Brugg Youth Hostel
History - Schloss Altenburg
Near the former Roman legion camp in Vindonissa, at a point where, from the south, the River Aare is forced eastwards into a narrow rocky bed, a small castle was built in the Late Roman period. The origins of its curtain wall – up to seven metres high in places – date back to the 4th century. Later, in the Early Middle Ages, the remains of the small castle are said to have been a bishop’s castle and then even the seat of the early Habsburgs.
As the first indicators of the origins of the Altenburg, there are finds of earlier origin which were re-used and incorporated during the construction of the walls up to four metres thick. These would all appear to be connected with nearby Vindonissa. For example, an inscribed tablet from the year 260 refers to the reconstruction of the walls at Vindonissa. An even earlier fragment was once part of a horseman’s gravestone dating from the 1st century. In view of the embedded finds, the defensive walls clearly appear to be of Late Roman origin.
According to the chronicles of Sigmund Fry (1530), the Altenburg was constructed to protect a ferry crossing to the opposite bank of the River Aare. Other theories claimed that the construction of the Altenburg was intended to replace the destroyed Vindonissa. At the beginning of the 19th century, researchers even thought that the Altenburg was a former bridgehead.
Archaeological excavations have uncovered evidence of four earlier round towers. However, there is a reason to believe that the einceinte had up to ten round towers. It has not been possible to form a clear picture of the inner buildings. The surviving buildings, which have retained and integrated the ancient curtain wall, are all of later origin. It is the tallest Roman stonework still preserved in Switzerland.
The original Habsburg castle
The first written reference is to an «Altinburch» or old castle, in 1254. No documentary evidence exists of the early Habsburgs living on the Altenburg at the start of the last millennium, nor of a presumed one-time bishop’s residence. The first connection with the original Habsburg castle was made in the mid-17th century by the chronicler Matthäus Merian. In the late 19th century, Father Martin Kiem from Muri Monastery attributed the documented surname of the early Habsburger «Kanzellin von Altenburg» to the Altenburg near Brugg. Evidence of this might lie in one of
Altenburg’s two known coats of arms, which depicted a red lion wearing a crown.
The «Little Castle» The building which is today home to the youth hostel probably dates only from the 16th century. It is known as the «Schlösschen» or Little Castle on account of its tower-house shape and twin crow-stepped gables. On the first two floors, the Roman wall makes up the western side. In 1938, the Pro Vindonissa Society and the Aargau Historical Association acquired the disused buildings and had them converted into a youth hostel. After a delay caused by the war, the «Schlössli Altenburg» was able to open as a youth hostel in 1941.
Brugg Youth Hostel today
Corner with tiled stove and coat of arms 1941
Reconstruction of the small late Roman castle 1946