Schloss Rheydt

The Schloss Rheydt is a castle near Mönchengladbach that was first built in 1060, probably as a simple wooden tower. Serving as a fortress and residence for various noble families, it was gradually expanded and rebuilt in stone during the medieval period. By the mid 14th century it consisted of a large square keep in one corner of a square enclosure, with rounded towers on the other three corners. The enclosure was later enlarged again and given smaller semi-circular towers half way along each curtain wall.

In 1543 the united Duchy of Jülich-Cleves-Berg was invaded by imperial troops, who made short work of the Duke's outdated fortifications and defeated the his troops. As a result, Duke Wilhelm V decided to build modern fortifications to protect his territory. Jülich was transformed into a major fortress by the Italian engineer and architect Alessandro Pasqualini. Two other towns, Düsseldorf and Orsoy, were also made into modern fortresses. The Schloss Rheydt stood on the north-west frontier of the Duchy of Jülich, facing the potentially hostile Spanish Netherlands.

By this point the castle was in the hands of Otto van Bylandt, who held the title of Marshal of the Duchy of Cleves. In the 1580s he undertook a project to rebuild the Schloss Rheydt, transforming it into a renaissance palace. However, a common renaissance idea was to combine a palace with a fortress, which was exactly what Otto van Bylandt did with the Schloss Rheydt. The old keep of the castle was replaced with a luxurious palace and barrack buildings were added on the south-west side. Around the outisde of the castle a new bastioned trace was built by Maximilian Pasqualini, the son of Alessandro Pasqualini.

However, the new fortifications were on a much smaller scale to the works built at Jülich, Orsoy or Düsseldorf. Instead of being designed to mount artillery, the fortifications of the Schloss Rheydt were designed solely for infantry defence. There were six brick arrow-headed bastions, with exta flanks near the capitals on most of them. The curtain walls between the bastions were angled outwards so that there is no direct line of sight between the bastion flanks - this prevented men in one bastion'from accidentally firing at the men in the opposite bastion. There were no outworks but there was a wide flooded ditch'in front of the walls. The large gatehouse was reached by a long causeway across this ditch. Because the fortifications were designed for infantry defence, the flanks did not mount artillery, but instead there were casemates'with loopholes. In each flank there were two rows of wall loopholes, one above the other. A swivel-mounted wall gun (which could be up to 2 metres in length) was placed at each loophole, and the soldiers would lie down in order to fire them. The powder and shot for these guns was stored in chambers in the centre of each bastion, which were linked to the flanks by tunnels. This enabled the powder to be stored in a safe, dry place that was close to the guns.

However, the defensive measures did not end with the bastioned fortifications. The inner moat around the old castle was kept in place and the lower floors of the new palace building were equipped with loopholes for muskets. On the south-west side of the old castle was an outer courtyard surrounded by barrack buildings and protected by a moat. These buildings were also loopholed and there were two square towers at the corners to give flanking fire.

The palace and the fortifications were completed in the 1590s and were probably maintained into the 17th century. However, it seems that they were never used in anger and they probably fell into disuse after 1614, when the Duchy ceased to be a major force in the lower Rhine region.

Visiting Schloss Rheydt

The Schloss Rheydt was a very unusual example of a bastioned fortress that was constructed uniquely for infantry defence, with no provision for artillery. Most of the walls are intact, if a little overgrown and neglected in places. At some points earth banks have built up over the walls and archeologists are not sure exactly what the trace looked like. Neverthless, it is easy to get a good impression of the form of the fortress by walking around the walls. The tunnel system in one of the bastions has been restored and can be visited, which gives an insight into how the fortifications were meant to work.

The gatehouse, the palace and the barrack buildings have all survived intact. The palace can be visited and contains interesting displays about how it would have looked in the 16th century. In the cellars some of the remains of the earlier medieval castle walls can be seen. The Schloss Rheydt is a short walk (about 2 miles) from the train station in Mönchengladbach, which is on the line between Düsseldorf and Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen). Alternatively, it is easy to reach by road and there is a car park at the castle.

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