On March 16, 2010, the Duchy of Luxembourg released a pair of stamps portraying six castles along the Eisch (Äisch in Luxembourgish) — a river flowing through Belgium and Luxembourg, joining the Alzette on its left in Mersch. The Luxembourgish part of the Eisch is informally known as the “Valley of the Seven Castles”, for the seven castles that line its route. I’m not sure why Entreprise des Postes et Télécommunications (P&TLuxembourg) decided not to picture all seven castles.
The Valley of the Seven Castles stretches from the confluence with the Alzette upstream to Steinfort, on the border with Belgium. The entire route can be traversed in about an hour by car, starting near the town of Arlon on the Belgian/Luxembourg border. There is also a 37-kilometer footpath that takes hikers along the valley and past the castles.
The seven castles are (in order, heading upstream):
- Old Ansembourg Castle
- New Castle of Ansembourg
- Koerich Castle
The northernmost of the seven castles, Mersch (Château de Mersch in French) is located in the center of Mersch (Miersch in Luxembourgish), a commune and town in central Luxembourg, capital of the canton of Mersch, situated at the confluence of the rivers Alzette, Mamer and Eisch. The castle’s history goes back to the 13th century and today the castle houses the administrative offices of the local commune.
Mersch Castle was built in the 13th century by Theodoric, a knight in the service of Countess Ermesinde of Luxembourg. It was captured and burnt down by the Burgundians. In 1574, Paul von der Veltz transformed the building into a comfortable castle in the Renaissance style. The keep had large windows and the property was surrounded by a protective wall with seven towers. Finely vaulted ceilings were erected over the rooms on the ground floor and the first floor. The Knights’ Hall on the second floor has a magnificent chimney. The arms of 16 noblemen decorated the walls. In 1603, the castle was again destroyed by the Dutch. In 1635, during the Thirty Years’ War, the castle and the village were left in a sorry state. However, around 1700, it was once again repaired, this time by Johann-Friedrich von Elter who rebuilt the gate and appended his coat of arms. The chapel was restored in 1717 by von Elter. The altar bears the arms of the castle’s heiress, Charlotte von Elter.
In 1898, the Sonnenberg-Reinach family sold the castle to a businessman called Schwartz-Hallinger. In 1930, restoration work was carried out by the owner M. Uhres. In 1938, a youth hostel was housed in a new building adjacent to the castle. From 1957, the commune acquired the building but sold it to the State of Luxembourg in 1960. As a result of an exchange agreement, the commune finally regained ownership in 1988 and undertook substantial renovation work for the needs of its administrative services which now occupy the building.
As of 2001, the town of Mersch, which lies in the center of the commune, had a population of 3,345. Other towns within the commune include Beringen, Berschbach, Moesdorf, Pettingen, Reckange, Rollingen, and Schoenfels.
Mersch is the home of the National Literature Centre, Luxembourg’s national literary archive. The town is the site of one of the six regional headquarters of the Grand Ducal Police.
Schoenfels Castle (Château de Schoenfels in French), with a history dating back to the 12th century, is located in the village of Schoenfels in the Mamer Valley between Kopstal and Mersch and now belongs to the State of Luxembourg.
The castle appears to have been built by Friedrich of Schonevels in 1292. Through marriage, it subsequently belonged to the families of Ansembourg and Sanem. In the 16th century, Henri Schloeder of Lachen became the owner and the Lord of Schoenfels and Busbach. His arms are to found on the keep. In 1683, the French destroyed the castle’s defences and in 1690 the castle and the village were burnt down after a dispute between Theodor von Neunheuser and the Lord of Brandenbourg. In 1759, Pierre-François de Gaillot de Genouillac became Lord of Schoenfels after marrying Marie-Catherine de Neunheuser. In 1813, his son, François-Romain de Gaillot, sold the castle to Jean-Baptiste Thorn-Suttor, governor of the Province of Luxembourg during the Belgian period (1831-1839). The Belgian senator Jacques Engler bought the castle in 1840 and left it to his son-in-law Baron Auguste Goethals who built a residence beside the keep. In 1948, the Luxembourgish industrialist Camillle Weiss bought the property but sold it in 1971 to the Luxembourg State. The new residence was demolished in 1976.
On completing its current restoration of the keep, the State intends to open a visitor center for the Mamer Valley Nature Reserve and offices for the Forestry Administration. In the meantime, the castle is not open to the public.
