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Visiting Rothenburg: A Medieval City With Defensive Walls

I live in Houston and love writing reviews of the local restaurants and stores I visit with family and friends.

Rothenburg, Germany

Rothenburg, Germany

Historic Rothenburg, Germany

I enjoyed visiting historic Rothenburg, Germany, years ago with my good friend who lives in that European country. It is along the Tauber River and is an old walled city.

I have stayed in touch with her since my single days of living in the Texas Medical Center nurses' dorm. We both shared experiences of working in the operating rooms of Methodist Hospital, and we have also shared many good times after she returned to her home country of Germany, and with her frequent trips back to the U.S.

Keep reading as I will be sharing photos and some of the information that I learned about Rothenburg on our trip together to that remarkable city.

An Impressive Medieval City

Rothenburg goes back to the 10th century when the building of a castle took place on that location. By the 12th century, the erection of city walls took place. An earthquake in 1356 destroyed much of the city's fortifications, but people continued to rebuild.

Situated on a plateau at 1,275 feet above sea level with the River Tauber 180 feet below the city in a valley, Rothenburg became a defensive site. The city wall with towers, gates, and holes in the high walls gave good lines of vision to see and fight against any marauding armies. People there endured many wars, including The Thirty Years' War.

Fortunately, compared to so many other cities in Germany, the destruction of this attractive locale was spared during World War II by the orders of an American general. What was bombed was rebuilt in the old style, and because of its unique and historical nature, it lures worldwide visitors today.

My friend had visited Rothenburg previously and wished to share its captivating beauty as well as its antiquity with me on a one-day visit. After wandering the cobblestoned streets and enjoying what we got to do and see in one day, I would love to spend more time there someday and absorb more of its unique charm.

Master Builder's House

Did you notice the supporting figures on the front of the building on The Master Builder's House in the photo above? It was built in 1596 by Leonhard Weidner in a Renaissance style and is considered the finest private residence in Rothenburg. The figures of men and women represent the seven vices and virtues.

Inside the Master Builder's House (Baumeisterhaus, in the German language) is a beautiful private courtyard, and today it serves as a restaurant. Not only did we take a look at it, but my friend and I decided to have a meal there and enjoy viewing the interior architecture and decor a while longer while dining and taking a break from our walking around the city.

Herterichs Well with St. George's figure in Rothenburg

Herterichs Well with St. George's figure in Rothenburg

The Herterichs Well

Located in the marketplace (Marktplatz) is this Herterichs Well, or sometimes called St. George's well. In 1446, it supplied the city's water needs. Rothenburg's mason Christoph Körner lavishly decorated Herterichs well in 1608, and at its top is a statue of St. George.

This site has seen much action besides the drawing of water for the resident's needs. According to some literature that I picked up, it also was the site of gallows in the Middle Ages and a pillory. It is there that people would have had their heads and hands inserted into a wooden platform and remained there exposed to public scorn as punishment for supposed grievances or crimes.

It also was the site where shepherds danced to ward off the plague, a frightening occurrence that killed many people in earlier times. Now, the performance of a traditional shepherds dance happens several times a year in Rothenburg, paying respect to those past legends.

Ivy-clad building in Rothenburg

Ivy-clad building in Rothenburg

St. Jacob's Church

The high Gothic style of St. Jacob's Church (Jakobskirche, in German) dominates the skyline of Rothenburg. It was built in the 14th and 15th centuries and consecrated in 1448. The citizens of Rothenburg were the ones who raised the funding for this massive church which took well over one hundred years to build and lots of human power and expertise to construct.

The exterior is stunning with the lofty towers, steeples, pointed arches, and windows that rise towards the heavens in honor of God. But it is the interior of this church that is a "must-see" for any visitor to Rothenburg!

One could spend much time in this church marveling at all of the spectacular embellishments which contain, among other things, valuable stained glass windows. Some of them rise 46 feet in height above the main altar.

The Altar of the Twelve Apostles with carved figures and paintings is a gorgeous shrine in the nave (head) of the church flanked by seating for the choir on each sidewall. The choir stalls, which bear coats of arms of noblemen living in Rothenburg, and who have supported this church throughout the centuries, are interesting to view.

