CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER LIDOWSKI
Driving into Homburg, it’s hard to miss Castle Rock Mountain. It overlooks the town in Germany’s Saarland region and provides a stunning view of the area. Standing on the top of the mountain, you have no idea that right under your feet is Europe’s largest sandstone cave.
More than 250 million of years ago, wind deposited layers of desert sand that over time formed a mountain. Ocean waves shaped how the sand settled and hardened into the mountain that dominated the landscape. In the seventeenth century, the mountain offered a defendable position and a French fortress was built upon its peak. It was eventually discovered that beneath the fortress, the mountain hid layers of sand tinted yellow and red by quartz and mineral deposits. The yellow sand was prized for the high-quality glass it could produce. The discovery lead to years of mining that resulted in Homburg’s Schlossberg Caves, or the Castle Rock Caves, which form the largest sandstone cave in Europe with twelve separate floors. Though the fortress was eventually destroyed in 1714 when the French turned the territory over to the Germans, the caves remained intact and hidden within the mountain walls.
The caves were largely forgotten during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries until they were rediscovered in the 1930s by children playing on the mountainside. The caves soon become a popular destination for people who wanted to explore their hidden rooms, enjoy the cool 50° F temperature during hot summer months, and use their winding corridors for parties and concerts. During World War II, the caves took on a new role. They housed up to 5,000 people at a time who were searching for shelter during bombings. Families set up house within the caves with each family carving out a cubby.
The soft sandstone walls allowed them to construct shelves directly in the mountain walls to hold their belongings. After World War II revealed the caves’ protective qualities, a 1950s era bunker was built in one of its caverns.
Today, visitors can tour the Schlossberg Caves. Tours occur on the hour, and English speaking guides can be requested. The guide leads visitors through one of the cave floors while explaining how the mountain formed and the historical markers that can be observed in the multi-colored layers of sand, such as the red lines that indicate periods of flooding. With the guide’s help, you can even see ripples in the ceiling that resulted from water flowing over the mountain’s exterior millions of years ago and discover roots from a linden tree growing on the mountain’s surface.
The caves can be reached from several routes once you arrive in Homburg. Visitors can park at the top of Castle Mountain next to the fortress’s ruins and follow the path behind the Schlossberg Hotel to the cave entrance. Or, visitors can walk up the mountain from a path starting at St. Michael Kirche.
Tours are available daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, April through October and from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, November and February through March. The caves are closed during December and January. The last tour begins one hour before the caves close. Visitors are encouraged to call 06841-2064 to make reservations and request an English-speaking guide if needed. The Schlossberg Caves tours offer a wonderful way to appreciate more than the stunning views of Homburg from Castle Mountain; they give you the chance to explore the mountain’s heart.
Adults 5,00 Euro
Children (4-16 years old) 3,00 Euro
Families (2 adults plus 1 child) 11,00 Euro
Additional price per child on the family ticket 2,50 Euro
Address and coordinates for navigation systems:
More information can be found at www.homburg.de.