Hollenfels Castle (Château de Hollenfels) is located at the southern end of the village of Hollenfels, standing high above the River Eisch. A path with steep steps and wooden bridges leads to the foot of the castle where hollows in the rock can be seen, explaining the origin of the castle’s name which literally means “hollow cliff”. Indeed, there are several tunnels running through the cliffs below the castle. Access to the castle is by means of a brick bridge over the defensive ditch.
The first mention of Hollenfels was in 1129 when Ludolf, Lord of Hollenfels, was given the water rights of the abbey of Marienthal which lies just 400 meters away. The majestic tower, 39 meters tall, with its sumptuous Gothic rooms reached by means of a spiral staircase was built in 1380. At the lowest level is the oven room, next comes the servants dining room, then the Gothic Room for the lords of the castle together with a chapel, sometimes used as a bedroom, and finally the armory at the top. The rooms have impressive fireplaces, windows set back in the sturdy walls and a number of sculptures.
Until 1477, the castle belonged to the lords of Hollenfeld and Elter. It then successively became the property of Raville of Ansembourg, Greiffenklau, Raugraves of Salm, von Thinner, von Hohenstein and Brouckhoven-Hohenstein. In the 1680s, the castle was captured by the French, taken back by the Spaniards and finally recaptured by the French. The mansion on the north-eastern side of the keep was added in 1729 and was restyled with a Baroque finish in 1921. In 1929, when the castle was falling into ruin, restoration work was carried out by the Luxembourg architect J. Schoenberg. Between 1945 and 1948, the castle was used as a camp for prisoners of war. In 1948, the Luxembourg State acquired the building and created a youth hostel there.
Today, the castle houses State facilities directed towards improving the education of young people. Open throughout the year, the services allow young people to experience the historic building while coming in close contact with nature. The conditions are enhanced by the nearby youth hostel.
Ansembourg Old Castle (Buerg Aansebuerg in Lxuembourgish or Vieux Château d’Ansembourg in French), is located high above the little village of Ansembourg in the commune of Tuntange, western Luxembourg. As of 2001, the village had a population of 40. The village is the site of two of the seven castles in the valley. The New Castle of Ansembourg, located about one kilometer or just over half a mile below the Old Castle, was built by the industrialist Thomas Bidart in 1639 and is now known for its more modern finish and its terraced gardens. The medieval castle is the private residence of the current Count and Countess of Ansembourg.
The property is first mentioned in 1135 when the lord of the castle was Hubert d’Ansembourg. The fortifications were probably built in the middle of the 12th century. At the beginning of the 14th century, the south-western tower gate and the northern keep appear to have been built by Jofroit d’Ansembourg. Since the times of Jakob II de Raville-Ansembourg, the castle does not appear to have been significantly altered. The main entrance bears the date of 1565. In 1683, the castle was damaged by the French troops of Marshal de Boufflers. In the 17th century, repairs were carried out by the Bidart and the Marchant et d’Ansembourg families who built the New Castle of Ansembourg.
Today, the Old Castle is owned by Gaston-Gaëtan Count de Marchant et d’Ansembourg who moved into the property after the death of his father. At the end of 2008, the Luxembourg government acquired the family’s library (around 6000 books) and were offered the family archives. Interest had grown in the collection after the Codex Mariendalensis manuscript telling the story of Yolanda of Vianden was found in 1999 by the linguist Guy Berg. The manuscript dating from the end of the 14th or beginning of the 15th century was especially significant as it was written in the Moselle Franconian dialect which is closely related to modern Luxembourgish. The castle is strictly private property and is not open to visitors.
The New Castle of Ansembourg (Grand Château d’Ansembourg in French) can be found about one kilometer or just over half a mile below the Old Castle of Ansembourg, it was built by the industrialist Thomas Bidart in 1639.
In 1639, Thomas Bidart built the central part of today’s castle as a comfortable house surrounded by walls and towers, two of which still stand. Originally from Liège in Belgium, Bidart, who was a pioneer of Luxembourg’s iron and steel industry, named the building Maison des Forges (House of the Ironworks). During the Thirty Years’ War, he tapped the region’s many water sources and exploited its timber and iron, manufacturing arms at a foundry close to the old castle. As a result, his family prospered, earning rights to the title of Lords of Amsembourg which had belonged to the Raville family until 1671.