A massive 5,550 pipe organ must be something to hear! Unfortunately, it was not in use while we were visiting.

The Holy Blood Altar

There are other carvings of note and great beauty, but the stunning masterpiece of this church and one in which people come in droves to see is The Holy Blood Altar located upstairs in the west choir area. Why the name? There is supposedly a relic holding three drops of Christ's blood placed in rock crystal and inserted into a gold-plated cross.

The fantastic artistry of the noted woodcarver and artist Tilman Riemenschneider is the attraction worth the small amount of money charged to see it. Carved out of lime wood, it must have taken a considerable amount of dedicated time and effort to hand carve and assemble this gigantic altarpiece that is three-dimensional. People can walk around and admire it from all sides. The Last Supper portrayal, along with scenes of Christ entering Jerusalem, and his night spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, is there, among other things.

For those who wish to see this magnificent piece of artistry, take a look at the video inserted here. Any woodcarvers or lovers of wood carving artistry will be amazed!

Tilman Riemenschneider's Famous Carved Altar

Medieval Towers and Gates

The photo below shows one side of the 13th century Sieber's Tower (Siebersturm). It was the defense on the southern side of the city. As it grew, there were more defenses added further out. Rothenburg now has a series of gates and defensive towers, plus its wall encompassing much of the city.

Cobblestoned Streets

Notice how narrow the old cobblestoned streets between the buildings are? They were built long before the invention of gasoline-powered automobiles. Most people park outside of the city and walk to get around. The few cars that navigate the streets do so carefully amidst the many pedestrians.

A few tourists choose to get around by horse-drawn carriages or with bicycles. My friend and I did our sightseeing by walking and having good sturdy shoes on our feet to facilitate that process.


Rathaus is the name in German for Town Hall. This impressive Rathaus has three different architectural styles—Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque arcade.

Due to several fires over the years (one in 1240 and another in 1501), rebuilding has happened several times. The Renaissance and Baroque styles have been additions to the original Gothic part of the building, which blends into a harmonious style seen and appreciated today.

The Town Hall (Rathaus) in Rothenburg

The Town Hall (Rathaus) in Rothenburg

City Walls

Residents and visitors alike can get some daily exercise by hiking around the city's defensive walls. With steps going up and down in some places, it can be an aerobic workout.

People living there probably get used to the spectacular scenery. Others, like me, stopped and spent time gazing at the eye-catching wondrous sites around each twist and turn in the wall. Numerous portals allow one to look out at the surrounding countryside. The beautiful red roofs of the city are also a thing of beauty.

City Councillors' Tavern

This pretty building (in German, called 'Ratsherrntrinkstube') draws crowds of people six times every day when at specified times figures appear in the two windows and recreate a drinking feat which supposedly saved the city of Rothenburg from destruction back in 1631.

During the Thirty Years' War, General Tilly conquered the town. Ordinarily, it would have been plundered and destroyed, as was the custom back in those times. However, so the tale goes, if someone could consume a large tankard of wine in one gulp, the city would be spared. A former mayor of the town stepped up to the challenge and saved the day!

My friend and I stood among the crowds to view this show. It happens at the top of each hour from 11 AM to 2 PM, and again at 9 and 10 PM. Tilly is in the window on the left with Nusch (the former mayor) on the right.

On the City Councillors' Tavern, there are three clocks. A sundial is at the top with an eagle just below it. Next comes a calendar clock. The building of the city's official timekeeper clock took place in 1683.

Rothenburg on the Tauber

There is so much more to see and do in this beautiful German city dating back to the middle ages. One could easily spend many days there as I wish we could have done after spending only a few hours there.

In addition to the fascinating architecture, there are multiple other churches and sites of interest to see, plus institutions such as the doll and toy museum and the medieval crime museum, which could while away many hours.

There are numerous choices of lodgings and eateries. Perhaps with luck, my wish will come true, and I will return someday to see more of this walled, ancient city of Rothenburg on the Tauber. Thanks to my friend, I got to see this much and will always cherish the memories.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Peggy Woods