It’s a 30-minute trek along a well-marked footpath through hillside vineyards up to this mighty fortress, affording views of the city and surrounding vineyards (bus no. 9 also climbs the hill). From 1253 to 1720 the hilltop fortress/palace, surrounded by massive bastions, was home to the prince-bishops who, beginning in 743, ruled this part of Franconia on behalf of the Holy Roman Empire. Lore, mixed with some fact, has it that Würzburg attained this important status when three martyred Irish Christian missionaries were declared saints and the city became an important pilgrimage stop and religious center; allegedly, the three met their end not in the maws of lions but at the hands of an angry wife who became resentful when they tried to convert her noble husband to Christianity and a life of poverty and celibacy. As becomes clear in the Fürstenbaumuseum, the tapestry-and-painting-filled residential wing of the massive complex, the prince-bishops enjoyed a lavish lifestyle that was far from modest;
in adjacent galleries, town models show medieval Würzburg, along with a horrifying glimpse of the town after bombings in 1945.

Another wing houses the Mainfränkisches Museum (Main-Franconian Museum), where the prized possessions are 81 wood-carved sculptures by Tilman Riemenschneider (1460–1531), the so-called master of Würzburg and one of the greatest northern sculptors of the Middle Ages. Also within the walls of the massive complex is the 8th-century Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church), one of the oldest churches in Germany.