Questenburg Castle, near Sangerhausen in the Mansfeld-Südharz district, was likely built in the mid-13th century. In the basement of the tower, still standing at a height of 7 meters, numerous carvings and enigmatic drawings were discovered.

Castles were used to assert dominance in the Middle Ages and the early Modern Age. Their lords typically held lower jurisdiction and engaged in warfare in feuds and other military conflicts, taking prisoners in the process.

Kidnapping individuals for ransom could even be a source of income, especially in the later stages of the Middle Ages. Therefore, it’s evident that castle strongholds had places to detain people.

These dungeons were located in the basements of towers or other structures, often featuring rooms accessible only through an opening in the ceiling due to the typical height of the entrances. Windowless, deep, dark, and barely visible through the “hole of fear”, these dungeons are now eerie attractions in many castles open to tourists.

Questenburg Castle was likely constructed by the counts of Beichlingen-Rothenburg. Today, the spur fortress, perched dominantly over the valley, forms impressive ruins.

In the elongated main or upper castle, one can find the ruins of the palace, some outbuildings, and the stump of the round keep, largely stripped of its outer shell by stone thieves.

The tower covered the fortress on the northwest attack side, protected by deep trenches carved into the rock. To the southwest, beneath the main castle, there is a walled outer courtyard and another terrace, likely part of the fortification complex. Timber-framed buildings were likely located here. Otherwise, the predominant construction material was a light gray, fairly soft dolomitic limestone or gypsum.

On the round base, approximately 3.2 meters in diameter, of the tower, now roofless, with an outer width of 8.8 meters and still about 7 meters high, someone incised numerous drawings, likely created in the mid-13th century or the second half of that century.

The rough and soft mortar of the limestone blocks served as the canvas. While more than 70 representations were visible in the twenties, a new study has identified around 60 different depictions.

According to Prof. Dr. Felix Biermann, presenting them in the current volume of the Jahresschrift für Mitteldeutsche Vorgeschichte, most can be attributed to a single person, although there are a smaller number of representations of a second and a third prisoner.

The images must have been created in the late Middle Ages or early Modern Age, as the depicted tools can be dated to that period by their style. They include tools, farm implements, everyday objects, Christian, heraldic or magical symbols, geometric shapes, sexualized and scenic representations. The latter include, for example, hammers striking an anvil and possibly symbolic images, such as the composition of a lock and a key.

The abundance of graffiti only begins about 0.5 meters above the current base of the tower. Since not a single carving was made at a greater depth, it is likely that the lower parts were covered by contemporary fill – perhaps debris or trash, a telling testament to the circumstances in which the prisoners were held.


Sources

Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt | Felix Biermann, Botschaften aus Burgverliesen – spätmittelalterlich-frühneuzeitliche Ritzzeichnungen in Questenberg (Harz) und Greiffenberg (Uckermark). Jahresschrift für Mitteldeutsche Vorgeschichte 99, 2023, 475-532. 10.11.2023. DOI: 10.11588/jsmv.2023.1.100718


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