It was the de Marchant family who, after inheriting the property by marriage, undertook its astonishing transformation into today’s modern-looking castle. In 1719, the courtyard was extended with two wings on either side of the original building. The southern gable was enhanced with a magnificent arch where four statues represent the four continents. Fitted with two small towers, the new façade overlooked the gardens which were connected to the castle through an arcade. The first-floor balcony above the porch provided an excellent view of the gardens, complete with flowerbeds and a fountain. Between 1740 and 1750, Lambert Joseph de Marchant et d’Ansembourg further improved the gardens and extended the buildings on the north side of the main courtyard so that they could be used as stables and lodgings for the castle staff. In 1759, Count Lambert Joseph added the impressive Baroque gateway bearing the arms of de Marchant of Ansembourg and Velbruck.
Since 1987, the castle has belonged to Sûkyô Mahikari (a controversial Japanese religious cult with connections to the far right wing neo-nationalist movement Nippon Kaigi) who has undertaken substantial renovation work with the assistance of Luxembourg’s Service des Sites et Monuments nationaux. Initially work was centered on reinforcing the foundations and walls and on restoring the staircase of honor on the upper terrace in the gardens. From 1999, the statues and the fountains in the garden were repaired while the roofs over the two wings and the central section were rebuilt. Work is now concentrated on restoring the oldest part of the building which dates from the 17th century.
The castle gardens are open to visitors from 9 a.m. every day. The castle also hosts a number of cultural events during the year.
Septfontaines Castle (Château de Septfontaines in French or Buerg vu Simmer in Luxembourgish) is located high above the village of Septfontaines and is now privately owned and cannot be visited.
It is not clear when the first castle was built in Septfontaines. In 1192, there is a reference to someone by the name of Tider who was Lord of Septfontaines. In 1233, Jean de Septfontaines placed the property under the protection of Countess Ermesinde of Luxembourg. At the beginning of the 14th century, Thomas de Septfontaines, a friend and companion of Emperor Henry VII, was the lord of the castle. In 1600, Christoph von Criechingen built a huge Renaissance tower at the northern entrance. In 1779, a fire destroyed the castle which increasingly fell into ruin. In 1919, the castle was partly demolished but in 1920 the owners attempted to carry out restoration work, but did not pay much attention to historical architectural requirements.
Koerich Castle (Château de Koerich) is a ruin located in the village of Koerich in central Luxembourg. Standing on level ground in the valley of the stream of Goeblange, the castle’s impressive keep and external walls blend harmoniously with the Baroque church and the old houses in the center of the village.
The Grevenschlass, now known as Koerich Castle, was built by Wirich I, Lord of Koerich and Seneschal of Luxembourg at the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th century in late Romanesque style. It was expanded in 1304 by Godefroid of Koerich who gave it a more Gothic appearance. The keep, now 11 meters tall, was certainly much higher when it was built. With a base measuring 12 by 11.6 m and walls up to 3.5 m thick, it is one of the most impressive in the entire region. A spiral staircase inside one of the walls provided access to the different floors.
Surrounded by a moat, the castle originally had a fortified entrance with a portcullis. From 1380, Gilles of Autel and Koerich converted the stronghold into a more comfortable residence by building two 12-meter towers at either end of the south wall. The south-western tower which still stands, houses a chapel on the ground floor. In 1580, the new owner Jacques de Raville made further changes, demolishing part of the property and adding two Renaissance wings. The stately fireplace on the first floor and large rectangular windows testify to the castle’s palatial splendor at the time. The south wing was again altered in 1728, this time with Baroque additions.
After the death of the Ravilles in the second half of the 18th century, the castle started to fall into ruin owing to lack of maintenance. In 1950, Pierre Flammang, the last private owner, carried out some essential structural repairs before the castle finally came into the hands of the State. Although major repairs are still in progress, the site can be visited free of charge.
Scott #1286 consists of a pair of se-tenant self-adhesive stamps, non-denominated with an “A” designating postage within Europe. The left stamp (Scott #1286a) has the country name of LUXEMBOURG in the upper left and pictures Septfontaines Castle, Koerich Castle, and the New Castle of Ansembourg. Scott #1286b, with LUXEMBOURG printed to the lower right, portrays Hollenfels Castle, Ansembourg Old Castle and Mersch Castle. The sole castle in the Valley of the Seven Castles not represented by this stamp issue is Schoenfels Castle, probably due to its location in the Mamer Valley rather than along the Eisch. The self-adhesive stamps were printed in sheets of 10 stamps with serpentine die-cut perforations and extended margins between each pair that show the river Eisch flowing between as seen in the internet-sourced image below.