Rare medieval octagonal tower discovered at German castle

Archaeologists working at Neuenburg Castle in central Germany have discovered the remains of one of the original towers that protected the main entrance to the fortress. They were surprised that the tower, which was built around the year 1100, was octagonal in shape.

Neuenburg Castle was built at the end of the 11th century by the Thuringian count Ludwig der Springer, and then expanded in the 13th century. Today, it is one of the largest castles in Germany and is considered a nationally valuable cultural monument.

Neuenburg Castle’s octagonal tower – photo by Dirk Höhne / State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt.

The State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt has been conducting archaeological investigations at Neuenburg Castle, which overlooks the town of Freyburg, since 2022. Their research focused on the area of the outer bailey, which with its 11,500 square meters is one of the most extensive outer baileys in Germany.

The archaeologists explored an area where large stones were discovered a few years earlier and also matched up with a place known as the “Old Tower” in three maps from the 19th and 20th centuries. Their dig uncovered the remains of an octagonal building ten metres in diameter with walls that were 1.7 metres thick. The tower was still intact to a height of 2.2 metres but would have been much taller originally. The archaeologists even found evidence of floors and a staircase.


Another comparable tower was documented about 50 meters to the south. Both belong to a fortification system from the first building phase of the castle that were important defensive elements. A rampart made of limestone gravel, an inner ring wall and another outer wall running parallel at a distance of about six to eight meters were built at almost the same time. In front of this a ditch of about ten meters depth was constructed. This part of the fortification with the two octagonal towers must have been an imposing sight.

Photo by Ines Vahlhaus / State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt.

The octagonal shape of the tower would have been very rare for 11th-century Germany. Considered an innovation in castle building, it would not be used regularly until the later 12th and 13th centuries, especially during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1220-1250). The researchers speculate that the builders may have been inspired by the towers along the city walls of Constantinople.

The government of Saxony-Anhalt is carrying out archaeological research ahead of new renovations to the castle, including the creation of a new workshop and administration building as well as a barrier-free entrance to the outer castle. Click here to visit Neuenburg Castle’s website.

The castle – photo by Gunar Preuß / State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt.