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Romanesque & Gothic (Middle Ages, ca. 800-1500)

In the Middle Ages, two climbing plants dominated Central Europe: ivy and grapevine. While ivy grew uninvited, the breeding of grapevines was a deliberate choice in facade greening. Introduced by the Romans in the first millennium after Christ, problems arose time and again with the ripening of the berries. But wine had to be produced- above all for the sacramental communion wine for religious rituals- but also as a source of enjoyment and comfort for the toil and hardships that characterised such a time; when distilled, the fermented 'spirit' was used as a disinfectant and narcotic for medicine. But what was found in the barrels often resembled bitter vinegar more than drinkable wine. Because the native vines coming from the south lacked warmth, and the German monks were anxious to cultivate particularly fast-ripening varieties, sour grapes were often the result.

Grapevine near a 12th c. monastery church, Zscheiplitz / Saxony-Anhalt
Grapevine near a 12th c. monastery church, Zscheiplitz / Saxony-Anhalt

Walls as Heat-Sources for Grapevines

When grapevines were put on protective monastery walls, vineyard walls, or on house walls, they warmed up, ripened better, and became sweeter and sweeter! Clearly, such fruits (or what children and sweet-toothers left behind) went immediately to the wine press. Wall greening became thus a very practical undertaking.


Grapevines are thus always suitable on buildings that were greened in the Middle Ages, because everywhere where such greened structures stand, viticulture (wine growing) was practiced! Today, however, modern, fungus-tolerant varieties are recommended.

Vines on an old vineyard cottage, Freyburg / Saxony-Anhalt
Old vineyard cottage

Ivy as a Native Climbing Plant

The question of whether the ivy on medieval castles was always there is up for debate. The question probably does not arise for visiting tourists who simply appreciate its tranquil beauty. In any case, ivy is always appropriate when large-scale greenings are desired on very old masonry.

Ivy, Castle Kronach / Bavaria
Greened fortress

More Evidence of Historical Plants

The presence of honeysuckle, and especially roses, have also been detected in this period-- not our current cultivated varieties, but wild roses like Rosa Canina, of which the most famous is probably the 1000-year-old rose at the cathedral in Hildesheim. Espalier fruit and hops were also found. Other plants can look very nice now, but they are more modern additions,not Middle Age originals. Plant beds at the base of the building were also found.


Rose, Monastery Bernburg / Sachsen-Anhalt
medieval window with rose

Photo Gallery

View more examples of re-greened buildings from the Middle Ages. Please click on the photos.

1000-year-old ('millennial) Rose 'Rosa Canina' -- Dom Hildesheim / Niedersachsen
Rosa Canina at the cloister in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony
Modern Roses, Romanesque church in Hallenberg Böll / Saxony Anhalt
Base of the buildings greened with different plants. Bernburg / Saxony-Anhalt
New grapevine trellis, Gothic ruins in Bautzen / Sachsen
Grapevine as a bush, Romanesque village church Lüttchendorf / Saxony-Anhalt
Old espaliered pear tree, Chapel from 1487/88 (tree-ring dating), Louis City / Bavaria
Ivy, cloister of the Cathedral of Merseburg / Saxony-Anhalt
Base planting, Sunflowers, St. Aegidien, Bernburg / Saxony-Anhalt
Vines on wires, base of a medieval water tower, Jessen / Saxony-Anhalt
Cloister with ivy in the medieval cathedral of Merseburg / Saxony-Anhalt
Early Gothic Franciscan monastery with wisteria, Saalfeld / Thuringia
Monument protected courtyard with roses on steel cables, early Gothic Franciscan monastery with Wisteria, Saalfeld / Thuringia
Vine on an old wine house "Vinzenc Richter," Meißen / Saxony
Roses in Lübeck / Schleswig-Holstein
Vineyard on the Neuchâtel, Freyburg an der Unstrut / Saxony-Anhalt
This late medieval building - a well known photo motive - was later greened with wisteria. Market of Meersburg at Lake Constance / Baden-Wuerttemberg
Wisteria with autumn foliage on a nobleman's house from the 15th c... was clearly greened later on. Lindenstr. 9 in Überlingen / Baden-Wuerttemberg
Thicket creeper and historic flower boxes on the Gothic town hall of Quedlinburg / Saxony-Anhalt