900-year-old octagonal tower discovered at Neuchâtel Castle

octagonal tower

Remains of the well-preserved octagonal tower of Neuchâtel. © State Office for Monument Preservation and Archeology Saxony-Anhalt/ Dirk Höhne

At Neuenburg Castle in Saxony-Anhalt, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a rare octagonal fortified tower dating back to the Middle Ages. The tower, built around 1100, is exceptionally well preserved and is one of the oldest known examples of such polygonal towers. It was part of the fortification system of this castle along with a double wall, a rampart and a moat. The towers of the city wall of Constantinople could have served as a model for the octagonal towers, which were extremely rare at the time in the Holy Roman Empire.

Neuenburg Castle rises high above Freyburg in Saxony-Anhalt. The hilltop castle was once the largest castle of the Thuringian landgraves, one of the most influential noble families of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The Neuenburg was built by Count Ludwig the Springer at the end of the 11th century, making it one of the oldest surviving castles of the Thuringian landgraves. This castle complex is mentioned in several medieval sources as Castrum Nuwenburg or Novum Castrum. In terms of its importance, it was not inferior to other important castles such as the Wartburg, which was also built under Count Ludwig the Springer. The site of the nationally valuable cultural monument is to be expanded and further developed in the coming years.

Neuchâtel Castle
Neuenburg near Freyburg, situated high above the Unstrut valley. © State Office for Monument Preservation and Archeology Saxony-Anhalt/ Gunar Preuss.

Find at the ring wall

In preparation for this, archaeologists from the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archeology in Saxony-Anhalt (LDA) have been carrying out preliminary archaeological investigations on the Neuenburg site since 2022. Now the archaeologists have made an outstanding discovery on the site of the main castle. The research team came across the remains of an octagonal fortified tower on the eastern ring wall of the castle in the area of ​​the former bed room. The diameter of the octagonal tower is about ten meters, its walls are 1.70 meters thick and preserved up to a height of about 2.20 meters, as the archaeologists report. In the circular tower interior, floor remains and offsets of a staircase can also be seen.

Remains of another, comparable tower showed up about 50 meters to the south. A wall made of limestone gravel, an inner circular wall and an outer wall around six to eight meters in front of it date from the same period. Like the towers, these buildings were part of the fortifications of the medieval castle. In front of them was also a ditch about ten meters deep. The mighty fortification with the two octagonal towers must have been an imposing sight.

Rarity from the early era of such towers

What is special, however, is that the two octagonal defense towers were built around the year 1100, as determined by archaeologists. They and the fortification system associated with them come from the first expansion phase of Neuchâtel Castle. At the same time, the octagonal towers are significantly older than most such medieval polygonal towers. The shape of these defensive towers was long considered typical of the Staufer period from 1138 to 1254 and especially for the reign of Emperor Friedrich II. However, a few older examples of such polygonal towers are now known, as the State Office for Monument Preservation and Archeology explains. Nevertheless, these buildings from the castle construction of the Holy Roman Empire are still very rare.

The newly discovered octagonal tower on the Neuenburg is one of the few surviving polygonal towers from this early era. Other examples can be found in fortifications in Hilpoltstein in Franconia and in Sulzbach in the Upper Palatinate. They also date from around 1100 and are therefore about the same age as the tower now excavated at Neuenburg Castle. It is unclear why towers began to be built in this angular shape back then. According to one theory, corresponding church towers were the inspiration for these early octagonal towers. But it is also conceivable that the towers of the city walls of Constantinople served as a model. They may have so impressed the Crusaders of the First Crusade that they copied this tower design upon their return from the Holy Land.

Source: Saxony-Anhalt State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archeology

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