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Dilsberg a local history – millennium and more


The medieval fortification rises up from the conically peaked hilltop of Dilsberg, overlooking the charming Neckar valley. You can reach Dilsberg by car, public transport (bus 753) or on foot, e.g. via the Neckarsteig hiking trail. From the 16 metre high castle wall you have a splendid panoramic view over the Neckartal (Neckar valley), Odenwald (Odenwald forest) and Kraichgau (hilly region to the South).


Roman finds in the Dilsberg district and a Roman settlement in the neighboring Wiesenbach district suggest that Dilsberg once served as an observation and signal station for the Roman occupation force. The large ashlars of the castle also suggest the remains of an earlier Celtic or Alemannic refuge castle. However, the early historical beginnings of the Dilsberg as a fortification and residential settlement are as unclear as the exact interpretation of its name (“mountain of Thilicho”, or elongated mountain from the word root “diel” ). 

After the decline and destruction of the Roman Empire together with the migration of peoples, the Franks took over the rule of the region. They established an administration in the country and subdivided it into districts/counties and “Zenten” (judicial, military and administrative districts). Counts acted as commanders and judges.

Dilsberg MountainIn the period that followed, the German emperors always had to assert their power and rank against the princely and regional nobility, intent on expansion. The emperors from the Ottonian family relied on the church, whose dignitaries performed the offices and tasks of the empire and received possessions and privileges in return. The German Empire and the diocese of Worms thus laid the foundations for the development of rule on the lower Neckar. In 988, Emperor Otto III granted this bishopric the “Wildbann” (including the right to clear and settle forests) in the Wimpfener Forst along the Neckar between Neckargemünd and Wimpfen. This donation was of great importance, as it laid the spatial foundations for the later Unteramt Dilsberg. In 1156, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa granted his half-brother Conrad of Staufen the “Palatinate County of the Rhine”, in order to strengthen the Hohenstaufen claim to power. Conrad founded Heidelberg around 1170. Thus, the center of the Palatine possessions changed from the Lower Rhine to the lower Neckar region, with Dilsberg always being of special interest next to Heidelberg.

The Counts of Lauffen were an extremely influential noble family that played a significant role in the history of the empire around the time of 900-1100. After abandoning their castle near the neighboring village of Wiesenbach, they took possession of Dilsberg on behalf of the bishopric of Worms. There they built the castle in the 2nd half of the 12th century and cleared the forests. The elevation of the Dilsberg enabled a better control of the traffic routes, was supposed to strategically form a “barricade” in favor of the episcopal power against the Palatine countship forming in Heidelberg and to offer possibilities to influence the development of the lower Steinach valley (Schönau). In 1208 Dilsberg, which with its fortress dominated a large stretch of the Neckar valley, is mentioned for the first time as “Dilighesberch”, the residence of Count Boppo V of Lauffen. Presumably, the hamlets of Rainbach and “Reidenberg” already existed before the foundation of the castle, the latter was located west of today’s Dilsbergerhof.

After the extinction of the Lauffen family, Dilsberg Castle fell by succession to the Lords of Dürn, who had their heartland in the southern Odenwald (Walldürn). In reference to the old count title of the Lauffeners, who had had several manors, the claim was first made for Dilsberg to be an independent county in 1253. Boppo I of Dürn called himself “Count of Dilsberg” (Comes – latin: a non-hereditary court title of high rank) on his seal. However, his possessions and thus his power base were too small to enforce this claim; soon he became dependent on the Count Palatine. In 1287/88, Emperor Rudolf of Habsburg bought Dilsberg Castle from Count Boppo II of Dürn. This acquisition meant the strengthening of the long weakened imperial power in the lower Neckar region, because Dilsberg Castle was a small center visible from afar for the surrounding villages.

In the years 1310 to 1340, the authority and ownership of Dilsberg Castle passed to the Palatine counts. The Palatine administrative authority is documented for the first time in 1344. They thus had an important base for securing and expanding their sphere of power in the lower Neckar and Elsenz regions. In front of the castle complex, Elector Ruprecht I founded the town of Dilsberg. The inhabitants of the neighboring hamlets of Rainbach and Reidenberg had to give up their dwellings and settle within the new city walls.

