Unesco World Heritage Site

Maulbronn Monastery

Maulbronn monastery complex with fish ponds. Image: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Arnim Weischer
"RIVER FRUIT" INSTEAD OF MEAT

FISH FARMING

Cistercians could not eat meat, but were allowed to eat fish. Fish farming was therefore of great importance to the Maulbronn monks. They installed a unique pond system, including 20 reservoirs and ponds, which are considered part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the monastery complex.

FISH FROM THEIR OWN PONDS

The Cistercians were forbidden from eating meat from four-legged animals. Fish, considered "river fruit", were not included in that ban. Subsequently, fish played an important role in the monastery's routine. During fasting periods, however, the population's demand for fish also grew. To meet this great demand, Maulbronn Monastery, like many other monasteries, began raising fish in its own ponds. The monastery ponds raised primarily eels, pike and carp, which were then sold or eaten by the monks themselves.

Monks fishing, motif on a tiled stove in the summer refectory at Salem Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, credit unknown

Cistercian monks fishing.

SOPHISTICATED FISH FARMING

The many different sizes of ponds at Maulbronn point to elaborate and specialized fish farming. Fish were sorted and raised by age, size and species. Carp and pike were the most important food fish in Maulbronn. However, tench, bass, roach and crucian carp can also be found in the monks' inventory lists. Of the ponds created in the 12th century, only three remain completely intact today: the Tiefer See (deep lake), the Roßweiher (horse pond) and the Aalkistensee (eel trap lake).

Maulbronn Monastery – Kiesersche Forstkarte Nr. 96 (detail) from Stromberger Forst, 1684. Image: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Robert Bothner

The monks established their own ponds in the area for fish farming.

Carp in a pond. Image: Pixabay, public

Carp was served regularly.

PERFECTING CARP FARMING

Carp farming was refined and perfected at Maulbronn Monastery. With great patience and effort, the monks succeeded in breeding mirror carp, which, in comparison to wild carp, has far fewer scales. They did this to save their teeth. Meals needed to be easy to chew, as dental care was not particularly good and carp were eaten with skin and scales.

View of Speyer, section of a woodcut from Sebastian Münster's "Cosmographia universalis", Basel 1550. Image: Wikipedia, public

Fish trading with Speyer.

LIVELY FISH TRADE

There was an active fish trade between Maulbronn Monastery and Speyer Cathedral, because eel, one of the fattiest, and therefore most popular, fish of the Middle Ages, cannot spawn in inland water. Hence fish was regularly transported between Maulbronn and Speyer in the 15th century. Carp were transported to the cathedral in Speyer packed in barrels of wet straw and eel from the Upper Rhine River Valley were transported to Aalkistensee (eel trap lake) in Maulbronn in crates.