Saturday, March 26, 2016

Hello Châteaux: Castle Ruins in Dudelange

Samschdeg, 26 Mäerz.

Since arriving in Luxembourg last September, there have been a handful of cities and towns that have been on my 'must-visit' list because of their political significance (Schengen), their museums (Clervaux, Diekirch), or -- let's be honest -- their castles. Dudelange was NOT on this list.

Located just a fifteen minute drive from Esch-sur-Alzette and only a few kilometers from the French border, the town of Dudelange boasts a population of just under 20,000, a history as an important industrial center, and little else ... or so I thought. While aware that Dudelange was home to castle ruins, I knew little about the castle itself and assumed that it would pale in comparison to the châteaux forts in the north of the country. In fact, until today, the most exciting thing for me about Dudelange was its official Luxembourgish name: Diddeleng.

However, today's visit to Dudelange and the ruins of its medieval castle has forced me to consider that there may be more to this town than meets the eye!

This plaque imagines the castle in its 15th-century heyday. 



With Catherine, my fellow Fulbrighter and castle-exploring buddy!
  
My first surprise was learning that the castle ruins at Dudelange are not actually located within the town itself. Rather, they sit on the top of Mont St. Jean, a heavily-wooded hill that rises 400 meters above the town of Dudelange. 

Despite recent excavations, no one is quite sure when Mont St. Jean was first inhabited, although archaeological evidence points to some level of Gallo-Roman settlement. (Read: it's OLD.) Further research points to a certain Hugo of Dudelinga, whose name appears in a 1210 text, as the first lord of Dudelange. Later sovereigns included the Gymnich family (1248-1430), the Boulay family (1435-1466), the Hunolstein family (1466-1494), and the Isembourg family (1494-1553). Ya know, just in case you were wondering.

The current castle was built in the fifteenth century in order to provide protection to the inhabitants of the village below. From the size of the castle and the detailed masonry that remains, it is evident -- well, to archaeologists at least -- that the castle was quite the large and fancy place! King Francis I of France even stayed in the castle in 1543 while on his way to Luxembourg. Unfortunately, the castle was destroyed by French troops barely a century after its construction, in 1552. Over the centuries, stones were taken from the castle by villagers, who used the castle as a convenient quarry for their own homes!



We ate our picnic lunches in the remains of the palace, re-imagined in the drawing below.







The castle's current state is the result of a massive fourteen-year restoration that was completed in July 2015. According to the Luxemburger Wort, the restoration project was undertaken with the goal of correcting previous mistakes (including the use of concrete to stabilize the walls) and informing visitors through the installation of information panels.

Although the state of the ruins (in worse condition than the châteaux forts at Esch-sur-Sûre and Larochette) made it difficult to imagine the castle in its glory days, Catherine and I were both very impressed with the site at Dudelange ... and a little surprised that such a neat chapter of history could exist so close to home!

 


The castle is located on Mont St. Jean, or Gehaansbierg in Luxembourgish, and the religious connotation is still strong. The stone pillars pictured below and scattered around the site mark the Stations of the Cross, which were constructed in 1937 (although their current weathered state might suggest otherwise) and which are still used annually on the eve of the feast of St. John.

Although the Stations of the Cross are typically a relatively somber affair, the former celebrants of St. John's Eve were less restrained. The celebration, which occurs on June 24, was closely linked to pagan celebrations of Midsummer and usually involved fast-paced dancing rituals. (Interesting, no?!)



The site was originally home to a large church dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the outline of which can still be seen. However, this church was later destroyed in 1542 in order to help protect the castle by creating a clean line of sight from the castle walls. A new chapel was built in the 17th century and, after being attacked by revolutionary French soldiers in 1794, was later restored in the late 19th century. 

However, the most interesting element of the castle might be a certain strange structure of which an eagle-eyed reader might have already caught a glimpse! Tucked in between the castle ruins and the reconstructed chapel on the summit of Mont St. John is a truly bizarre addition to the medieval landscape: a concrete tower with panoramic views of Dudelange and the surrounding countryside. Or, if you ask me, a missing piece from the Hunger Games film set. (Doesn't it look just like a district watchtower?!)



Interested in visiting Buerg Diddeleng? (Literally laughed out loud just typing the word "Diddeleng." Oh boy.) While the tourist tour is open only during the summer, the castle ruins are open to the public and are accessible year-round. The castle is within a relatively quick walk of downtown Dudelange (which is, as it turns out, quite a nice town with a beautiful church, cute park, and -- most importantly -- a Fischer). However, it can be accessed even quicker by bus from Esch-sur-Alzette. I recommend taking Bus 4, which stops in Belval and at the Esch/Alzette train station, and getting off at the Dudelange Scherrwee stop; it's just a five minute hike to the castle!

If you are curious, you can learn more about Dudelange Castle by visiting the website of the Association des Châteaux Luxembourgeois, the tourism site of the Red Rock Region, and VisitLuxembourg.com. And, of course, you can click here to read about the other castles I have visited while in Luxembourg!

2 comments:

  1. I love saying dudelange! Is it doo-dah-lang? Too cute! And you're absolutely right about that tower and hunger games. What a nice hike!

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