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The Old District Court (alte Landgericht) Building

Eingangsportal der Religionskundlichen Sammlung
Foto: Heike Luu
Eingangstür der Religionskundlichen Sammlung

"Built by the Grace of God Ludwig, Landgrave of Hessen"

The 16th-century foundation stone for Landgraf-Philipp-Strasse 4 was discovered in 1873 when renovations were carried out on the building. It contains a silver plate, the front of which is engraved with a Hessian coat of arms made up of three helmets and the back of which bears the following inscription

    - 1573 -

From God´s mercy
Ludwig Landgrave
zu Hessen,
Katzenelnbogen, Diez
Zigenhain and
Nida etc. build this
chancellery and is the
first stone laid
the 4 day of April in the year after Christ’s birth
- 1573-

From this inscription, we not only learn exactly when the cornerstone was laid—4 April 1573—but, at the same time, we learn about the contractor and the builder, Landgrave Ludwig, and the purpose of the building, the landgrave’s chancellery. One can assume that the count personally helped lay the cornerstone. Construction was completed two years later in 1575, a fact we learn from the inscription above the portal.

The university now uses the building, which in Marburg is sometimes called the New Chancellery or the Old District Court. It has housed the Museum of Religions since 12 July 1981; the Department for the Study of Religions and its extensive library were added in 1998. It rises high above the Old Town, an indication of the importance Landgrave Ludwig attached to the building.

The architect was Ebert Baldewein, who was already a respected and multitalented personality at the time of construction. Baldewein, who had been in service of the count since 1550, originally trained as a tailor but had developed astonishingly diverse talents. In addition to his work as an architect, he built astronomical clockworks that earned him contracts at the Dresden Court.

Baldewein was appointed master builder to the court in 1567 after being relieved of the unpopular post of chamberlain in charge of lighting, e.g., in charge of heating and lighting in the castle. As Marburg’s master builder, Baldewein was responsible for all the landgrave’s construction projects in the Hesse-Marburg region as well as in the Hesse-Kassel region. This is because Wilhelm IV of Hesse-Kassel, brother of Ludwig IV of Hesse-Marburg, commissioned Baldewein to build palaces in Kassel, Rotenberg an der Fulda and Schmalkalden. It may be that his brother’s magnificent buildings inspired Ludwig IV to build his new chancellery but what is certain is that it was a decisive move in the local political situation of the time.

The Marburg town hall had been completed in 1527. The impressive building served as a counterpoint to the count's castle and was meant to demonstrate the newly awakened self-confidence of the urban patricians. Philip the Magnanimous had died in 1567 and Marburg had again become an independent residence. Philipp bequeathed his territories to his four sons from his first marriage, thus making disputes over the inheritance inevitable, particularly over the territory surrounding Marburg. The establishment of the Marburg chancellery as the royal seat of administrative and judicial affairs has to be seen in this context. By constructing a new administration building, Ludwig IV was asserting his authority to the citizens of Marburg. Ludwig’s building replaced the chancellery building built by Philipp in 1519, the so-called “Fig Court,” from which only remains of the wall (the Richarzschen Gardens) can be seen today after climbing the “Schlossbergtreppe” (castle steps) from the market.

The New Chancellery was originally a four-story building constructed by Baldewein from plastered and painted walls made of quarry stone; a staircase with a portal and three spiral gables accentuates the simple exterior. Baldewein’s designs were based on existing castles and palaces around the region that were admired at the time. The four-story gable has clear parallels in the gables of the Kassel and Darmstadt palaces, which were built around 1560 and 1595 respectively. The sculptor Melchior Atzel created the gable figures.

These parallels are more than purely aesthetic allusions, though. As Ulrich Großmann notes in his book “Marburg Landmarks,” both the competition and the unity between the Hessian noble families is clear but primarily Marburg’s claim to continue to exist on an equal footing with the other noble territories. The building remained the administrative and governmental seat of the Landgraviate of Hesse-Marburg until 1604.

Only the outer shell of the Baldewein architecture is largely preserved. An extension was made to the slope side in 1873, and the inner building was redesigned several times. In honor of the university's anniversary in 1927, the building acquired a new front door and an expressionist railing for the spiral staircase.

The Electoral High Court for the Province of Upper Hesse moved into the building 1821, and it remained a courthouse for 140 years: from 1851-1863 it was used as a criminal court; from 1864-1867 it housed a newly-constituted high court; from 1867-1879 it was a county court and, finally, from 1879-1961 it served as the Marburg regional court.

After the district court moved to the new courthouse (Universitätsstrasse) in 1961, the building was used by the university, which experienced an expansion during these years. The English and American Studies Institute began using the building for classes in the winter semester of 1962-63 until it finally moved to the “Lahntürme” (commonly called “Philfak”). The Institute for European Ethnology used the building from 1967-1978, as did the Central Archive of German Folk Tales (1967-1992).

The Museum of Religions, which had been housed in the castle until this point, moved into the New Chancellery in 1982 and, in 1998, the Department for the Study of Religions moved from Liebigstrasse to Landgraf-Philipp-Strasse 4th.

Peter J. Bräunlein (2005)