Built by the Counts of Berg in the 12th century, Burg Altena was the seat of the influential House of the Marck. In 1912, it became the world's first youth hostel established within a castle, which is is still used as such today. The castle also houses two museums: the Museum of the County of Mark and the World Youth Hostels Museum.
All started in 1108, when Adolf and Everhard von Berg were granted a piece of land in the Sauerland region by Emperor Henry V in reward for their faithful service.
They erected a castle on top of Mount Wulfseck, which they originally called Wulfeshagen, and later renamed Altena. After the acquisition of the March of Oberhof in 1198, the Counts of Altena re-styled themselves 'Counts of the Marck' (or 'Mark' or 'March') or 'Grafen von den Mark' in German. It is under this name that they were to be remembered in history, notably in the Principality of Liège in present-day Belgium, where they would provide three influential Prince-Bishops (known under the Francisied surname 'de La Marck') between 1313 and 1538. Two Counts of La Marck would also become Archbishop-Elector of Cologne (including Engelbert III, who had already been Prince-Bishop of Liège), and two others Prince-Bishops of Münster.
In 1368, Adolph III of the Marck inherited the County of Cleves from his uncle John of Cleves. Adolph's son, Adolph IV, would become the first Duke of Cleves in 1417. His own children with Marie of Burgundy would marry into many powerful European families (Bavaria, Brunswick-Lüneburg, Guelders, Navarre), including his daughter Mary who would become the mother of King Louis XII. In the 16th century, the Duchies of Jülich-Berg and Guelders came into the hands of the House of La Marck.
From 1392, the Counts of the Marck only resided occasionally at Altena Castle, preferring their properties in Münster, Cologne, Liège and in the Meuse Valley, such as Seraing-le-Château and Sedan. In 1424, Count Eberhard II von der Mark (1364-1440) had built the castle in and become lord of Sedan. In the mid-15th century, Robert I of La Marck would become Duke of Bouillon. Robert I's great-great-grandson, Henri Robert de la Marck, added the title of Prince of Sedan to that of Duke of Bouillon. His daughter, Charlotte, was the last La Marck of that branch. She married Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, and their descendants kept the title of Duke of Bouillon until the French Revolution.
Following the extinction of the House of La Marck in 1609, the County of Mark and Duchy of Cleves were the first states in West Germany to be annexed by Brandenburg-Prussia, in 1614. Altena Castle was turned into a militay garrison, then a county jail from 1766 to 1811, and eventually a hospital from 1856 until 1906.
In 1912, Richard Schirrmann acquired the castle and transformed it into one of the world's first permanent youth hostels, and the first to be housed in a castle.
Aerial view of Altena Castle.
Opening Hours & Admission
The castle is open from Tuesday to Friday from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, and on weekends from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. It is closed on Mondays as well as on 24th, 25th and 31st December and 1st January. Admission costs 5 € for adults and 2.5 € from children from 6 to 17 years old. Entry is free under 6 years old.
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