Time & Trifels

Time & Trifels

19th century tourism

There’s nothing like visiting a building that is nearly one thousand years old to put things into perspective.

I can be impatient. If I have an idea to do something, I want to do it now*, even it could easily wait. Communication is now immediate; Amazon delivers overnight, and buildings can go up in a matter of weeks – but of course, it was not always so.

Yesterday we spent the Ascension Day holiday, perhaps rather appropriately, up a hill (three hills, actually) in the Pfalz. One of these hills is home to Burg Trifels (Trifels = Three cliffs), a castle with an impressive history.

Burg Trifels

It was elevated to an Imperial Castle by Frederick Barbarossa, the first Holy Roman Emperor, and at various times housed the Imperial Crown Jewels.  Considered the most impenetrable stronghold in the Empire, Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned here  after he was kidnapped returning from Jerusalem. His ransom was a whopping 23 tons of silver! After the castle fell into disuse, it was destroyed by fire, and was gradually rebuilt from the middle of the 19th century, most notably by the Third Reich, who were clearly enamored with it’s Imperial symbolism, and declared it to be a monument to the Empire. Suffice it to say that some aspects of the reconstruction are not necessarily “authentic”.

I find it interesting to contrast our rather contemporary attitude of preservation and authentic reconstruction with that of earlier times, who used the stone from the ruins to build other things, even though the building was already hundreds of  years old.

One thing that struck me was that the castle is, pretty much, in the middle of nowhere**. The town below it is very small, and the nearest cities (well, those of any importance in Medieval times) are at least an hour or more by car, whatever that translates to in “days ride”. Undoubtedly this was in it’s favour for use as the “Imperial Treasure Chest”, but it would mean that official correspondence could take days and weeks. Of course, this was normal; correspondence within a Kingdom or Empire, let alone “international post” could take months. Things just took time.

It all makes me question our high priority of speed, not only in communication, but in everything we do. Is it better to do less, and take more time and do it better? Are the things I’m doing significant, not just in terms of human history (and I don’t just mean on an Imperial-esque scale) but in view of eternity? Have certain technologies made me more impatient?

It seems to me that one of the great benefits of contemplating history is that it can (and should) cause us to question our present. In this culture of prizing youth, we ought not forget to heed the wisdom of the past. Perhaps we need to borrow some stones from the castles of history.


* This is clearly in direct inverse proportion to my propensity to procrastinate when I don’t want to do something.

** In comparison to the Imperial Castle in Nuremberg, which was a major medieval hub.

What do you think?