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Fortress inspiration for Middle Earth

Haut-Koenigsbourg stood empty for some 250 years before its restoration. Haut-Koenigsbourg stood empty for some 250 years before its restoration. (PATRICIA HARRIS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)
Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris
Globe Correspondent / January 27, 2008

ORSCHWILLER, France - We Americans are a castle-deprived lot. The Alsace region of France alone boasts close to 100 intact feudal castles, including Haut-Koenigsbourg, which was an inspiration for "The Lord of the Rings" movies.

Constructed in the 12th century, the castle is perched on a rocky promontory at the junction of two historic trade routes 34 miles south of Strasbourg. Like that city's famous cathedral, Haut-Koenigsbourg was built of local pink sandstone, which gives it a sunset glow at all hours. Over the centuries the castle was enlarged and even updated to handle newfangled artillery before it was finally looted and burned. The ruins had stood empty for about 250 years until an ambitious early-20th- century restoration by Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany had annexed Alsace in 1871). The work returned it to its 16th-century heyday, complete with moat and drawbridge and a tower with a view of two other castles on nearby peaks.

"You can imagine a knight and his family here in the Middle Ages," says guide Céline Kugler as she pauses in a snug room with a big fireplace. That combination of historic sweep and human immediacy has made Haut-Koenigsbourg a favorite of medieval reenactors.

One of those Middle Ages devotees is John Howe. In his role as the conceptual designer for "The Lord of the Rings" films, Howe drew on his memories of Haut-Koenigsbourg to model the dark castle of Middle Earth on celluloid. Perhaps we Yanks don't need mountaintop fortresses when we have multiplexes instead.

Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg, Orschwiller, France, 011-33-3-8882-5060, haut-koe nigsbourg.fr. Open January, February, November, and December 9:45 a.m.-noon and 1-4:30, March and October 9:45-4:30, April, May, and September 9:30-5. June, July and August 9:30-6. Adults $11.15, under 18 free.

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