All photos by Frances or Jeff Moorhouse
The Romans gave early affirmation of the strategic and commercial value of the location by building a settlement on the left bank of the Rhein. One day this place would be called Stein am Rhein, which literally, means stone on the Rhein. Its fortunes have always been inexorably linked with location – where the Rhein courses from Lake of Constance (the Bodensee) toward the Rheinfall, about twelve miles downstream at Schaffhausen.
A view of Stein am Rhine over the Rhine River
Now, after a millennium of history, this tiny northern city is home to some 3,000 inhabitants, which remarkably, is only about double its population in the 1800’s. And today, w ith great justification, Stein am Rhein is widely regarded as Switzerland’s best preserved medieval small town.
The whole of the city is comprised of the medieval town center, the Vor der Brugg, a quarter on the left bank of the Rhine, the modern quarters, a few farmhouses, and the two islets of Werd.
Together with Buch, Hemishofen and Ramsen, Stein am Rhein forms an enclave belonging to what is known as the “oberer Kantonsteil” (the upper canton).
In a district that takes its name from the region’s largest city, Stein am Rhine occupies a mere 575 hectares on both sides of the Rhein. The whole of the city is under the protective gaze of the 13th century Castle of Hohenklingen, perched high on a hilltop surrounded by vineyards and woods.
For those with the time and stamina, a walk up to the Castle of Hohenklingen offers rewards of its own. From its tower you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Lake of Constance, the surrounding area, and on clear days – the Alps.
Also recommended is a visit to Kirche Burg in Vor der Brugg, the quarter situated on the left shore of the Rhine. There you will find remains of the wall of the ancient Roman fortifications Tasgetium. From that point, it is a pleasant walk paralleling the Rhein to the little island of Werd and the Chapel of St. Otmar which is still cared for by abbey monks.
The immense cultural heritage of this medieval city is a major source of pride to the citizens of Stein am Rhein. As children, they learn about the colorful stories told by the painted facades of historic buildings.
These paintings, some biblical or historical in nature depict tales of wine, vineyards, crafts, festivals and a full range of human conditions. Themes vary from history or mythology, commerce or warfare to morality. Originally, the wealthy residents of these decidedly upscale dwellings had these frescoes applied as highly visible testimony to their affluence.
In modern times these same decorations require a serious commitment from new owners who must agree to maintain these fr escoes in a pristine state. Happily for visitors to St am Rhein, these wonderfully frescoed buildings are windows that offer an amazing clarity on The Middle Ages.
Stein am Rhein is very approachable to the visitor. It exists on a scale which encourages a participatory style of exploration and discovery . . . walking. Most of these journeys begin at, or in view of, the town square where the most dominant building is the Town Hall, built between 1539 and 1542.
Just around the corner, the Monastery of St. George, is situated directly on the Rhein. As the first official building in the city, it is of special historical and cultural significance and well worth a visit. The ancient monastery was transferred from the Hohentwiel to Stein am Rhein in 1002 until 1007 and is now a museum. Nearby, the picture gallery of the Abbot David von Winkelsheim is especially valued by art historians.
The former monastery church is now the Protestant town church. A walk in the Obergass will take you to the oberter (Upper Gate)) part of the ancient town wall. From there you continue across the Fronhof to the Unterior (Lower Gate) which was mistakenly destroyed in 1945 by US bombers. In the Choligass you will find beautiful old half timbered houses.
A stroll along the riverside promenade will lead to the Schiffiande, the stopping point for the motor barges and motor craft that ply the Rhein. The boat trip on the river Rhine from Schaffhausen to Stein am Rhein leads you through one of the most beautiful areas in all of Europe. With a shoreline that changes its nationality alternatively from Swiss to German and back.
Some special houses in Stein am Rhein:
Staff Photos: FLM
Weisser Adler (White Eagle) The house situated opposite of the town hall carries the oldest and most precious faзade paintings in the early Renaissance style dating back to 1520/1530.
Vordere Krone (Fore Crown) One of the most distinguished houses in town with its very special high erected frame worked gable. The oriel dates from 1707. The interior is decorated in the Renaissance and Baroque style.
Roter Ochsen (Red Ox) The oldest Public House of the town, mentioned in reports dating back to 1466, has a gothic front and an outstanding decorative oriel and wall paintings from 1615.
Steinerner Trauben (Stony Grape) Carefully arranged, regular faзade with a casket oriel out of sand-stone. The main front painting shows Joshua and Kaleb with a giant grape.
Sonne (Sun) Oldest Guest House in Stein am Rhein(16th century). The oriel dates from 1659, the front paintings from 1900. The main picture shows Diogenes and Alexander the Great.
Schwarzes Horn (Black Horn) First mentioned in 1476. The Baron Johann Rudolf Schmid von Schwarzenhorn (1590-1667) was born in this house.
The Museum Lindwurm in the Understadt offers a glimpse into Bourgeois Life and Agriculture in the 19th Century. The oldest parts of the museum have been traced back to 1279. In the 16th century, the building was expanded and converted to a manor house. After further renovations in 1819 the facade of a palais created at the time remains the only one in the city to retain the Empire style.
The interior of the house is a faithful restoration of a bourgeois residence at the middle of the 19th century. The historical ambient, historically correct furnishings and a myriad of other artifacts provide the visitor with a vivid impression of the lifestyle enjoyed by the upper classes of the day.
While an authentic ancient city in every respect, Stein am Rhein is nonetheless home to its residents as well as a welcome experience to its visitors. Both share equally in the high quality of life that is so typical throughout Switzerland. And, both avail themselves of the restaurants, bistros, konditori, a host of small shops and services that fill the limits of this tiny city, walled since medieval times.
Nearby, one may discover the Napoleonic presence in Switzerland, the beauty of the Bodensee and a pristine countryside dotted with picturesque villages, towns and farms.
On a personal note, our many pleasant recollections of visits to Stein am Rhein are what inspired us to tell you about one of the very finest medieval cities in all of Europe.
We wish to express our gratitude to the Tourism Office of Stein am Rhein for their invaluable assistance in forming this article. All photos courtesy of the Tourism Office of Stein am Rhein or the authors. For further information on visiting Switzerland, please use this link . . .