In the city of Bamberg in southern Germany, there is a mysterious statue. A young man sits atop a horse, a crown on his head and a cloak around his shoulders. This is the Bamberg Horseman, a statue that stands in Bamberg Cathedral. The statue was created by an unknown sculptor in the first half of the 13th century, and the figure it is meant to depict has been the source of debate for nearly 200 years.
The Horseman is believed to be the first life-size equestrian statue since classical antiquity, and features one of the earliest depiction of horseshoes. Beneath the horse, a mysterious pagan decoration known as the Green Man is visible. Though today the statue is a dull stony gray, originally it was painted in striking bright colors. The rider’s robe was red, his hair black and the base green, also partially gold-plated.
The identity of the Bamberg Horseman has been debated for years, never reaching a clear conclusion. There are theories that it depicts the Hungarian king Stephen I the Saint or one of the Three Wise Men. Some also suggest that it may have been a Hohenstaufen king such as Philip of Swabia and Conrad III, the Messiah, a personified representation of the world, or perhaps some allegorical figure.
In the early 20th century, the statue became a cultural icon of Germany. Its popularity grew during the times of the Weimar Republic, its head used on the design of the 100 Mark banknote in 1920. Disgracefully, the Nazis used its likeness as part of their Aryan supremacy propaganda, sometimes even as an “aesthetic double” to Adolf Hitler.
Nevertheless, the Bamberg Horseman remains one of the most important statues in German culture and history. In 2003, it appeared on the design of a 2-euro stamp. Today, the statue stands where it has stood for centuries since its installation.
Know Before You Go
The cathedral is open for tours on weekdays. Permission is needed from Cathedral Administration for guided private tours. The Cathedral is closed for sightseeing during mass and other church celebrations.
The Bamberg Horseman is currently underneath scaffolding and cannot be seen until the middle of 2020.