Today, Rheinfels is one of the largest ruins on the River Rhine. In 1245, Count Diether von Katzenelnbogen gave orders for the hilltop castle near St. Goar to be built. Its lively court life made the toll castle a cultural centre on the Middle Rhine in the 14th and 15th centuries. In 1479, it passed into the possession of the Hessian landgraves.
In 1692, the siege of the fortress ended French attempts to expand their territory which were supported by Ludwig XIV. With a force of only 4,000 men, the Count of Görtz, a general of Landgrave Karl von Hesse-Kassel, defended the last German stronghold against an army of 28,000 soldiers. Thus, the well-contrived fortification system, which had been built around the medieval inner castle by Landgrave Karl and his predecessors in the 16th and 17th centuries, passed its ultimate test. The fortress sits far out on a rocky promontory making it almost impregnable against cannon attacks from the landward side.
It is still possible to visit parts of the impressive and extensive mine gallery. In addition, the tunnels on the Rhine side and two forts have also survived. These few remains suffice to outline the original dimensions of the biggest Renaissance fortress on the Rhine.
In the 13th century, only a relatively small castle with a square layout was built. Count Wilhelm II von Katzenelnbogen added a number of buildings in the 14th century, including, among others, the women’s building which is three stories high and today houses the castle museum.
In 1843, the Prussian Crown Prince Wilhelm, who was to become Emperor Wilhelm I, bought the ruins but made no attempts to rebuild them. In the last century, some of the buildings were restored, and the former Fort Scharfeneck was turned into a hotel between 1970 and 1973.