Upper Middle Rhine Valley

 Germany
States of Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) and Hesse (Hessen)
N50 10 25 E7 41 39
Date of Inscription: 2002
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(v)
Property : 27,250 ha
Buffer zone: 34,680 ha
Ref: 1066
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The 65km-stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley, with its castles, historic towns and vineyards, graphically illustrates the long history of human involvement with a dramatic and varied natural landscape. It is intimately associated with history and legend and for centuries has exercised a powerful influence on writers, artists and composers.

The strategic location of the dramatic 65km stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley between Bingen, Rüdesheim and Koblenz as a transport artery and the prosperity that this engendered is reflected in its sixty small towns, the extensive terraced vineyards and the ruins of castles that once defended its trade.

The river breaks through the Rhenish Slate Mountains, connecting the broad floodplain of the Oberrheingraben with the lowland basin of the Lower Rhine. The property extends from the Bingen Gate (Binger Pforte), where the River Rhine flows into the deeply gorged, canyon section of the Rhine Valley, through the 15km long Bacharach valley, with smaller V-shaped side valleys, to Oberwesel where the transition from soft clay-slates to hard sandstone, results. In a series of narrows, the most famous of which is the Loreley, no more than 130m wide (and at 20m the deepest section of the Middle Rhine), and then up to the Lahnstein Gate (Lahnsteiner Pforte), where the river widens again into the Neuwied Valley. The property also includes the adjoining middle and upper Rhine terraces (Upper Valley) which bear witness to the course taken by the river in ancient times.

As a transport route, the Rhine has served as a link between the southern and northern halves of the continent since prehistoric times, enabling trade and cultural exchange, which in turn led to the establishment of settlements. Condensed into a very small area, these subsequently joined up to form chains of villages and small towns. For over a 1,000 years the steep valley sides have been terraced for vineyards.

The landscape is punctuated by some 40 hill top castles and fortresses erected over a period of around 1,000 years. Abandonment and later the wars of the 17th century left most as picturesque ruins. The later 18th century saw the growth of sensibility towards the beauties of nature, and the often dramatic physical scenery of the Middle Rhine Valley, coupled with the many ruined castles on prominent hilltops, made it appeal strongly to the Romantic movement, which in turn influenced the form of much 19th century restoration and reconstruction.

The Rhine is one of the world’s great rivers and has witnessed many crucial events in human history. The stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley between Bingen and Koblenz is in many ways an exceptional expression of this long history. It is a cultural landscape that has been fashioned by humankind over many centuries and its present form and structure derive from human interventions conditioned by the cultural and political evolution of Western Europe. The geomorphology of the Middle Rhine Valley, moreover, is such that the river has over the centuries fostered a cultural landscape of great beauty which has strongly influenced artists of all kinds – poets, painters, and composers – over the past two centuries.

Criterion (ii): As one of the most important transport routes in Europe, the Middle Rhine Valley has for two millennia facilitated the exchange of culture between the Mediterranean region and the north.

Criterion (iv): The Middle Rhine Valley is an outstanding organic cultural landscape, the present-day character of which is determined both by its geomorphological and geological setting and by the human interventions, such as settlements, transport infrastructure, and land use, that it has undergone over two thousand years.

Criterion (v): The Middle Rhine Valley is an outstanding example of an evolving traditional way of life and means of communication in a narrow river valley. The terracing of its steep slopes in particular has shaped the landscape in many ways for more than two millennia. However, this form of land use is under threat from the socio-economic pressures of the present day.

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4 comments

  • Dotting the river banks are numerous quaint old towns and spectacular old castles, fun to explore on a hop-on, hop-off day pass on regular ferry services, or as part of a longer river cruise that takes in other parts of the Rhine, or even by car or bicycle. However you get here, top places to go in the Rhine Valley include the towns of Bingen am Rhein and Bacharach, each offering enough adventure to keep you busy for hours.

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  • This was our circuit/ring tour in summary. It took us over five hours including a lot of photo stops and walking around Rüdesheim.

    Park car at Bingen by passenger ferry (this part can be bypassed if you can take your car to Rüdesheim)
    Go to Rüdesheim am Rhein via passenger/car ferry
    Ride the gondola up to Niederwald Memorial (15 minutes)
    Hike (3km) to Hotel Jagdschloss Niederwald
    Ride the chair lift down to Assmannshausen (15 min)
    Walk to the boat dock area (10 min)
    Cruise to Bingen or back to Rüdesheim (45 min)

    Our family really enjoyed this ring tour. It was a great route and variety of transportation options that took us above the area for some stunning views and a cruise through portions of the beautiful Rhine Valley. It was the best way to get a taste of what this area has to offer while including the outdoors and some history. We highly recommend doing this circuit/ring tour when visiting the area.

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  • What to Do

    1. Castle Spotting — Easily the most popular activity on the Upper Middle Rhine, as over forty castles crown the hills of the region, with some open to the public. Rheinfels Fortress above St. Goar and Rheinstein Castle are two of the most prominent fortifications that you can visit, in addition to the famous Pfalzgrafenstein Toll Station that resides in the middle of the Rhine and was used to collect fees from passing boats to ply the waters.

    2. Hiking — If you’re the active type, the famous Rheinsteig Trail atop the cliffs that weaves past the famous castles and in-and-out of local vineyards is a thrill to traverse.

    3. Cruising — The most relaxing way to take in the scenery of steep vineyards and castles while treating yourself at the same time is by boat, and some line offers hop-on-hop-off services throughout the entire stretch of the Upper Middle Rhine. Spending a few hours on one of these vessels makes for a great day that feels like a vacation-in-a-vacation.

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  • We cruised up the river from Rudesheim, with beautiful views on either side, to Burg Rheinstein, a gorgeous medieval castle built in the early 1300s. From the tallest turret, you can pretend to catapult cows at your mortal enemies. Back at the town centre, we took an idyllic old-school cable-car ride up to the Niederwald Monument, a sculpture commemorating the unification of Germany, from which you get a breathtaking panoramic view of the river and the vineyards on its banks.

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