Martin Luther, Lucas Cranach, Emperor Charles V, Heinrich Schütz, Tsar Peter I and Napoleon – few places can rival Schloss Hartenfels for the concentration of historical personages and outstanding events within a very small space. Developed by the Ernestine Electors of Saxony into a prestigious residence, Schloss Hartenfels is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and an authentic centre of Reformation history.

Prepare to be overwhelmed by the imposing inner courtyard, climb the airy heights of the Spiral Staircase (Wendelstein) and enjoy the view from the Hausmannsturm over the broad meadows that line the River Elbe. Inside the castle you can visit the Castle Chapel (Schlosskapelle), which was consecrated by Martin Luther himself, as well as many other interesting features, memorial sites, a multimedia exhibition on the history of the castle, as well as changing special exhibitions on art, cultural history and technology.

500 years of world history

Built on an outcrop of porphyry, the ‘hard rock’ that accounts for its name, Schloss Hartenfels in Torgau has been towering above the surrounding meadow landscape along the River Elbe for nearly 500 years. The history of the castle goes back to the 11th century. The present castle was built on the foundation walls of a medieval defensive complex. The oldest preserved part of the building is what is now called the Chapel Tower (Kapellenturm) - presumably originally the keep – dating from the 14th century.

Renaissance and Reformation
In the 16th century, Schloss Hartenfels developed into both a spiritual and political centre of the Reformation.  The Saxon rulers Friedrich the Wise, Johann the Steadfast and Johann Friedrich the Magnanimous were active patrons, protectors and trailblazers for Luther and his teachings. At the same time, Elector Johann Friedrich the Magnanimous had his claim to power in the Protestant reform movement quite literally carved in stone: under his auspices, Schloss Hartenfels was extended and transformed into one of the most modern and imposing castles in Europe. This laid the foundations for its development into a modern residential

Schloss Hartenfels Torgau
Foto: Andreas Franke
palace. The complex became a model for numerous prestigious palaces of the 16th century, such as the Berlin Stadtschloss during the reign of Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg. To ensure that the castle was befittingly decorated, works of art were commissioned from the famous Cranach workshop in Wittenberg, whose paintings are still very much in evidence here today.

At the Battle of Mühlberg in 1547 – part of a struggle for religious and political supremacy – Johann Friedrich the Magnanimous was defeated by the troops of Emperor Charles V. After the surrender, the electoral dignity – and thus also Schloss Hartenfels – fell to Moritz of Saxony. Moritz and his successors held court primarily in Dresden, but continued to use Schloss Hartenfels as a venue for lavish (wedding) celebrations. In addition to tournaments, masquerades, banquets and fireworks, as well as musical and theatrical performances, the hunt also served as a form of entertainment and courtly display. In 1627 the premiere performance of the first German-language opera, “Daphne” by Heinrich Schütz, took place here.

The history of Schloss Hartenfels as one of the most important princely residences in Saxony came to a definitive end with the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War in 1756.

Schloss Hartenfels as a fortress
After that, the former Electoral apartments and the Castle Chapel were converted for military purposes. The buildings were used, for example, as an orphanage, prison and workhouse. In 1811 the castle was converted, at the order of Napoleon, into a defensive barracks as part of the Saxon Fortress of Torgau. It then continued to be used as a barracks by the Prussians. Traces of this military use can still be seen today in certain parts of the building.

The Encounter at the Elbe in 1945
On 25 April 1945 Schloss Hartenfels was the impressive backdrop for the American soldiers who made contact with Soviet troops on the destroyed Elbe bridge. The next day, an official photograph of them shaking hands was taken, and this was broadcast around the world; it was to become symbolic of the end of the Second World War.

A fairytale setting for “Sleeping Beauty”
In the summer of 1970 Schloss Hartenfels, with its characteristic Spiral Staircase, provided the setting for a DEFA film retelling the classic fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty”. The film was premiered in 1971.

The castle today
Nowadays, Schloss Hartenfels houses the district administration for North Saxony, whose cultural department “Kulturbetrieb Schloss Hartenfels” is responsible for tourist services and cultural events at the castle. The international importance of this historic monument attracts visitors from all over the world, and changing special exhibitions and events make this place a major cultural centre for the region and beyond. The Castle Chapel is a lively place of worship that is open for visitors to freely look around and which is also used for church services.

Exploring the Castle

The Castle Chapel
The Castle Chapel was inaugerated by Martin Luther himself in 1544. It is regarded as the earliest building constructed specifically as a Protestant place of worship, and it was taken as the model for subsequent church buildings. Lucas Cranach and his workshop were active here, as was also Johann Walter, who established Torgau’s first town choir and later became director of the Hofkapelle (court orchestra) in Dresden.

