Slavic Hill Fort and Castle in Cheb
The locality is a part of the current Cheb Castle complex that underwent minor medieval alterations and a radical reconstruction, which took place after 1652 and which changed the castle into a citadel surrounded by a casemate brick wall. The castle is accessible subject to the payment of an admission fee.
A small Slavic hill fort (200 x 150 metres) was situated on a 30-metre high rock above the bend of the Ohře River as early as in the 9th century. It was protected by a wall with a grated structure, an internal and external moat, and a palisade. We are able to visualize the appearance of the hill fort and of the castle in its subsequent development phases owing to the frequent archaeological research carried out on site from 1911. Initial archaeological research was conducted by Julius Ernst Jonas, later by Oskar Schürer between 1932 and 1934; fundamental research was carried out by Antonín Hejna in 1962 and 1964, and most recently by Pavel Šebesta.
Inside the hill fort, there was a skeleton burial ground discovered in the eastern part of the later medieval castle. No charitable gifts were found with the skeletons buried with their heads facing west and this fact may be considered as additional proof of advanced Christianisation. Only scattered pottery fragments and S-shaped silver temple rings facilitated the determination of the cemetery as Slavic dating to the period between the 9th and 12th centuries. A modest cross is engraved on three out of the eight unearthed gravestones and this documents that the Slavic inhabitants professed Christian religion in the 10th century. The cemetery was separated from the inhabited area by an 8-metre wide ditch.
The ditch was uncovered during archaeological research in the western part of the cemetery – i.e. the only part of the cemetery, which has been preserved, because the other peripheral parts of the necropolis were destroyed by medieval construction activities.
A black cultural layer containing typical hill-fort pottery decorated with an engraved wavy line can be unearthed at small depths all over the 2.5 hectare hill fort. Furthermore, several sunken dwelling structures and a log cabin were excavated on the rocky spur. A stone castle was built in the best-protected northern summit of the rocky spur in the early 12th century. The foundations of a 180-centimetre thick castle wall were discovered, as well as the foundations of octagonal towers with diameters of 8 and 10 metres located at both ends of the castle wall. A 12-metre wide ditch separated the castle walls from the neighbouring Slavic cemetery.
The hill fort was probably taken by force. The remains of damaged wooden structures containing castle material were found next to the tower foundations that were evidently destroyed by fire. The foundation of the castle is commonly associated with the arrival of the first German colonists from Schwaben. Some historians believe that the castle was built by Diepold II of Giengen and Vohnburg, the later founder of Waldsassen Monastery (1133), around 1125).
The construction of the so-called Staufen Palace commenced in the late 12th century, which resulted in the fundamental change of the appearance and function of the castle. The two old towers and the walls of the pre-Staufen castle were demolished, the ditch separating the castle walls and the older Slavic cemetery was filled in.
The deserted cemetery and the fragmented foundations of the first castle were covered with a layer of sterile yellow clay to conceal the relics left by the previous inhabitants.
We can say that the Staufen castle was built on a green field or even better, on levelled land as none of the still standing Staufen castle structures respects the existence of older structures. A Romanesque bergfrit, which is known as the Black Tower, stands on the foundations of the south pre-Staufen tower. The monumental and stately palace with five-part arcade windows in the north wall dominates the northern slope above the river. The most beautiful and best-preserved building of the double two-storey chapel dedicated to St. Martin, Erhard and Ursula stands next to the palace.