The cultural landscape Upper Middle Rhine Valley, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, is an outstanding organic cultural landscape, the present-day character of which is determined both by its geomorphologic and geological setting and by the human interventions, such as settlements, transport infrastructure, and land use, that it has undergone over two thousand years. The cultural landscape includes a rich diversity of both cultural and environmental aspects and enables so a big variety of interventions by volunteering activities.
The 65 kilometres long stretch of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, with its castles, historic towns and vineyards, graphically illustrates the long history of human involvement with a dramatic and varied natural landscape. It is intimately associated with history and legend and for centuries has exercised a powerful influence on writers, artists and composers.
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.
The Middle Rhine Valley 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 the socio-economic pressures of the present day. The conservation of the area is partly in a bad state because of the fact that a lot of the former vineyards are out of use, that the maintenance both of the dry stone walls and the biotopes is physically demanding and that the knowledge about traditional techniques is disappearing.
A dominant of the Rhine scenery is Marksburg Castle – the only medieval stronghold on the hills along the Middle Rhine which has never been destroyed, a rare example of history virtually undisturbed by the march of time. All the other castles along the Rhine were destroyed sooner or later during the centuries and felt to ruins, either by devastation – most of them only during the Palatine War of Succession in 1689 – or through disuse. Nowadays they are either ruins or they have been rebuilt in the 19th century, during the Age of Romanticism.
The value and the significance of Marksburg Castle can be found in particular in its complete preservation as a medieval fortress. The impressive stronghold with most buildings dating back to the 13th to 15th century consists of wall rings containing keep, residential buildings, baileys and bastions all on top of a hill above the small romantic town of Braubach, and with its interesting, typical interior rooms such as castle kitchen, great hall, bedchamber, chapel, armoury, wine cellar and battlements it allows to travel back into the Middle Ages.
Marksburg is the seat of the German Castles’ Association. The association considers itself an association of curators and friends of national monuments from all groups of society and professions. It includes art historians, architects, restorers, museum staff and others, as well as owners of secular monuments and people who merely enjoy visiting a castle, a ruin or a palace. German Castles’ Association is also an umbrella organisation supporting initiatives for individual monuments.
In 1900 German Castles Association was able to purchase Marksburg for the symbolic price with the direction to demonstrate it as a real medieval castle and the living on it in the Middle Ages. The castle was exemplarily restored and opened to the public.
In 2015, European Heritage Volunteers had organised the hands-on part of the UNESCO World Heritage Young Experts Forum at the cultural landscape Upper Middle Rhine Valley. More information including detailed descriptions of the particular workshops you can find here.
As a result of the fruitful experiences of the UNESCO World Heritage Young Experts Forum European Heritage Volunteers started in 2016 regularly European Heritage Volunteers Projects at the UNESCO World Heritage site Upper Middle Rhine Valley.
The 2018 project focussed on the diversity of the cultural landscape Upper Middle Rhine Valley and illustrated – both during the hands-on part and the educational part – different aspects of the maintenance of the World Heritage site.
The first project week has been dedicated to the cultural aspects of the site and took place at Marksburg Castle.
During the practical work the participants worked in the outer bailey of the castle to make a new museum area in the heritage site accessible for visitors. Within the framework of the educational part the participants gained background knowledge about Marksburg Castle itself, but also about the different uses of fortresses from the middle age till nowadays as well as about the potentials and challenges of the conservation, the restoration and the management of historical complexes in general.
The second project week has been dedicated to the traditional dry stone walls that are outstanding characteristics of the cultural landscape Upper Middle Rhine Valley, but are partly in a very bad state.
In Spay, a village on the left bank of the Rhine, some years ago a very active citizens initiative named "Green Thumb" had been founded that cares for the local environment. In 2017, in the frame of a European Heritage Volunteers Partner Project the restoration of damaged parts of historic dry stone walls had been restored in an inspiring cooperation of this local initiative and international volunteers from three continents. In 2018, the project continued: Under the professional guidance of experienced craftsmen and with the active support of local citizens damaged parts of the historical dry stone walls along a highly frequented hiking trail crossing the former wine yards in the direct neighbourhood of Spay have been restored and additional knowledge about this traditional technique has been provided to the participants.
Finally, the participants supported the maintenance of biotopes in and around abandoned vineyards.
During all these activities the participants had the opportunity to get to know different places of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, to gain practical skills and to learn about the rich history of the region as well as about biodiversity and the endangered fauna and flora. The study part provided the theoretical background and brought the project into a wider public. It included meetings with the press and a presentation held by the participants about UNESCO World Heritage sites of their home countries.
As in the previous years, the project has been carried out within the framework of the UNESCO World Heritage Volunteers initiative.
In addition, the project was part of the overall project “Best practice models of volunteering for European Cultural Heritage” that had been selected by the German National Committee for Heritage Protection, the responsible body for the “European Year of Cultural Heritage” in Germany, as one of only few “projects of all-state relevance”.
The project has been organized in cooperation with Deutsche Burgenvereinigung (German Fortresses' Association) and the citizens initiative "Grüner Daumen" ("Green Thumb") Spay.