The Legendary Loreley
Towering 125 metres above the river is the distinctive Loreley Rock – the Middle Rhine’s world famous landmark. In fact, the Loreley must be one of the best known features in the whole of Germany. Here, at Rhine kilometre 555, the river is at its narrowest and its deepest. Until very recently skippers dreaded this section of the river because of its dangerous rapids. In cold winters the ice piled back up the river as far as the town of Kaub. The famous Loreley Echo is legendary: the echo at the foot of the Loreley is said to have reverberated back and forth between the steep cliffs a total of seven times. The echo, however, has not been heard for many decades – the road and rail developments on both banks of the Rhine and rock blasting carried out to make the river less treacherous have taken their toll here.
Despite its outstanding location andstriking appearance, the Loreley Rock only really entered the annals of cultural history around 200 years ago when the poet and novelist Clemens Brentano (1778-1842) included the poem “At Bacharach on the Rhine” in his novel “Godwi or the Stone Image of the Mother”. The poem makes the first reference to a female figure known as “Lore Lay”. Brentano’s Loreley (or Lurelei, Lore-Lay or Lore-Ley as she is also referred to) is a beautiful enchantress who bewitches all the men and finally plunges to her death from the Loreley Rock. This myth, created by Brentano, was subsequently
taken up by countless poets and writers. In 1824 Heinrich Heine gave the theme its final form and, set to music by Friedrich Silcher (1837), it went on to
achieve world-wide fame as the “Song of the Loreley”. In Heine’s version, the fisherman passing below in his boat is so fascinated by the sight of the “loveliest maiden” Loreley, who sits on the cliff top combing her hair with a golden comb, that he neglects to watch out for the treacherous rocks and rapids and is drowned. The thousands of visitors from around the globe who flock to see the famous rock each year are just as fascinated as Heine’s fisherman in his boat. The only difference is that today, no one who admires the Loreley will be lured to an untimely death in the waters of the Rhine.