Castle Hartenfels was constructed in Torgau, Germany, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a residence for the prince-electorates of Saxony. Situated on the Elbe River, the royal castle is the most visible building in Torgau, an early Renaissance jewel. In the 1500s, the town of Torgau was the political center of the Reformation, and the castle a historic participant in Europe’s religious schism. It was here that the first Protestant church in Europe was built. Martin Luther personally consecrated the castle church in 1544.
The Impossible Staircase and the Beautiful Window
In partnership with Ostdeutsche Sparkassenstiftung (East German Savings Bank Foundation) and Sparkasse Leipzig, WMF restored two of the castle’s notable architectural features: the Grosse Wendelstein (1533-37) and the Schöner Erker (1543-44).
The Grosse Wendelstein, also known as “the Impossible Staircase,” is a grand, enclosed spiral of stone steps, constructed without a central supporting column, in the castle’s main courtyard. The portal to the staircase is richly painted and ornamented with stone carvings depicting scenes from Saxony’s history and the Reformation. The restoration of the Grosse Wendelstein began in 1999, and in 2002 WMF supported the final phase of this project with the conservation of the elaborate sixteenth-century door surround and sculptural reliefs.
The Schöner Erker (“beautiful oriel”) is a two-story oriel with eight windows, framed in intricately carved sandstone, and also richly decorated. With WMF’s support, a conservation roundtable of international specialists convened in Torgau in 2004, and their recommendations guided the restoration of the Schöner Erker. The oriel, damaged by natural weathering and corroding iron, was disassembled, carefully cleaned and desalinated, and reassembled with some replacement parts. The project required two years of conservation work and was completed in 2011.
Today, the Grosse Wendelstein and the Schöner Erker are two of the most admired features of the Castle Hargenfels. With consistent stewardship and continued conservation, these sixteenth-century masterworks should survive for many years to come.