Eventually Hauptstraße opened up into a large and lovely square, the Marktplatz, with the Hercules Fountain in the center. In the Middle Ages, prisoners were chained to the fountain as punishment for their crimes.
The Hercules statue was added in the 18th century. It symbolizes the heroic efforts of the townspeople to reclaim their city after it was devastated by the French in the 17th century.
Marktplatz is dominated by the Heiliggeistkirche. The name is easier to remember if you break it down to its parts – Heilig (holy) + Geist (ghost) + Kirche (church) – or Church of the Holy Ghost.
Like other buildings in Heidelberg, especially at the university, Heiliggeistkirche is made of a red sandstone. The stone used in many German towns and cities was locally sourced, so buildings in each place have a distinctive look. Heidelberg’s buildings are a rich red orange. In the day’s bright sunlight, the church seemed to glow.
The Heiliggeistkirche was built over the course of 100 years starting in the mid-1300s over the foundation of what had once been a Roman Basilica. Compared to the outside, the inside was plainer than we had expected. While beautifully restored, the church seemed a little bare. We guessed Heiliggeistkirche once had been filled with paintings, sculpture, and magnificent decorations typical of a Catholic Church from the Middle Ages, and the church had later been stripped bare during the Protestant Reformation.
But the church’s history was more unusual. For over two hundred years, starting in around 1706, Heiliggeistkirche was both Protestant and Catholic. The cathedral was divided in half by a wall; Catholics occupied the front of the church where the altar was located, while the Protestants had the larger main area, the nave, where the congregation sits. In the spot where the wall had been, there was a plaque commemorating its removal in the 1930s. Today, Heiliggeistkirche is a Protestant Church only.
A tower was added to the church in the 1500s. You can climb it for a great view, but we decided move on since there was still a lot more of the city to see.
Heidelberg Castle sits high over the Marktplatz, perched on the side of the Königstuh, or Kings Mountain.
Built entirely of the local red sandstone, the enormous castle seems to watch over the town protectively.
Once a stunning Renaissance building, the castle was blown up by the French in the 18th century and was later destroyed by fire. In the 1900s, the ruin was discovered by artists, writers, and intellectuals. They found the hills, the river, and the castle ruin a source of inspiration. Apparently, being in pieces only enhanced the castle’s appeal.
To reach the castle, you can either ride the funicular or walk. We chose the hike, which was mostly uphill but only takes 15 minutes. And because it was such a beautiful day, we opted to visit the inside another time and tour the castle exterior.
The scale of the castle was even more impressive up close. It was partially destroyed and rebuilt several times before it was eventually damaged beyond repair. Townspeople used the stone from the castle to build their houses until the nineteenth century, when there was effort to preserve what was left. Empty holes in half-ruined walls, crumbling towers, and ash scars on the stone from past fires told the story of long-ago conflict.
From the ramparts, we enjoyed stunning views over the town and river below. Beside the castle, the gardens were full of people picnicking and enjoying the day.