Fürstenau and Ortenstein
24 July 2023
Fürstenau (Farschno in Romansh, canton of Graubünden) in Domleschg along the Hinterrhein is a medieval town of around 300 inhabitants. It is called the smallest city in Switzerland or even the world.
Fürstenau appeared after the Bishop of Chur became Prince of the Holy Roman Empire. A bishop with the title of prince is first attested in 1170: prince-bishop Egino von Ehrenfel. Bishops were spiritual and secular lords at the same time. In 1257, the name Fürstenau was mentioned for the first time in connection with an episcopal charter.
In the Middle Ages, the Bishop of Chur became the most important secular ruler of the region. The building of castles is related to this development. Fürstenau was conceived as the centre of the bishop’s lordship rights in Domleschg and on the Heinzenberg, adjacent to the sphere of power of the barons of Vaz and their castles Alt-Sins (Canova) and Ortenstein.
The small town was not only of great importance as a trading and marketplace, but it had also become the centre of princely possessions in the upper part of the Domleschg. The bishop often resided in Fürstenau for these reasons.
The founding of the Free State of the Three Leagues (Freitstaates der Drei Bünde)) and the Articles of IIlanz of 1524 and 1526 curtailed the political power of the bishop. The confessional and lordly relations were newly regulated, but there was no change in the possession and existence of the bishopric, which explains its long presence in Fürstenau until 1877.
The Evangelical church (1354)
Domleschg is known for its mild climate and thousands of fruit trees. 120 apple and 30 pear varieties thrive on the high-trunk trees. Domleschg fruits were (and still are) very much in demand. The Russian Tsar is said to have particularly favoured apples from Domleschg.
Schauenstein, a hotel nowadays
The city has two castles (Schauenstein or Oberes Schloss) and the bishop’s castle (Unteres Schloss). Other buildings are the bishop’s palace (the Meierhaus), the merchant building (the Stoffelhaus and its Gothic frescoes from the fourteenth century), the church from 1354 and other buildings, which give the town an urban appearance.
(Source and further information: Kathrin Gurtner. Fürstenau. Stadt in Kleinformat. Gesellschaft für Schweizerische Kunstgeschichte, Bern2001; www.fuerstenau.ch)
Lords von Vaz built the castle Ortenstein in the 13th century. The castle is privately owned nowadays.