Upper Middle Rhine Valley
Upper Middle Rhine Valley
Cultural Germany Europe And North America States Of Rhineland-palatinate (rheinland-pfalz) And Hesse (hessen)

As one of the most important transport routes in Europe, the Middle Rhine Valley has for two millennia facilitated the exchange of culture between the Mediterranean region and the north. It is an outstanding organic cultural landscape, the present-day character of which is determined both by its geomorphological and geological setting and by the human interventions such as settlements, transport infrastructure, and land use that it has undergone over 2,000 years. As a result, it is an outstanding example of an evolving traditional way of life and means of communication in a narrow river valley. The terracing of its steep slopes in particular has shaped the landscape in many ways for more than two millennia. However, this form of land use is under threat from today's socio-economic pressures.

The appearance of the Middle Rhine Valley is characterized by the interaction between its physical natural features, the human interventions, and its 'tourist' image. In the 65 km stretch of the valley the river breaks through the Rhenish Slate Mountains, connecting the broad floodplain of the Oberrheingraben with the lowland basin of the Lower Rhine.

At the 5 km long Bingen Gate (Bingen Pforte), widened in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Rhine enters the upper canyon stretch of the river. Just before the Gate there are two small towns: Bingen on the left bank noteworthy for 'political' symbols, Rüdesheim on the right dominated by the 12th-century Brömserberg fortress. The vineyards of the Rüdesheimer Berg are among the best in the Rheingau. After the Bingen Gate comes the 15 km long Bacharach valley, which is indented with smaller V-shaped side valleys. The small town of Lorch extends at right angles to the Rhine up the valley, lined with terraced vineyards. It is notable for its fine Gothic parish church of St Martin. Bacharach, at the entrance of the Steeger valley contains many timber-framed houses and retains its medieval appearance. Kaub and its environs contain a number of monuments, among them the Pfalzgrafenstein castle, the town wall of Kaub itself, and the terraced vineyards, created in the Middle Ages. Oberwesel has preserved a number of fine early houses, as well as two Gothic churches, the medieval Schönburg castle, and its medieval town wall.

The valley landscape begins to change at Oberwesel with the transition from soft clay-slates to hard sandstone. The result is a series of narrows, the most famous of which is the Loreley. This stretch of river was once hazardous for shipping and is reputed to be the place where the fabulous treasure of the Niebelungs lies hidden. Across the river on the right bank is St Goarshausen, with its castle of Neu-Katzenelnbogen. The third Katzenelnbogen fortress is Burg Reichenberg;its design suggests that it may have been inspired by Crusader fortresses in Syria and Palestine. Bad Salzig on the left bank marks the beginning of the section known as the Boppard Loops (Bopparder Schlingen). On the right bank is the twin town of Kamp Bornhofen.

Located at the start of a horseshoe loop in the river, Boppard originated as a Roman way-station, and was replaced in the 4th century by a military fort. Beyond Boppard is Osterspai with its timber-framed houses from the 16th-18th centuries and a ruined moated castle. Oberspay and Niederspay have fused into a single town and contain more timber-framed houses than anywhere else on the Middle Rhine: there is a particularly fine group on the waterfront. On the left bank, Rhens is where the German Emperors were enthroned after being elected in Frankfurt and crowned in Aachen Cathedral. The fortress of Marksburg, along with Pfalzgrafenstein the only surviving medieval fortifications on the Middle Rhine, towers above Braubach. Although much altered after the coming of the railway in 1860, Lahnstein preserves its imposing parish church of St John the Baptist. The castle of Stolzenfels, which belonged to the Elector of Trier, was restored in 1835 by the Prussians. Of the buildings in Koblenz that survived severe aerial bombardment during the Second World War mention should be made of the Romanesque basilicas of St Kastor, Our Lady, and St Florin, and the New Castle, the first and most important early classicist building in the Rhineland.