The Legend of Lorelei
Updated: Mar 20
The Rhine River Gorge is world-renowned for its incredible combination of geological, historical and cultural nuances. What this means for the luxury river cruiser is castles, lots of gorgeous, medieval castles.
The 40-mile-long stretch of the Rhine River between Koblenz and Bingen in Germany was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2002 for this very reason. Today, as you sail the Upper Middle Rhine Valley (or Rhine River Gorge, as it’s more commonly known), you’ll see more castles than anywhere else in Germany - in fact, there’s a castle approximately every .9 miles!
Perennial favorites include the weathered ruins of the hillside Fürstenberg Castle in Rheindiebach; Bingen’s Mouse Tower near Ehrenfels Castle, marking the narrow entrance to the Rhine; Rheinstein Castle, a former knight’s castle that is today a museum, hotel and gourmet restaurant; and Pfalzgrafenstein, set on a rocky reef in the middle of the river.
While many of these storied castles have served as inspiration for animated movies and picture books, one story of the Rhine has remained relatively unknown - that is the tale of Lorelei, the siren of the Rhine.
The Myth of Lorelei
The story goes that the lovely young Lorelei was so bewitching in her beauty that she caused sailors to wreck their ships. Today, you can still see the so-called Lorelei Rock, set in a section of the river with a strong and dangerous current. The way the water flows into and around the jagged rocks creates a mystical echoing sound, or murmur. As sailors attempted to navigate the treacherous waters, the experience was likely made even more terrifying by this eerie sound.
As fairytales and myths do, the tale of Lorelei has been repeated and transformed over the centuries. German poet and novelist Clemens Brentano wrote an early version of the story, in which the heroine is betrayed by her lover, then imagines she sees him in the Rhine and falls off a cliff to her death. The haunting sound sailors hear was then said to be her enchanting song forevermore.
Lorelei became a star of German literature after Heinrich Heine penned a poem in 1824, in which he described a woman with golden hair, golden jewels and a golden comb, who - finding out about her sweetheart’s unfaithfulness - fell or flung herself off a cliff into the river. Again, the echoing murmur of the water is thought to be her voice.
The legend continued to be celebrated with Johan Strauss’ waltz for Lorelei, Sylvia Plath’s poem, Felix Mendelssohn’s opera, a Styx song, a Marvel Comics character and even an episode of Star Trek (in which, unsurprisingly, a planet full of beautiful women lure ships to their world).
Katz Castle (cat) & Maus Castle (mouse)
Viewing Lorelei Rock
On your Rhine River cruise, pay attention as you pass the Katz Castle, one of the best-known along the Rhine River Gorge. From here, you can see Lorelei Rock. The fortress was commissioned by the count of Katzenelnbogen in the 14th century as a complement to Peterseck Castle nearby. Together, they were known as the cat (Katz) and mouse (Maus) castles.
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