The Spiral Staircase
The Spiral Staircase (built between 1533 and 1537) is regarded as one of the masterpieces of German architectural history. Created by the architect Konrad Krebs, it consists of a 28-metre high stair tower which protrudes from the building into the inner courtyard of the castle like the bow of a ship. As well as displaying the ruler’s power and prestige, it originally also served as an entrance to the ballroom on the first floor. The interior spiral staircase has no central supporting column, so you need to have a good head for heights when climbing it!


At the top of the Spiral Staircase is the ‘Mirror Room’ (Spiegelstube), which can be visited as part of a guided tour organized by the Torgau Tourist Information Centre. The grotesque frieze in the Mirror Room is one of the rare examples of a surviving mural painted by the Wittenberg-based Cranach Workshop.

The Hausmannsturm
With its 163 steps, the tower known as the Hausmannsturm is also a fitness challenge. From the top, on the viewing plattform,  you are rewarded with a unique panoramic view over the roofs of Torgau and the broad landscape of the River Elbe.

The bear pit
The long tradition of keeping bears at Schloss Hartenfels began in 1425 and was only interrupted in the 18th century. Since the 1950s there have been bears in the bear pit again, currently the three brown bears Jette (*1988 in Torgau), Bea and Benno (*2013 at the Wildlife Park Gangelt in North Rhine-Westphalia).

The rose garden
In the northwest of the castle grounds, on the site of the medieval tilt yard, the steeply terraced gardens are a pleasant retreat. Typical elements of a Renaissance garden such as box hedges, pavilions and water basins complement the seasonally changing flowers of lavender, roses and tulips.

The café
The trees in the courtyard in front of the café (“Schlosscafé”) likewise offer a shady space to unwind. When it is raining, you can relax in the historic vaulted hall  inside the café.

Exhibitions on the history of the castle – and more

Steadfast, Pious and an heavy drinker. Johann Friedrich the Magnanimous – the last Ernestine Elector
With the aid of modern animation technology, Elector Johann Friedrich and his wife give visitors a personal guided tour through their private chambers. They talk

about their everyday life in the castle and explain the importance of Torgau as a power centre of the Reformation. A highlight is the view from the Electoral Gallery in the Castle Chapel – on a level with the pulpit from which Martin Luther used to preach. The room in the round tower known as the ‘Flaschenturm’ (literally: ‘Bottle Tower’) contains an interactive and informative marble run relating to the Fortress of Torgau, thus completing the story of the castle’s development.

Electoral Chambers and Electoral Gallery in the Castle Chapel, Wing B
Tickets available from the exhibition ticket sales desks in Wing D, Admission € 5.00 (combi-ticket)

TORGAU. Home of the Renaissance and Reformation
This exhibition likewise transports the visitor back to the period when the Electors of Saxony resided at Schloss Hartenfels, from the mid-16th century until the end of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). A choice selection of objects from the abundant collections of the Rüstkammer (Armoury) of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Dresden State Art Collections), enriched by works of art from the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) and the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts), are now on show, giving an impression of the splendour and opulence of the Electoral Court.

Richly decorated arms, including hunting weapons and accessories for the “noble” huntsman, portraits of princes and items from the Kunstkammer create a vivid impression of the reign of Elector Johann Georg I.

Wing D
Tickets available from the exhibition ticket sales desks in Wing D, Admission € 5.00 (combi-ticket)

“Silent witnesses” in the Lapidarium
Authentic traces of the architectural history of Schloss Hartenfels are stored in the historic vaults beneath the Castle Chapel and in the former “Untere Hofstube” (lower court drawing room), which contain an exhibition that forms part of Torgau’s municipal museum (Stadtmuseum). More than 80 outstanding original works testify to the skill and craftsmanship of the sculptors and masons who worked at the castle. The Lapidarium is on the Torgau museum trail.

Wing B, Basement
Admission € 3.00

“Traces of Injustice” at the Documentation and Information Centre (DIZ) Torgau
Torgau’s more recent history is also presented in high-quality exhibitions at Schloss Hartenfels: The DIZ Torgau / Stiftung Sächsische Gedenkstätten explains the history of Torgau as a place of imprisonment in the 20th century. Photographs, documents, biographies and video interviews are used to illustrate Torgau’s role as a hub of the Wehrmacht’s penal system during the Nazi period, the history of Soviet Special Camps nos. 8 and 10, and the prison operated by the GDR in Torgau.

Wing B
Admission free

Details of changing special exhibitions can be found in our events calendar .