The quaint village of Tilleda in the central German Federal State of Saxony-Anhalt is a great base for hikes to the impressive Kyffhäuser Monument but there are a couple of good reasons to hang around after your trip there.
The biggest of these is the Open Air Museum Königspfalz Tilleda, featuring a partly reconstructed royal palace from the Early and High Middle Ages, giving you a fascinating glimpse into the royal way of live from that period. Read on for everything you need to know about visiting this intriguing site.
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Medieval Royal Palaces in Germany
To properly understand the site, you need to know a little bit about medieval German history first. The Holy Roman Empire, which comprised the area of today’s Germany as well as parts of surrounding countries, for centuries did not have a permanent capital city.
Instead, the king and his retainers traveled from palace to palace all over the realm in a form of government known as Itinerant Regime. In the respective palaces the king would hold court for a couple of weeks and concern himself with questions of law and religion, before continuing on to another palace.
Most of these were continually inhabited by the steward as well as groups of craftsmen and -women to keep the place running and prepare for the next royal visit. Countless of the palaces were strewn over the area of the Holy Roman Empire and so far the remains of only some of them have been located, much less extensively examined archaeologically.
Tilleda, which was roughly in use from the 8th to the 12th century, is to date the only such site that has been completely excavated.
Visiting the Königspfalz Tilleda
The open-air museum features a host of reconstructed buildings, especially in the outer palace area, the artisan’s quarter and the Slavic settlement. In the inner palace area, the remaining foundation walls of the buildings have been mostly left as they were unearthed during excavation.
Thus, you’ll get both a glimpse of the likely historical reality and the remaining information that the archaeologists based their assumptions on. The signage is exclusively in German, so I’ll do my best to explain the main point of interest.
Main Gate Area
You enter the compound through the reconstruction of a pincer gate with a watchtower placed at the end. This form of gate construction has been well known since the antiquity and was supposed to give defenders the upper hand in the case of an invasion, as anyone entering was forced to walk through the narrow gap and could potentially be attacked from three sides.
The three houses to the north of the gate contain some artefacts found in the area and information on the concept of Itinerant Regime. The two wooden figures and tree containing animal skulls are meant to represent the persistence of pagan beliefs in a society that officially had been Christianized centuries earlier.
Turn right after entering through the gate and you’ll come to a couple of reconstructed houses explaining the history of the site. The longhouse at the western end displays artefacts and reconstructed equipment meant to convey the different crafts practised in Tilleda.
These include weaving, spinning, pottery production and woodturning. Outside is a small area with plants used for dying cloth. Around the corner you’ll find reconstructions of a device used to mix mortar, a medieval crane and a battering ram (not really the artisan’s domain but I guess they needed to put it somewhere:)
The cluster of buildings in the centre of the open area forms the reconstruction of a Slavic Settlement. People speaking Slavic languages settled in the area of today’s eastern Germany from the 6th century onward and were quickly integrated into the Holy Roman Empire. The buildings are meant to represent both living quarters and places of daily work, including a smithy.
The house on stilts functioned as a granary, meant to keep the corn dry by avoiding contact with the ground. The pit house on the opposite side of the hedge is supposed to be both a workplace and storage building, using the natural coldness of the ground to preserve food from spoiling. If you enter the longhouse at the southern end of the compound, you’ll see a hatch in the ground leading to a small chamber with the same function.
Central Palace Area
To the east of the Slavic settlement is a procession way leading through a gap in the rampart and finally through another reconstructed gate building and into the Central Palace area. This contains the remaining foundation walls and archaeological features delineating the former location of the Palas (Represantative building containing the great hall), chapel and two tower keeps.
Notice the fascinating remains of the underfloor heating system next the southern keep. This was used to keep the rooms as warm as possible while at the same time avoiding the unpleasant and unhealthy accumulation of smoke that happens with an open fireplace. The system has been copied from the ancient Romans.
Other sights in Tilleda
Apart from the Royal Palace, the main reason to visit Tilleda is its proximity to the impressive Kyffhäuer Monument, which you can see from all over the village (and the open-air museum). You can hike up to it in about an hour – if you plan to do so, check out my guide to the Monument.
The first part of the hike leads through an extensive Apple Orchard that is especially beautiful in the springtime, when all the blossoms are flowering. As a matter of fact, the village is famous enough for this area that it has created a Orchard Centre (Ger. Streuobstzentrum) informing you on the importance of this kind of horticulture and giving you a chance to try juice and other products from the area.
Tilleda’s cute medieval church, directly south of the main square, is also worth a peek, especially for the pleasant surrounding garden.
Map of Tilleda and surroundings
You can check the location of the Museum as well as some accommodation options in the surrounding area in this map:
How to get to Tilleda
Tilleda can most easily be reached from the nearby city of Sangerhausen. You can take bus VGS-453 from Sangerhausen train station (as well as other stops along the way) to Tilleda. Note that the bus goes regularly from Monday to Friday but has only one connection each way on Saturday and Sunday. You can check the current connection here.
Where to stay near Tilleda
As Tilleda is a small village, the best option is to stay in nearby Sangerhausen and visit the museum during a day-trip from there. In Sangerhausen, we stayed at the Pension Rüsselpub, which is a bit out of the centre of town, but good value plus the adjacent Pub is a great place for a drink or two in the evening. There are a couple of other cheapish guest-houses in town, such as Pension Rosengarten, as well as some mid-range options like Hotel-Pension am Rosarium. You can refer to the map above for more options.
Where to eat in Tilleda
There are a couple of restaurants serving hearty regional fare surrounding the small market square. If you need to grab a bite in the morning before setting of to the museum or the Kyffhäuser Monument, there’s also a small bakery on the western side of the square. Closer to the Royal Palace Museum, you’ll find the pleasant Kirschcafé on the premises of the Streuobstzentrum (Orchard Centre).