Few fortresses in our country dominate a landscape as prominently as the mighty Castle of Tarasp. Built on a one hundred metres high rock, the fortress overlooks the hamlet at the foot of the castle hill and its white walls are reflected in the lake of Tarasp.
In the fist half of the 11th century, the lords of Tarasp took up residence here after having moved from the region of Lake of Como to the Engadine. In 1239, the fortress fell to the Counts of Tyrol. Since the Lower Engadine belonged to the Diocese of Chur, there followed several violent conflicts between the Counts of Tyrol, the Grisons and the bishops of Chur over the castle's ownership and hegemony in the Lower Engadine. As from 1464, Tarasp was an Austrian county. Even today the palace wall flaunts the imperial eagle and a writing says «Hie Estereih». In the course of the 16th century, the complex was enlarged to its present size and converted to a frontier fortress.
In 1803 Napoleon assigned Tarasp to the Helvetic Republic. Yet the young Canton of Grisons had neither the money for, nor a reasonable use of the poorly maintained fortress and, in 1829, sold Tarasp for less than five hundred francs to a private man from Scuol. Tarasp changed hands several times and in the following decades was completely ransacked. Furniture and wall panels were carried away by cartloads and sold on the arts market. The battlement walks and wooden porches were reduced to pieces and used as firewood by the villagers. Around 1900, the castle stood there desolate and left to ruin.
In summer 1900, Dr Karl August Lingner, an industrialist from Dresden, came to Tarasp for a spa stay. He visited the castle and was indignant about its condition. He purchased the complex for 20’000 francs and decided to carry out a complete renovation. Lingner appointed Prof Rudolf Rahn, best Swiss expert for castles at the time, as his consultant. Thus, the entire old building structure could be conserved. Precious panelling and furniture was then bought from old patrician houses of Grisons and the neighbouring Tyrolean nobility, to redecorate the castle.
In the former armoury, Lingner had e big concert organ built-in: Tarasp was to become a castle of sounds. The castle’s organ is a masterpiece of the Dresden organ building company Jehmlich. Thanks to the great contribution of the Orgelstiftung, the organ was comprehensively restored by the manufacturer in 1934, and has since been played in concerts during the summer months.
Dr Lingner also took care of the castle’s surroundings, the hill and the lake. Over one thousand trees were planted, and a network of paths built in the park – in order that the lord of the castle could go for a ride in his car. Since a general ban on car driving persisted in Graubünden up to 1925, Dr Lingner arranged to have his car horse-drawn from the frontier up to Tarasp, where he could drive it on his private roads.
Sadly, Dr Lingner never came to live in the renovated castle. When everything was ready for his ceremonious receipt, he died unexpectedly on June 5, 1916. The beautiful lady, who he’d planned to receive in Tarasp, never set foot in the rooms prepared for her.
Johann P. Fanzun
By Lingner’s will, the castle was bequeathed to Frederick August III, last king of Saxony who, however, refused the legacy. Whereupon it fell to Lingner’s art-loving friend, Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse and by Rhine in Darmstadt. Ernest Louis, as well as his son Louis and his wife Princess Margaret, have loved this castle and maintained it for decades. After the death of the princess in 1997, it was taken over by the family of Moritz, Landgrave of Hesse and his children Mafalda, Heinrich Donatus, Elena and Philip, who continued to take care of the castle complex.
Since May 2008, there is a purchase rights treaty between the community of Tarasp and the family of Hesse, whereas now the community provides an annual deficit guarantee for the castle’s upkeep
Have a look at the historical photographs in the Picture gallery!