Age: approximately 800 years (2018 will mark the 700th anniversary of the first historical reference)
Famous residents: Count Jeschke von Donin was the lord of the manor who, sometime in the early 15th century, initiated the legendary Dohna feud by boxing the ears of Rütschel von Körbitz, a member of the Meissen nobility. This eventually led to his downfall and the end of his family line. The castle passed into the ownership of the House of Wettin, and over 400 years later, King Johann of Saxony translated Dante’s La Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy) into German here.
Affairs of the heart: In 1837, when 17-year-old Clara Wieck fell in love with Robert Schumann, her father Friedrich sent her to stay with the Serre family in Maxen. Not such a good idea, as the Serres were supportive of the young lovers. After her marriage to the composer, Clara Schumann would often visit the Serres in Maxen and also the nearby castle of Weesenstein.
Disasters overcome: Large display panels in the castle grounds show what it looked like after the 2002 flood. It is hard to believe that such devastation has healed over without a trace.
Modifications: In its long history, the castle has undergone changes reflecting almost every architectural epoch: the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical styles have combined to give the building its unique character.
Romance factor: High, because the location of the castle in the valley of the Müglitz is so idyllic. And because, within the overall symmetry of the Baroque castle grounds, there are still some secluded corners to explore.
Horror factor: High, because the many modifications have created numerous enclosed spaces, walled-up rooms and hidey-holes. The original Count von Donin is said to haunt the castle.
Surprise factor: Over the centuries, the castle gradually expanded down from the original fortress on a rocky promontory to the Orangerie in the valley below. That is why you will find the stables on the third floor and why the vaulted cellar is on the fifth floor above the banqueting hall on the fourth.
Age: more than 800 years
Famous residents: Countess von Cosel (again!). In 1716, when August the Strong eventually decided to rid himself of his mistress Anna Constantina Countess von Cosel, he banished the 36-year-old to Burg Stolpen. She was not allowed to leave the castle until her death in 1765.
Affairs of the heart: The only known romantic connection is this sad end to a tempestuous relationship.
Disasters overcome: The castle was strategically important and frequently came under siege, but until the 18th century, the ‘only’ damage it suffered was from fire. In 1757, however, bombardment by the Prussian army rendered it unusable. When the French army under Napoleon retreated from the Russian campaign via Saxony in 1813, they also blew up the castle.
Modifications: Because of the destruction over the ages, sections of the castle have had to be constantly rebuilt, yet it has never lost its military defensive appearance.
Romance factor: The fate of Countess Cosel seems the very negation of romance, and yet the location of the castle on a basalt outcrop surveying the hilly landscape of the so-called ‘Saxon Switzerland’ could not be more picturesque.
Horror factor: Low, because the resident ghost (name: Basaltus) was long ago recruited to the educational department of the local history museum where he tells visiting children about the castle and the town.
Surprise factor: When you climb to the top of the Johannisturm tower and look down on the basalt columns below, you can see that they are mostly pentagonal and hexagonal in shape. ‘Stolpy’ is a Slavonic word for ‘columns’, and this is the origin of the name for the castle.
Age: The first historical reference dates back nearly 800 years.
Famous residents: The use of the fortress as a prison is responsible for its roll call of celebrity (and involuntary!) inhabitants: Johann Friedrich Böttger, Michael Bakunin, Frank Wedekind and August Bebel were among the inmates.
Affairs of the heart: In 1940, the French army general Henri Honoré Giraud, who was held there as a prisoner of war, became the only person in the long history of the fortress to escape. This was thanks to the food parcels sent to him by his wife – wrapped with copious lengths of twine and copper wire. Giraud spent two years patiently fashioning the rope he used in his escape.
Disasters overcome: The walls of the fortress were never breached and never destroyed. It proved to be so secure that the Saxon prince-electors and kings regularly sought refuge there. During the Great Northern War, the Seven Years War, the Napoleonic Wars and World War II, the fortress was used for safe storage of documents from the state archives and art treasures.
Modifications: In 1589, Prince Elector Christian I of Saxony began work on building the castle keep of the Königstein fortress. The walls, the gatehouse (including a new entrance), the armoury, the Christiansburg, the weir and the old barracks were constructed. Elector Johann Georg was responsible for the next spurt of building in the 17th century: the Georgenburg was given its Renaissance facade and the Johannissaal was built onto the gatehouse.
Romance factor: Nowadays high, because the fortress is a magnificent vantage point from which to survey the valley of the Elbe. When it was still used as a military redoubt, the garrison would have had little enthusiasm for admiring the scenery.
Horror factor: One of the page boys was taught a lesson he would not forget. After he was discovered in a drunken stupor on the ledge of the Christiansburg, Elector Johann Georg II had the boy tied up and then roused with a trumpet blast. On waking, the page stared down into a 40-metre-deep abyss. This spot is now known as Pagenbett, meaning the page boy’s repose.
Surprise factor: The only successful ‘invasion’ of the fortress was accomplished by an 18 year-old chimney sweep called Sebastian Abratzky. In 1848, he made an unaided ascent via the route now known as the Abratzky-Kamin and climbed over the wall. It is a popular challenge for modern-day rock climbers and has been classified as a Grade 4 ascent.
Age: 550 years (built 1471 – 1483 by Arnold von Westfalen)
Famous residents: The brothers Duke Albrecht the Bold and Elector Ernst of Saxony had the castle built as their joint seat of power during the double regency over Saxony, but they actually lived there for only two years. The brothers then went their separate ways. Albrecht opted to establish himself in Dresden where he founded the Albertine line.
Affairs of the heart: When the prince-electors of Saxony entered into marriage, their choice of spouse was always determined by political considerations. Love was of secondary importance. But Ernst, the founder of the Ernestine line, was indeed happy with his wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria.
Disasters overcome: No issues to report.
Modifications: Because no-one made the castle their permanent residence, it is one of the very few surviving examples of a late-Gothic castle. The most significant change was brought about by August the Strong in 1710, when he transferred his porcelain manufactory to the castle. After this was moved to a new purpose-built factory in 1864, a history appreciation society campaigned for the castle to be turned into a museum. King Johann of Saxony commissioned the series of historical paintings illustrating the House of Wettin that now adorn the walls.
Romance factor: The historical circular route around the castle hill affords panoramic views across the Elbe Valley. The castle itself with its exhibitions on history and porcelain production is a trove of knowledge.
Horror factor: Low, because any ghosts will have lost the will to live after so many centuries without any permanent residents to haunt.
Surprise factor: To avoid discord between the craftsmen working on the construction of the Albrechtsburg, Arnold von Westfalen paid the masons and the men laying the stones at the same rate – which considerably enhanced the prestige of the latter. This fostered a harmonious interaction between the two trades, which is reflected in the external appearance of the castle.