Due to the lack of suitable conditions for traffic and trade, and because the Electoral Palatinate restricted rather than encouraged the development of an urban self-government, a “town of Dilsberg” in the full legal sense could not develop. In later times, Dilsberg was only referred to as “Burgflecken”. The small town had above all to strengthen the fortress, to accommodate the Heidelberg court in times of war, was the starting point of Electoral Palatine pageants and had a prison. Here was also the administration of the Electoral Palatinate properties and the cellar – not wine cellar! – over the elector’s own villages in the area of the Meckesheim Zent. The “Keller” (from lat.:cellerarius) was the administrator of the Dilsberg domain and also headed the civil administration and the Unteramt of the Oberamt Heidelberg. The Unteramt emerged from the Kellerei, whose initially purely economic competences developed into a sovereign-state function. The area of jurisdiction of the Dilsberg sub-office included the Meckesheim Zent* (since 1329) and the Reicharthäuser Zent* (since 1401). It is only with the latter date that one can speak of the elevation to a sub-office. In the 17th century, Dilsberg Castle, by now one of the strongest fortresses in the lower Neckar valley, was one of the most hotly contested fortifications. Thus Dilsberg was not spared from the 30-year war (1618-1648). Dilsberg, which like Heidelberg was on the side of the Reformation, was besieged by the imperial commander Tilly in 1621; capitulated in 1622 after the conquest of Heidelberg. After recapture by the Swedes and renewed conquest by imperial troops, Dilsberg was returned to the Electoral Palatinate in 1648 and subsequently the town survived the conquest by Melac’s troops in the War of the Palatinate Succession unscathed.

In 1799, French revolutionary armies tried in vain to conquer Dilsberg. This was the last time that the military importance of Dilsberg for the Electoral Palatinate was documented. The conquest of the country starting from the Napoleonic wars meant the end of the Electoral Palatinate. Dilsberg fell to the new state of (Electoral) Baden. The Unteramt was dissolved and divided between the offices of Neckargemünd and Schwarzach. Now the question arose as to the further use of the castle. From 1804 it was designated for the detention of delinquent soldiers. As early as 1822 – 26, however, it was released for demolition for private purposes (extraction of building material), the Count’s Palace was removed except for the vault, the new official house (from about 1750) was removed completely, the mantle wall and the outer castle were partially removed.

As a result of the generally poor living conditions and also because of the loss of the Unteramt, Dilsberg became more and more impoverished, so that numerous families emigrated to America. The main occupation in Dilsberg at that time was agriculture. Many also worked in small trades and in the quarries of the Neckar valley. During this time, renowned painters such as Fohr, Rurner, Graimberg and Weysser discovered the beauty of Dilsberg and its landscape. The beginnings of tourism and the late romantic appreciation of German “castle lordship” in the Wilhelmine period led to a partial restoration of the castle. Dilsberg became a popular destination for students and the youth and hiking movement, which created accommodation in the gate tower. Economic development continued to stagnate. A great challenge was the relatively high allocation of displaced persons after the end of World War II: With about 1060 inhabitants, more than 350 refugees (34%!). Until the mid-60s of the 20th century, new building areas were developed outside the city walls; the historic center of the village thus lost its significance as an inner-city center. A fundamental improvement of the water supply, which had been difficult for centuries, was only brought about by the connection of the Dilsberg water network to the town of Neckargemünd around 1964. The implementation of the land consolidation in the district around Dilsbergerhof also took place during this time.

Subterranean well passageway

One of the most attractive sights in the castle grounds is the subterranean well, which is easily accessible via an 80 metre long passageway during the summer months. This passageway was dug into the mountain in the mid-17th century. According to recent scientific findings, the passageway was constructed as a ventilation shaft for the workers deepening the well from 25 to 46 metres. Thus, the original assumption of the passageway being an escape route has been proven wrong. In 1896, this passageway to the well was rediscovered by the German-American Fritz von Briesen, who read about it in Mark Twain’s “A Tramp Abroad“. In 1926 von Briesen made the re-opening of the passageway possible with his financial support. During the winter months it is the habitat for rare and critically endangered bat species.

Tales and Legends

The romantic ruins of the Dilsberg fortress carry you off into the enchanting times of tales and legends. Just take the ‚Bienengärtlein‘ (garden of bees), which is a reminder of the unconventional defence of the fortress with the help of beehives. Or the rosebush within the castle courtyard, which recalls the tragic tale of the ´Rose von Dilsberg´ (Rose of Dilsberg), daughter of the Count of Lauffen, who was the subject of a mortal struggle between two knights. The Burgbühne Dilsberg (theatre group) brings this traditional tale to life in its open-air performance next to the tall curtain walls of the fortress: an unforgettable experience.


In 1973, the local council and citizens decided by a narrow majority to incorporate Dilsberg into Neckargemünd. Due to its proximity to Heidelberg and the beautiful landscape, Dilsberg has developed into a desirable residential community with a high recreational value. The numerous music clubs and choirs, the castle stage with its repertoire, the district cultural foundation in the Kommandantenhaus and many more offer a top-class program all year round and establish Dilsberg’s reputation as a center of art and culture in the Rhine-Neckar region. Every year, more than 100,000 visitors enjoy the special scenic and architectural features of the mountain village.

The central town of Neckargemünd, only 4 km away, is also worth visiting. More than 1000 years old, this historic place can be discovered on a sightseeing walk passing splendid half-timbered houses and winding alleys from the Middle Ages. 

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