Just 10 km away from the Bastei Rocks you will find yourself in close proximity to the small town of Königstein. Atop the table hill bearing the same name, lays the Königstein Castle, Germany’s largest fortification. Rising 240 meters above the over the river, the 24 acres rock plateau offers stunning views the Elbe Valley and the villages around.
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A Brief History of Königstein Fortress
Königstein Fortress (or Festung Konigstein, as the Germans call it) started in the early 13th century as a medieval castle belonging to the Bohemian kingdom. In the 1400s the Saxon rulers conquered the castle and later on transformed it into a monastery.
In the mid 1500s by the order of Augustus, Elector of Saxony, a deep well (152 m) was drilled through solid rock on the site. That created an important condition for the construction of a fortress. The conversion of the castle into a fortress was done in 1589 by Elector Christian I, who continually improved the old armoury and the fortress’s defense.
The Many Roles of Konigstein
Due to its strategic position no enemy ever attacked the fortress. That made Königstein Castle a sure retreat for the Saxon rulers who often fled behind its thick walls in times of crisis.
Because they considered it unconquerable, the Germans often used the fortress as a hiding place. As a result, they stored here the state treasure, the secret archives and many works of art from the Zwinger Palace during the times of war.
Königstein was for the most part a prison. Until 1922 it was the most feared state prison in Saxony. During the two world wars the fortress served as a prisoner of war camp for the French and Russian officers. Later on, the fort became a military hospital.
Konigstein Fortress Today
In 1955 Festung Konigstein became a military and historical museum and has been since open to the public. The citadel is very well preserved and represents Saxony’s foremost tourist attractions, with 700,000 visitors per year.
The wall surrounding the fortress is 1.6 km long and 42 m high and was reinforced with palisades and watch towers. The enclosed area covers about 24 acres of wide green spaces, exhibitions and buildings.
There are currently around 50 buildings, some over 400 years old, displaying many types of architecture including the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The walk around the 2.2 km fortress wall offers breathtaking panoramic views of a large part of Saxon Switzerland.
Tips for Visiting the Fortress of Königstein
We visited the fortress in late fall, hoping to find less visitors around. Unfortunately, Königstein is one of the most visited places in Germany year round, so it is always crowded. It’s almost as busy as Neuschwanstein Castle. Trying to find the perfect moment for a picture is a real hassle.
The original access to the fortress was through a 16th century hoist, or via a very steep path on the western side of the mountain. You can still see the path today, but the hoist was replaced with a modern panorama elevator. There is no parking around the fortress.
The only motorized vehicles allowed are the tourist trains and the double-decker busses. Festung Express –a vintage-look double-decker bus– runs from the train station to just below the fortress entrance. Parking is adjacent to the station. You can also buy your bus/train tickets as well as entry tickets there.
You can also reach the fortress by foot from the center of the town. The slope is quite steep, but the road is well maintained and marked. Hiking to Konigstein Fortress takes about 40 minutes. So if you are ever in Dresden and have an extra day to spare, make sure you take a day trip to Konigstein Fortress.
I strongly recommend renting an audio guide which is available in several languages at the entrance. There are several restaurants in the fortress, a beer garden and some food kiosks. Food is mostly local Saxon cuisine, pretty heavy and hearty (mostly pork and potatoes).