Join the night watchman to explore this medieval town and visit the most colorful grotto in the world.
By Jörg M. Unger
Photographs by Jörg M. Unger
In the middle of the seventh century, Samo, a Slavic commander, conquered with his army the region of today’s Saalfeld in Thuringia. He liked the winding river Saale and the dark-green, spine-chilling forests surrounding the spot so much that he decided to have a fortress built there. Samo called for his high priest, who was to tell him where exactly the fortress should be erected. The priest took a white pigeon and tied a small silver bell to its neck, for the bird should mark the most appropriate spot by its resting place. The pigeon flew across the river to land on an oak tree near the steep riverbanks and Samo ordered the fortress to be built there. According to the legend, a swarm of bees rose high into the air when a huge oak was felled and the fortress was therefore called Hoher Schwarm (high swarm). The stronghold dilapidated in the 16th century and many stones of its walls, once up to six feet thick, were used to repair the nearby bridge. The fortress, resting on a square foundation of fifty-six feet and still rising ninety-two feet into the sky, soon became a ruin yet remains the town’s symbol as one part of “The Stone Chronicle of Thuringia” to this day.
In the year 899, the settlement was mentioned as Salauelda in a document for the first time and the place already had a significant political importance in the 12th century when Emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa held court there from time to time. Saalfeld got a town charter in 1208 and, under the counts of Schwarzburg, the town developed into an important trade center. It was granted several privileges such as market, coinage and fishing rights, as two barbel fish on its coat of arms prove. Copper and silver mines made Saalfeld’s economy flourish in the 16th century and the trade route from Nuremberg to Leipzig brought prosperity to the town and its citizens.
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