10 March 2024

Bastei: Amazing Bridged Bastion of Saxony

Bastei in German translates as bastion and you can easily see why this name was chosen for this towering rock formation, situated on the River Elbe near Dresden in the German Free State of Saxony.  Towering almost 200 meters over the river below, Bastei was formed by water erosion over a million years ago. In recent times it has become such an object of fascination that a bridge linking a number of the rocks was constructed, and is itself something of a marvel of Victorian age engineering.

Although the bridge is a destination in its own right, when you are on it you realize just how high it soars above the Elbe.

The bridge doesn’t really lead anywhere but simply spans a number of the huge rocks which make up the Bastei formation.  It was built in 1851 and replaced an earlier wooden bridge (below) which was no longer considered appropriate to carry the weight of so many visitors.
Yet the Bastei had been a destination for almost a century before that even, attracting well-heeled visitors who would make an arduous trek to get to the landmark then simply gawp (and who can blame them?) or, in the case of artists like Christian Gottlob Hammer, record what they had seen like posterity (above).

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Today, Bastei can be approached in a much more sedate manner.  Many tourists base themselves in Dresden and can opt to take a gentle ride on a paddle steamer from the city to Rathen, a small but charming spa town in the shadow of Bastei.  The rest is something of a climb. However, a staircase with 487 steps created in 1814 climbs out of the valley and to the rocks. Although steep, these stairs are still preferable than clambering through rocky scrubland. It is considered a worthwhile trek when the bridge is finally glimpsed close up.

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As well as promenading across the bridge, visitors can also ascend a little higher and take in the breath-taking views afforded by the railed lookout point.

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The Bastei is one of the most conspicuous lookout points in Saxon Switzerland: it can be seen for many miles but likewise those perched atop it can take in a huge panorama of gorgeous German countryside.  One can imagine soldiers stationed there in days gone by, on watch to report any invaders to the masters of the nearby Neurathen Castle and Königstein Fortress

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Many of the rocks are said to have the appearance of a person or animal.  One set which look like a pair of praying hands is called Der Mönch or The Monk.  Some enterprising climbers have added their own rendition to the top of it, which seems to swivel in the wind much like a weather vane.  How they managed to haul it up there is anyone’s guess but what they lacked in artistic aesthetics they certainly made up for in mountaineering chutzpah.

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Sometimes you may see a figure and think that the mountaineers have been placing their art on top of yet another rock.

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You might not always be correct, however. He may not even be a mountaineer. He could simply have lost his dog. Or he could be completely barking mad.

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The Bastei is situated in a National Park called Saxon Switzerland which can occasionally lead to confusion with the real Switzerland which is quite a way away.  The name in fact originates from two visiting Swiss artists who in 1766 attended the Dresden Academy of Art.  They were perhaps pining a little for the land they had left and the rocky areas around Dresden reminded them of home.  They exchanged letters describing the place as Saxon Switzerland which were later read by a popular writer of the time, Wilhelm Lebrecht Götzinger.  He liked the term so much that he disseminated it in his own writing and the new name quickly caught on.

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The incredible Bastei and its bridge will no doubt draw people to the beauty of Saxon Switzerland for many centuries to come.

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