02 Dec 2021

How the Rhine Gorge became one of the most romantic places in the world

cream coloured castle on top of a hill with green foliage surrounding, and slightly cloudy blue skies cream coloured castle on top of a hill with green foliage surrounding, and slightly cloudy blue skies

River Cruising

Central Europe

History & Culture

You've probably heard Europe's Rhine River being referred to as 'romantic,' and given that it weaves in and out some of the world's most remarkable cities and beautiful landscapes, it's most definitely a waterway that can inspire love and romance.

But did you know that when we say the 'Romantic Rhine', we don't mean romance in the modern Hollywood sense? In fact, falling in love with another person doesn't have much to do with how this stunning river received its famous moniker. Instead, the name comes from the Romanticism movement which occurred throughout Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was an intellectual movement greatly concerned with the preservation of the natural world, individualism and critiquing the burgeoning modernity which came in the form of both industry and scientific thought.

For the Romantics, the castles along the Rhine Gorge, as well as the lush vineyards and rolling countryside running alongside it, hearkened to a better, more innocent time. An appreciation for the region's natural beauty and cultural history found its way into their timeless works of art, literature, music and philosophical thought. Even today, it's not hard to understand why these intellectuals became so enamored with the Rhine Valley. When you travel here for yourself, it will not surprise you that the Rhine Gorge (or, Upper Middle Rhine Valley) is in its entirety a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site.

Are you thinking of embarking on an immersive river cruise to discover the romance of the Rhine for yourself? In the following article, you'll have the chance to dive into the fascinating history of Rhine Romanticism, uncover some of the waterway's most cherished sites, and get inspired for your next adventure with Emerald Cruises.

"Art is in itself noble; that is why the artist has no fear of what is common." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Welmich Burg Maus, Germany Welmich Burg Maus, Germany
Welmich Burg Maus, Germany

From the Industrial Revolution to Romanticism 

When the Industrial Revolution swept across Europe in the mid and late 18th century, it brought along with it a major switch from an agricultural way of life to urban life. As factories began to replace fields, populations began migrating en masse to cities. At the same time, an increase scientific rationalism and scientific positivism (the belief that all phenomena can be explained by scientific deduction) began to reduce the magic of the natural world to series of explainable events. And while this brought along much advancement and ingenuity, it also left many feeling alienated from nature, emotions and their heritage. It was at this time where the movement of Romanticism was born. Primarily beginning as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution in England, the first Romantics were often writers and painters whose goal was to capture the beauty of the natural world as smoke stacks and bustling city centres began to appear. They argued that modernity needed progress cautiously and that the conservation and preservation of culture, individuality and ecology was vital. Often, the Middle Ages were idealised as a time of bliss and harmony between art and nature.

By the early 19th century, Romantic philosophy had spread to the European continent. The Rhine became a popular tourist destination for those seeking a glimpse into a more romantic past, and many travel guides and works of art were published which fueled a burgeoning appreciation for the waterway. The aristocracy of Europe also became enamored with Romanticism, as their wealth and ownership over many of the medieval sites began to inspire restoration projects along the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. Old ruins throughout the region gave way to impressive Gothic palaces, cathedrals and castles which in turn became the focus for brilliant pieces of art and literature.

Rhine Romanticism helped usher in a new era of restoration, appreciation and conservation for the German Rhine Gorge and bring forth many of the wonders we marvel at today. Below are some of our favourite architectural masterpieces that capture this incredibly significant movement. 

Stolzenfels Castle, Koblenz Stolzenfels Castle, Koblenz
Stolzenfels Castle, Koblenz

Stolzenfels Castle, Koblenz 

Sitting at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers, the German city of Koblenz acts as the gateway to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. As you pass through this once Roman settlement, you'll be met with a wealth of fascinating historical monuments. Of them, is the ever-inspiring Stolzenfels Castle. Constructed as medieval fortress in the 13th century, it had by the 19th century become merely a pile of ruins. Then, in 1823, the ruins were gifted to the Crownprince Frederick William IV of Prussia. Taken aback by the Rhine's natural beauty and cultural significance — and in the spirit of Romanticism— Frederick had the ruins rebuilt in the Gothic tradition to reflect Koblenz's medieval heritage. Many say that Frederick's fascination with Romanticism, and his desire to rebuild these riverside ruins into his Gothic masterpiece was inspired by his cousin's Romantic renovation of the Rheinstein Castle. 
Rheinstein Castle, Trechtingshausen Rheinstein Castle, Trechtingshausen
Rheinstein Castle, Trechtingshausen

Rheinstein Castle, Trechtingshausen 

Just to the south of Koblenz, along the winding course of the Rhine, sits the small town of Trechtingshausen. Nestled within a prominent wine-growing region and set against the stunning Bingen Forest, this medieval enclave is worth exploring. Like Koblenz, Trechtingshausen is home to a castle from the Middle Ages that was saved during the height of the Romantic period. Originally called the Fatzberg Castle, when Crownprince Frederick William IV's cousin, Prince Frederick William Louis, purchased it in the 19th century, it was also in ruins. Yet, the desire to emulate the architectural wonders of the Rhine which stood centuries prior led to the immaculate restoration which you can still enjoy today. A nod to the region's viticulture, the renamed Rheinstein Castle is home to the famous courtyard, the Burgundy Garden. Named after the Burgundy grapevine which grows throughout the courtyard, it is said that this vine itself is over 500 years old and still produces grapes to this day. 
Marksburg Castle, Braubach Marksburg Castle, Braubach
Marksburg Castle, Braubach

Marksburg Castle, Braubach 

Constructed in 1117, the Marksburg Castle is one of the oldest medieval castles still standing in Europe. In fact, it is one of only two castles along the Rhine Gorge which has never fallen in disrepair or been completely destroyed. It was, however, modified throughout the ages as it tended to always serve its owners a purpose. By the Romantic period, the castle was actually under the rule of Napoleon and used as a hospital and military prison. Still, it was regarded as an architectural and historical marvel — even mentioned along with the town of Braubach which it overlooks in Victor Hugo's 19th century travel guide, Le Rhin. 
Werner Chapel, Bacharach Werner Chapel, Bacharach
Werner Chapel, Bacharach

Werner Chapel, Bacharach

At the end of the 18th century, the German town of Bacharach had become unknown to the world. Once relatively prominent for its strategic location and its harbour on the Rhine, years of war and French occupation left it almost a ghost town. However, beginning with a jubilant visitor in Victor Hugo, the 19th century saw Bacharach get caught up in a wave of Rhine Romanticism. Writers and painters began to flock to the town to celebrate its historical significance, cultural perseverance and beautiful countryside. Renowned Romantic poet, Heinrich Heine, used the town as subject for his 1840 poem Der Rabbi von Bacherach to much acclaim. Pictured here is part of the breathtaking Werner Chapel which was itself saved and restored during this period of revitalization. 
Emerald Sky, Rhine River Emerald Sky, Rhine River
Emerald Sky, Rhine River

Experience the Rhine Valley with Emerald Cruises 

Like stepping into a fairytale, there's perhaps no better way to experience the Romanticism of Europe than on an inspiring river cruise through the Rhine Gorge. Your Emerald Cruises Star-Ship will introduce you to the many riverside wonders which have long served as a romantic inspiration. 

Receive your complimentary brochure and start looking forward to a range of immersive excursions, a wealth of inclusions and the delicious on board meals which all make up the Emerald Cruises experience. 

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