Sierck-les-Bains and the Dukes of Lorraine Castle (11th – 18thcenturies)
The true gateway to France, Sierck-les-Bains is located 40 km from Metz and 20 km from Thionville, at the crossroads to Germany and Luxembourg and in the immediate vicinity of the symbolic town of Schengen.
This truly green medieval and renaissance city is dominated by its fortified castle, the Castle of the Dukes of Lorraine (listed as a Historical Monument). Roughly ovoid in shape, it is strategically located on a rocky promontory sitting on the edge of a bend in the Moselle River and overlooked by three hills- Stromberg, Altenberg and Kirschberg.
The date of construction of the castle is unknown. It is said to be built on the remains of a Gallo-Roman castle but nothing remains today to verify this. The only thing we know for certain is that it was already built by the eleventh century. Nothing remains of the primitive castle. Undergoing constant redesign to keep up with advances in siege warfare (the emergence of artillery in particular), the castle in its present form dates back to the late fifteenth century, and includes buildings added during the eighteenth century.
The castle was one of the Dukes of Lorraines’ favourite residences from the very beginning, who often stayed with their court, in particular, Gerard IV, Duke of Alsace(1048-1070), Mathieu II (1220-1251), John I (1346-1390), Charles II (1390-1431), the husband of Margaret of Bavaria and even Charles IV (1624-1675).
In their absence, the castle was given to the Sierck family whose power grew stronger over several generations, reaching its peak in the fifteenth century with Arnold VI (1366-1455), Count of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire, the builder of Meinsberg Castle (today Malbrouck Manderen Castle), and his son Jacques Archbishop of Trêves from 1439 to 1456.
The town thrived up to the Thirty Years’ War, resulting in many commercial and craft business activity. Companies and shops such as butchers, drapers and tanners were established between the fifteenth and seventeenth century, giving the town a character that remains even today.
While trade and crafts are the main activities of this town of 1,735 inhabitants, the quality of its heritage, its land, its proximity to the river Moselle and its river tourism, the “Charles le Téméraire” bikeway crossing, its different festivals and public events, services, etc. are all attractions that regularly attracts athletes and visitors alike.
Visit of the castle of the dukes of Lorraine
The current site of the castle was chosen for strategic reasons.
Indeed, in the middle Ages, Sierck and the Duchy of Lorraine were part of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire. This fortress was therefore used to bar the route from the Rhine via the Moselle valley. The castle, owned by the Dukes of Lorraine from the 11th to the 17th centuries, was one of their favourite residences.
This historic monument is one of the only fortified castles in eastern France that still has its surrounding walls, casemates and even massive turrets in a very imposing condition. The citadel was remodelled on several occasions by Vauban and Cormontaigne.
The visitor can explore the castle by following a heritage trail (approx. one hour). The tour starts with the imposing gun tower in which the plans of the citadel can be found. After the access way, the Arsenal building (three storeys) and the castle’s oven. The redoubt tower (restored in 2012) enables the visitor to explore the casemated corridors, underground structures that lead to some novel discoveries. The visitor takes the allure, which encircles the citadel. On the southern side, the remains of the former 14th century castle, discovered during restoration work in 2010: an imposing tower 10 metres in diameter and part of the medieval curtain wall. Also worth noting is the restoration to their original state of the 18th century latrines, with their collection of furniture. On the southern façade, the allure that encircled the medieval town and the Schall tower (4 storeys), not to be missed.
Various exhibition rooms trace the history of the castle and the town. Apart from the heritage point of view, the castle is located in a remarkable natural setting: Valleys, forests, vineyards, rivers. The view over the Moselle Valley is exceptional and stretches as far as Germany and Luxembourg. In the heart of Europe, a stone’s throw from Schengen, the castle of the Dukes of Lorraine welcomes some 20,000 visitors each year to travel through 1,000 years of the history of Lorraine, France and Europe.