted a major influence on the subsequent history of the Middle Rhine Valley.
There was continuity of settlement following the departure of the Romans in the 5th century. The Roman settlements were taken over by the Frankish kings and most of the area from Bingen downstream to Koblenz was crown property until well into the Carolingian era. However, the process of divesting the state of this property began in the 8th century and was not to be completed until the beginning of the 14th century. Much of it was donated to the church and the monastic orders. As bailiffs of the abbey of Prüm the Counts of Katzenelnbogen established control in the area around St Goar and Rheinfels, and this was to pass to the Landgraves of Hesse in 1479.
With the partition of Charlemagne's empire in 842 the left bank of the Rhine was assigned to the Middle Kingdom. Lorraine was not to be united with the East Frankish Kingdom until 925. It remained a heartland of royal power until the election of the Hohenstaufen King Konrad III in 1138. This saw the fragmentation of power in the Middle Rhine area, with parcels of land being distributed among the bishop-electors of Cologne, Mainz, and Trier and the counts palatine. Some forty castles were constructed between Bingen and Koblenz, as symbols of power and also as customs stations on this flourishing trade route. Towns such as Boppard and Oberwesel struggled to maintain their independent status as free towns, as testified by the remains of their defensive walls.

The Middle Rhine Valley was a core region of the Holy Roman Empire. Four of the seven Electors, the highest ranking rulers within the Empire, held portions of the area and it was here that they would meet to determine the succession.
Bacharach was the centre of the Rhine wine trade in the later Middle Ages. Vines had been cultivated on the lower slopes since Roman times, and this expanded greatly from the 10th century onwards. Some 3000ha of vineyards were under cultivation by 1600, five times as much as at the present time. The Thirty Years' War (1618-48) witnessed a substantial decline in viticulture, the land being converted partly into orchards and partly into coppice forest. The 14th-16th centuries were the golden age of art in the Middle Rhine, which saw the convergence of artistic influences from the Upper Rhine (Strasbourg) and the Lower Rhine (Cologne). Gothic masterpieces such as the Werner Chapel above Bacharach, the Church of Our Lady in Oberwesel, and the former collegiate church of St Goar date from this period.
Since the 17th century the Middle Rhine has been the scene of conflict between Germany and France. During the War of the Palatine Succession (1688-92) there was extensive destruction of fortresses and town fortifications, and much of Koblenz was destroyed. In the late 18th century the left bank of the Rhine became part of, first, the French Republic, and then the French Empire. This came to end in 1814, when the region came under Prussian rule. Extensive fortifications were constructed, including the fortress at Koblenz, and trade was fostered by the construction of the Rhine highway from Bingen to Koblenz, the widening of the shipping channel, the abolition of tolls over long stretches of the river, and the introduction of steam navigation. Railways were constructed on both the left and the right bank in the 1850s and 1860s.
A deliberate policy of promoting the Rhine as a "German" landscape was adopted by the Prussian state. This led to the renovation of fortress ruins in the Romantic style and the reconstruction of historic monuments, and also to the beginnings of the modern monument conservation movement.
The 20th century has seen major structural changes, notably the decline of the traditional winemaking sector and of mining and quarrying. Freight traffic has become concentrated on a small number of large harbours. The most important economic sector is now tourism. Ordinances of 1953 and 1978 have focused on the preservation of the cultural landscape, which is the main economic asset of the Middle Rhine.

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