Bollenberg Hill

“Come and discover this unique place, between vines and moorland, which enjoys exceptional sunshine and unexpected flora.”

Bollenberg Hill overlooks the Ohmbach valley. It is 363m high and enjoys exceptional sunshine thanks to its geographical location, completely separate from the Vosges Mountains. It is home to wildlife which includes mainly birds, lizards, butterflies and a species of snail adapted to dry habitats. The flowers are typical of limestone flora and grow in four different environments: grassland, forest, grapevine and scree. Many medicinal plants, highly prized by herbalists, grow there along with several species of flowers and berries which are used by the winery for distilling rare brandies. The Bollenberg is the highest of the five limestone hills in the Rouffach commune, protected for their fauna and flora by a prefectoral order on 11.12.1965. It is also a well-used walking area and the birthplace of an excellent wine.

The Bollenberg Legend

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, many herbalists and healers came to benefit from the hill’s unique flora. They were often called witches, and Bollenberg came to be known as a place for religious meetings and rituals. Participants who were arrested there were condemned for witchcraft and imprisoned in the witches’ tower in Rouffach while awaiting their judgement. Archives from the period reveal an impressive number of convictions, and in 1615, there were no fewer than sixty-two witch trials in Rouffach.

The Witches’ Chapel

At the end of the 19th century, Sainte-Croix chapel, also known as witches’ chapel, was built on the hill. This chapel was dedicated to Saint Apollonia, patron saint of dentists, whose help is sought for toothache. As she was being martyred, in fact, Apollonia of Alexandria’s jaw was broken and her teeth were pulled out before she threw herself into the flames of the bonfire that she had been threatened with if she did not repeat the insults her executioners were hurling against Christ. Saint Apollonia is usually pictured with a pair of pliers holding a tooth and the palm leaf of martyrdom, as is shown on the labels of the Clos Sainte Apolline. Her festival is 9th February.

Every year, on the night of 14th to 15th August, conscripts from Orschwihr organise the Haxafir (the witches’ fire) at the chapel, where they burn the witch on a huge bonfire.