Open Conference Systems, Kainua 2017

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Analyzing the Medieval Landscape of the Pfalz—Castles in the Area of Kaiserslautern
Aaron Pattee

Last modified: 2016-11-26


This study explores the integration of various methods including photogrammetry, laser-scanning, GIS, and textual analysis in order to create a more holistic and anthropological understanding of the medieval landscape of the Pfalz in the area of Kaiserslautern, Germany.  The case study is composed of several castles surrounding the former royal palace (Königspfalz) in Kaiserslautern, including Burg Hohenecken, Burg Perlenberg, Burg Beilstein, Burg Wilenstein, and a Teutonic Knight Order in the Einsiedlerhof.  These defensive structures served as key components to a larger network of fortresses built throughout the Pfalz from 1050-1300 A.D during the period of the High Middle Ages.

The castles were quarried from the iconic red sandstone bedrock of the region (Buntsandstein) and crafted into ornate symbols of royal grandeur. The area of the Pfalz surrounding the city of Kaiserslautern is a memorial to the grand architecture of this period, but also a testament to the progress of time.  The natural landscape of wave-like mountains forming the Saarbrücker-Pfälzer Sattel (the Saarbrücker-Palatinate Anticline), the former inland sea (where the Einsiedlerhof currently is), and dense forest of the Pfalz were manipulated to the advantage of the medieval rulers.  The Pfalz was the most direct way from the Kingdom of Germany into the Kingdom of France and therefore required strong defenses to protect the borders.  Throughout the past 800 years, the landscape has been significantly altered, suffering intense periods of scorched-earth war tactics, depopulation, deforestation, and pollution. The mountains have remained, but the inland sea has all but disappeared, save for a few larger lakes hidden within the forest.  The depiction of the Pfälzer landscape since the construction of the castle network has been drastically changed. Major medieval high ways, placed upon previous Roman roads, have become little more than occasionally traveled forest paths, and all of the castles are now ruins. Thus, in order to reveal the medieval landscape and postulate the strategic positioning of the case study sites, integrative digital methods must be applied.  The project is divided into two main components: the visual component and the textual component.

The objectives of the visual component are to merge laser-scan and photogrammetric models, in order to combine the measuring strength of terrestrial laser-scanning (TLS) with the aesthetics of photogrammetry necessary for architectural analyses. Once digitized as merged 3D-models, the sites can be virtually controlled and examined in GIS via aerial laser-scan (ALS) data. Using QGIS, viewshed analyses from the tops of castle towers will provide a depiction of what the inhabitants could possibly have seen. The viewsheds will also assist in determining the height of nearby castles (e.g. Burg Perlenberg—currently no taller than one meter). The castles would have been able to see each other from certain positions. Mountain ridges commonly obstruct the modern view from one castle to another, requiring the towers to have been a certain heights to see over the ridgelines. The vegetation of the region also presented issues of obstruction during the period in which the castles were in use. The hills upon which castles were placed were deforested to allow for a clear vision out what lay below the outer walls.  Using OPALS (Orientation and Processing of Airborne Laser Scanning Data), the vegetation from the aerial LiDAR data around the castles will be removed, revealing a more accurate depiction of how the surroundings may have looked in the Middle Ages.

Preforming a buffer in GIS of the areas surrounding the known medieval high ways within the area of medieval Lautern will demonstrate where the areas of least protection were located.  Locating areas outside the view of the defensive towers relative to the high ways will help determine whether or not these roads were indeed well protected.  Safeguarding the high ways was essential for the nobles of the castles, given their duties as guardians of the royal palace in Lautern.

Conducting a GIS hydrologic analysis of the area will help determine where the lakes were to be found and where water would have naturally drained—especially important given the amount of rain in this area.  During the Middle Ages, this area of the Palatinate Forest (Pfälzerwald) would have been very wet—nearly swampy—making the land difficult to traverse with a large caravan. The royal entourages of the German Kings were considerably large requiring efficient and well-protected high ways adjusting for the topographical limitations of the terrain. The paths of the most efficient high ways will be determined using the least cost path analysis. The medieval landscape can be effectively and accurately analyzed using these methods with the primary goal of identifying the functions of the structures and the reasoning for their placement.

The textual component of the project consists of historical documents related to the sites accumulated by the Institut für pfälzische Geschichte und Volkskunde (Institute for Palatinate History and Folklore) in Kaiserslautern.  These documents are composed of letters (both copies of the originals and transcriptions), previous archaeological excavation reports, maps, drawing, etchings, and general histories of both the castles and their former inhabitants.  The documents provide the means to contextualize the project within the framework of the medieval culture. The information from the documents offer key details regarding the former landscape surrounding the sites, information specifying funding for structures, correspondences among nobles, the extent of fiefdoms, and the construction of the sites themselves.

The interdisciplinary nature of the project spanning anthropology, archaeology, history, and computer science allows it to be innovative and experimental. Access to high resolution models of the structures without having to be physically present at the sites is a significant advantage for both researching the architecture of the structures and for digital preservation efforts.  The viewsheds, buffering, hydrology, and least cost path functions of GIS will be essential in recreating the former landscape, using the 3D models of the castles as focal points for the project. The addition of details provided by historical documents of the area will create a more holistic depiction of the medieval landscape.