Already build in 1489 built under Elector Frederick III, the princely residence became a political and intellectual powerhouse and stronghold of the Reformation. It was supported largely by the powerful princes of the House of Wettin. The electors’ claim to power is manifested in the structure itself.
The Wittenberg Castle complex was constructed in the previously neglected Wittenberg as a structural sign of dominion at the southwestern periphery of the mediaeval town fortifications. The three-winged complex represents the type of the first and most modern German castles.
In terms of the history of Central German art, architecture and religion, the paramount importance of Wittenberg Castle in unity with the Castle Church and the entire Castle Courtyard has been redefined as a result of the latest research. The castle was the scene of activities by Martin Luther and Georg Spalatin, protagonists of the Reformation. Prior to the construction of the Collegium Augusteum, the castle was home to the castle and university library. To this day, the castle testifies to the architectural transformations that occurred from the late Middle Ages through to modern times. Despite multiple renovations, it remains an authentic site of the events of the Reformation and the spiritual awakening in the age of the Renaissance, with implications that were felt right across Europe.
The construction of the castle was essentially completed with the vaulting of the Castle Church representing the north wing of the complex, in around 1506-1507. The church tower, which in 1996 was included along with the Castle Church as a World Cultural Heritage site, originally served as the residential tower of the elector John the Steadfast and was an integral part of the castle. This construction made the City of Wittenberg the central site of the Saxon dukes and electors; it made their home an electoral residence. The residence was associated with a religious centre of Catholic Christianity (All Saints Abbey [Allerheiligenstift]).
The world-historical uniqueness of the Wittenberg electoral residence is the result of the connections between the structure and the advent of the Lutheran Reformation. The activities of the electors and Martin Luther created linkages between power (castle), faith (church) and teaching (university). It was in Wittenberg that Luther shaped his criticism of the Roman Catholic Church and his new theology. Elector Frederick the Wise in particular tolerated, protected and promoted the critical professor of theology at his university. This made Wittenberg Castle the political centre of early Protestantism.
In the late 19th century, the young Wilhelmine Empire commissioned the restoration of the church as a sign of the new national culture of remembrance, and in a spirit of unity for German Protestantism.
Wittenberg Castle is an expressive urban testimony to the expansion of the city to become a residence of the House of Wettin under Elector Frederick the Wise. It is the architectural symbol for political protection of the Reformation by Ernestine politics and hence a significant witness to the social and political setting in which the Reformation was able to develop its efficacy. The period of construction of the Renaissance castle runs parallel to the start of the Reformation. This makes it a significant witness to the history of the Reformation, as well as to the history of architecture and urban development.
Wittenberg Castle is a symbol of one of the political and intellectual powerhouses and bastions of the Reformation, which would have been impossible if not for the support of the powerful princes of the House of Wettin. The builder, Frederick the Wise, was Martin Luther’s protector; at the same time, the elector offered the occasion which led to the Reformation: it was not by accident that Luther’s theses were posted on 31 October, as the following day, All Saints Day, marked the great pilgrimage to electoral treasure of relics that was housed in the castle. Another castle figure important for Luther was chancellor Georg Spalatin, who as a diplomat and scholar accomplished much on behalf of the political implementation of the Reformation. Another reason the proponents of the Reformation visited the castle was that it was also home to the university library. The complex is thus very closely associated with the biography of the reformer and with the emergence of the Reformation.
Curator of the Castle Church Ensemble
Schlossstraße 1, from 01 January 2017 Schlossplatz 1
06886 Lutherstadt Wittenberg