Kaiserpfalz Ingelheim

Das Kaiserpfalzgebiet heute mit 3D-Rekonstruktion der einstigen Pfalzgebäude. | Bild: Rath, bearb. Masswerke GbR, H. Grewe u. K. Matz © Kaiserpfalz Ingelheim
Das Kaiserpfalzgebiet heute mit 3D-Rekonstruktion der einstigen Pfalzgebäude. | Bild: Rath, bearb. Masswerke GbR, H. Grewe u. K. Matz © Kaiserpfalz Ingelheim

The history of the Imperial Palace

The town of Ingelheim (Rhineland-Palatinate) is located on the west bank of the Rhine, 15 km west of the state’s capital, Mainz, with a population of approximately 26,000. The district of Nieder-Ingelheim, which developed from the Ingelheim Kaiserpfalz and is today the site of its remains, lies on a lynchet of the Rhine-Hessian hill country covered with vineyards, facing the Rhine and the Rheingau mountains on the other side of the river.

The Ingelheim Kaiserpfalz was built at the end of the eighth century by Charlemagne (747/748-814) as a palace complex and then used by him and 17 other medieval kings as a ruling seat until 1375. During the Middle Ages, the empire was not ruled from one capital city or a fixed residence; instead, kings were permanently on the move, itinerant around the country from place to place. Palaces were spread all over the empire, forming a sort of network. The Kaiserpfalz is one of the most significant examples of this medieval itinerant kingship system as well as of Europe’s large scale architecture from the Early and High Middle Ages.

The architecture of the Ingelheim Kaiserpfalz is perceived as something particularly special.  Charlemagne was inspired by ancient Roman villas and palaces when designing the Ingelheim Kaiserpfalz, underlining the fact that he saw himself in the tradition of the Roman Caesars. It therefore is also a unique reference to Charlemagne’s decision to adopt ancient traditions at the court and to the Carolingian Renaissance. 

The palace enjoyed its most glorious period in the tenth century and the early part of the eleventh century, as it was hugely popular with the Ottonian kaisers’ as a place to stay and as a venue for imperial assemblies. Never before had rulers chosen to reside there so frequently, and it would never be favoured to the same extent in the future either.

In the twelfth century, the appearance of the palace changed significantly. The Staufen converted the prestigious, open complex of buildings into a fortress-like structure. Fortified towers, a surrounding fortified wall, and a moat were added to safeguard the palace from attacks and effectively protect the territorial policy of the Staufen.

The monument today

The Kaiserpfalz area was granted protected status in 1992. A year later the current research programme was initiated. The research programme encompasses archaeological and architectural field research, as well as making results available to the public through publications, museum presentations, multimedia information systems, and events. In 1999, a heritage tourism outline was approved, indicating that the remains of the Kaiserpfalz would be exposed and presented with information elements. Moreover, the standard of living in the district began to improve dramatically from 2001 onwards, due to urban redevelopment measures. Initiatives included compiling a design guideline, improvements to the area’s infrastructure, creating and modernising living space, redesigning roads, squares, and green areas, measures to reduce and slow down through traffic, and finally, the conservation of the district’s general appearance, which of course is characterised by the Kaiserpfalz.

Parts of the monument have been exposed through archaeological excavations and the demolition of severely dilapidated houses. To protect the remains of the palace for future generations, a monument conservation guideline has been drawn up, which e.g. prohibits (partial) reconstructions of the monument. In addition, the wall and foundation remains have been preserved in situ in the open air, as building protective coverings over them would have been irritating. To make ruins hidden beneath roads visible again, the ground level of the newer town was partly lowered to match the level of the medieval ruins. Information facilities were erected outside the ruins to ensure that the appearance of the historic complex wasn’t disturbed. The urban redevelopment measures contributed towards the conservation of the monument: When the roads in the Kaiserpfalz area were resurfaced, markings were added, which now highlight the course of walls located underneath the surface. The town has also supported and encouraged private property redevelopment work.

Research and Funding

In cooperation with the Generaldirektion Kulturelles Erbe Rheinland-Pfalz (bureau for the conservation of historic monuments in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate), the town of Ingelheim set up the Kaiserpfalz Research Centre to explore and develop the monument, and increase its value. The Research Centre is assigned to Ingelheim town council’s culture and tourism department and building and planning department. The team consists of archaeologists, art historians and cultural scientists. During technically challenging construction projects within the heritage structure the team was joined by an architect, who planned and oversaw these projects.
Funding has been provided by the town of Ingelheim, which was temporarily supported or is still being supported by the European Commission, Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz (German foundation for the preservation of historical monuments), Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma GmbH & Co. KG, as well as other valuable partners and sponsors.

Touristic development

The three main areas – Aula regia, the Saal Church, and Heidesheim Gate – are each examples for different periods in the Kaiserpfalz’ construction: The Aula regia (throne hall) represents the Carolingian era, the Saal Church represents the Ottonian period, and the Heidesheim Gate is a symbol of the Staufen. In each of these main areas, there are information boards, glass cabinets, and PC terminals, informing the visitors about the respective era. 

At the museum a permanent exhibition was set up. A model of the palace complex at a scale of 1:100, a walk-through reconstruction of a colonnade in the original size, and a digital reconstruction offer visitors an impression of what the Kaiserpfalz would have looked like in its day.

All the sites in the Kaiserpfalz area, from which historic ruins can be viewed, are also connected by a historic loop route. It includes 18 signposted information points. A guide brochure enables visitors to get to know the history of the palace independently.

Furthermore, an innovative information system for visitors was developed, the so-called “eGuide”.  The handheld computer uses GPS to navigate visitors around the outdoor areas. Built-in multimedia technology provides them with images and an audio commentary (in German or English). In addition, trained, certified guides are on hand to provide guided tours around the Kaiserpfalz.

A monument of European value

The Ingelheim Kaiserpfalz is not only an important historic monument for the town and region. The local council has decided that the Kaiserpfalz presentation and the monument’s use as a cultural event venue are permanent tasks for the municipality. Moderate, quality-oriented tourism, which doesn’t overwhelm the area but takes into account the monument and its special needs as both a residential and a protected area, is what the town is striving for. Touristic and commercial effects, which could emerge in the future due to the close vicinity of the UNESCO World Heritage Upper Middle Rhine Valley, are welcome but have to be in accordance with the heritage and the region.  The new modern uses of the monument will ensure that it doesn’t fade from the public’s awareness again and run into danger of being destroyed.

Furthermore the Kaiserpfalz is also a monument in the European context. The network of imperial palaces spanned the entire continent in the Middle Ages, and the Ingelheim Kaiserpfalz is one of only a few examples from this network which can still be viewed. Local visitors are not just being informed about the Ingelheim palace as an isolated monument. Instead, it is being portrayed as a ruling seat embedded in the empire of Charlemagne, an empire which encompassed most of today’s Europe.  Learning about this kingdom ruled by the Pater Europae dissolves the present borders separating the continent’s states, and one realises that Europe was already united once, more than one thousand years ago.   

Holger Grewe, Gabriele Blaski


Publ.: Holger Grewe, Palast – Ruine – Denkmal. Konzeptionelle Grundsätze für das Erforschen, Bewahren und Erschließen der Kaiserpfalz Ingelheim, in: Martin Müller, Thomas Otten, Ulrike Wulf-Rheidt (Hg.), Schutzbauten und Rekonstruktionen in der Archäologie – Tagung des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts und des Landschaftsverbands Rheinland am 21.-23.10.2009 in Xanten (= Xantener Berichte 19), 2011, 305 – 328.

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