Isteiner Klotz

St.-Veits-Kapelle im Isteiner Klotzen

Useful Information

Location: Im Innerdorf, 79588 Efringen-Kirchen.
A5 exit 67 Efringen-Kirchen, turn right on L137 to Istein.
(47.661990, 7.531338)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Otto Selz (1976): Denkmals- und Landschaftspflege: Die St. Vituskapelle und der Ölberg am Isteiner Klotz In: Das Markgräflerland, Jg. 38, NF 7 (1976), Heft 1/2, S. 159–163 Deutsch - German online
Hermann Schäfer (1955): Der Isteiner Klotz, ein Wahrzeichen des Markgräflerlandes, Badische Heimat 35 (1955) S. 185 - 195. Deutsch - German pdf
Address: Tourist-Information Efringen-Kirchen, Hauptstraße 26, 79588 Efringen-Kirchen, Tel: +49-7628-806-0, Fax: +49-7628-806-11. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1100 double castle built by the bishops of Basel.
1185 first written mention of the castle.
1409 conquered by the citizens of the city of Basel in the so-called Isteiner War.
1410/11 slighting of the castle complex.
1906–1914 construction of a fortress to secure the Rhine crossings on the Upper Rhine.
1919 slighting of the fortress after the First World War due to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.
1936–1945 construction of new fortifications which form part of the Westwall (Siegfried Line).
28-OCT-1947 blasting of the military installations damages the chapel.
1988/89 reconstruction of the St. Vitus Chapel.


The Isteiner Klotz is a limestone rock on the Upper Rhine, north of Basel. Due to its location in the wide plain, it had strategic importance and was militarily developed before the First and Second World Wars. Accordingly, after the Second World War, in 1947, the installations were blown up by the French occupiers. Two important counter-arguments, the protection of the unique fauna and flora, as well as the St. Vitus Chapel, were ignored by the military government of the time. Nature recovered, but the rock was massively damaged and disrupted and the cave chapel badly damaged. It was not rebuilt until 1988.

The St. Vituskapelle (St. Vitus Chapel) probably dates back to a medieval castle complex built around 1100 by the bishops of Basel. At that time there was a lower castle at the foot of the rock face, where the cemetery is today, and an upper castle on the rock. They were connected by a staircase on the rock face and a wooden bridge. To understand the strategic location of the castle, take a look at the course of the Rhine at that time. It flowed directly at the foot of the rock face. This meant that the castle not only had an excellent view of the traffic on the Rhine, but was also very difficult to attack, because the attackers would have had to attack from the water.

The rock face has numerous natural caves and in one of them a cave church was built in the 12th century, the St. Vituskapelle (Vitus Chapel). Its exact age is unknown, so it is not known whether it was built at the same time as the castle or later. But it was located on the trail to the castle and was thus easily accessible. The cave was closed with a wall, the back wall and ceiling of the church are the walls of the cave. The gap between the wall and the rock face was roofed over. The castle was conquered by the citizens of the city of Basel in 1409 and subsequently slighted. In contrast to the explosive destruction of the 20th century, only the stones were removed and used for other buildings. The chapel was not touched, but was no longer used and fell into disrepair.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the chapel was renovated. At that time, an Olivet scene with Christ, a descending angel and three sleeping disciples was set up in a neighbouring cave. Between the cave church and the Olivet scene stood an approximately 4 m high cross made of spruce wood with St. Longinius as a Roman legionary and Mary as the Mother of Sorrows. The initiator was probably Joh. Georg Schmidlin, who was parish priest in Istein from 1712 until his death on 13 September 1734. The cave church finally received a small bell from the Weitenauer bell foundry in Basel in 1756.

The second chapel is dedicated to Saint Vitus (Veit) who, according to legend, lived at the time of the Roman Emperor Diocletian and cured his son of epilepsy. Therefore, he was regarded as an emergency healer against Chorea, which was called "Veitstanz" (Chorea Sancti Viti) after him. But because he refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods and deny his Christian faith, he was thrown into a pot of boiling oil. Many medieval depictions show the martyr sitting praying in a cauldron.

The limestone rock of the Isteiner Klotz is a so-called horst. The Upper Rhine valley is a graben, which is a geological structure where the two sides move away from each other and the material in the middle slides down along the resulting fissure. There are a bunch of fissures on either side of the trench, and the rock layers which are thus broken up into columns sink to varying degrees. The subsidence is greatest in the middle of the trench, the Rhine flows here, and it has deposited river sediments such as sand and gravel on the very deeply subsided rocks. But the peripheral areas rise like a staircase to the Black Forest and the Vosges. If they have not sunk deeper than the level of the Rhine, they protrude from the plain. And the uppermost layers are eroded, at different rates depending on how resistant they are. The limestone from the Jurassic is very resistant and thus formed a hill. Flowing along the cliif, the Rhine river is also responsible for the many caves, it washed them out and then cut deeper. Originally there were around 50 caves and rock overhangs, many of which have since been destroyed. Several fell victim to the railway construction of 1845-48. Quarries were also built here for the valuable limestone and the caves were simply mined. About a dozen were archaeologically investigated and flint tools from the Mesolithic period were found.