The "Kurpfalz" area around Heidelberg became a separate entity in the Middle Ages with a significance disproportional to its size, military power or economic strength as the local ruler became duke elector (one of the few nobles in charge with electing the Emperor of the Holy Roman German Empire).
The decline of the "Kurpfalz" began with the involvement of the local ruler in the devastating 30 Years War 1618 - 1648 and took another blow shortly afterwards when the French sacked the city of Heidelberg in the late 17th century and destroyed the castle.
If you are interested in the volatile history of the area, this interesting museum offers comprehensive information.
(The Kurpfalz today describes the original "Pfalz" region of the roman empire, with Heidelberg as its capital)
This museum covers an impressive array of exhibits, including Archaeology (7 rooms covering over 1,500 square metres), Heidelberg's own history as a roman settlement & modern city, artistic sculptures & paintings from the 16th - 17th century, as well as an educational corner for children (I remember this from my school years...)
Another interesting fact about the museum's building is that it was built in 1712, and Maximilian Joseph von Chelius lived here from 1830-1876: He was a German eye surgeon that founded the first surgical clinic that immensely boosted the future of the medical faculty in Heidelberg University.
My mother and I weren't really in the mood for the museum on our last visit to the city, but we visited to relax with some lunch & coffee in the gorgeous courtyard garden, where you can escape the crowds (and in summer, escape the heat of the main street... see my "off the beaten path" tip)
The current exhibit was titled "Die Kurpfaelzer", depicting the lives & culture of my ancestors in the Heidelberg region (see photo... they weren't exactly attractive... haha!) and for many people in my area, our pride & joy is the copy of the lower jaw of the Homo erectus Heidelbergensis = The Heidelberg Man: this "newly discovered human ancestor" was discovered in 1907 in Mauer (near Heidelberg) and is said to have lived between 250,000 and 600,000 years ago all over Europe.
Opening Hours 2007: daily 10:00am - 06:00pm (Mondays closed)
Admission: Adults 3 EURO (students / senior citizens: 1,80 EURO)
Sundays: Adults 1,80 EURO (students / senior citizens: 1,20 EURO)
is worth visiting in Heidelberg. If you are interested in some background information, some archaeology and history of the city and the castle, go to the Kurpfälzische Museum.
Many people pass it, as the entrance is through a gate on main street.The gate opens into a small yard, with a reconstruction of the Four-Gods-Stone of Ladenburg in the centre. Tickets are bought in the building on the left, but the main entrance is straight ahead.
Something to look out for are the special exhibitions. Some time ago there was an excellent one about the Winterking, unlucky Frederic V of Heidelberg, whose love for his wife was greater than his prudence and eventually lost him the crown.
In December 2007 there was an exhibition about Christmas 100 years ago. Lovely toys,old advent calendars, letters to Santa Claus, old Christmas ornaments - it was a beautiful exhibition. It also showed me that Christmas must have been a wonderful time back then, provided you were born into the right family among the top 5 % of the people.
Apart from history the museum also shows paintings and silverware, fine china and some furniture from the princes' daily life.
Built in 1712, same year as the Jesuit Church, is this Palais Morass (note how palace is spelt the French way in this region rather than in German) which was built for the University chancellor (imagine the importance of this post in the city!). Pride of place takes a copy of the lower jaw of a 600 000 year old "Homo erectus Heidelbergensis" which was found outside Heidelberg in 1907, but there are also great 16th century art as well as a lot of art from the Romantic period which of course was big in Heidelberg. Costumes and porcelain are als on display and there is a separate section on Heidelberg history from Roman days and onwards. Even if you won't visit the museum, I recommend that you visit the little garden as it is a really tranquil place.
In the green Weimar Palace building, the Portheim Foundation of Science and the Fine Arts has its collection open to the public as an Ethnographical Museum. Originally, the collections included a lot more than ethnography but the palace was plundered during WWII and collections of minerals and religious icons amongst other things disappeared and were sold. The museum is closed Mondays.
We never had time for this docu-centre ourselves but I really want to mention it as it deals with the way that Roma and Sinti people (often bunched together under the name of "gypsies") have been treated in Germany, and especially during the nazi period when they were sent to camps. It also tells of the differences between the two and deals with prejudices around them. If you are into the social- and cultural history of Europe, this would probably be very interesting, although their homepage is in German only and I don't know what languages are represented in the exhibitions. If you DO understand German, there are also lectures now and again on various themes.
The University Museum is a window on the history of the University of Heidelberg. The spectrum of the three-room exhibition ranges from the foundation in 1386 to the 20 th century. The wide variety of exhibits illustrate the grand tradition of the University.
Admission is free with the Heidelberg Card. (See my General Information tips.)
The late 18th century saw the establishment of a students’ prison at the rear of the Old University, now a tourist attraction. Earlier, students were subject to the jurisdiction of their universities and special jails were set up for them, still in use in the early 20th century.
Admission is free with the Heidelberg Card. See Heidelberg Card tip in General info.
There are quite a few various museums and information centers inside the Heidelberg castle. We just happened into one with quite an impressive suit of armor, as you can see in the picture.
All of these attractions are free once you have entered the castle (about EUR 3)
At the far end of the old town is the museum owned by the von-Portheim foundation. The building was built in the 18th century and today houses ethnological collections.