It was in 1139 that the Counts of Sayn, namely the brothers Heinrich I. and Eberhard I., are first mentioned. Shortly after this, the acquisition of the Bonn county by marriage is said to have been the cause for a intense confrontation with the archbishop of Cologne. The castle was destroyed, at least partially, and in 1152 given to the archbishop of Trier in fee. Shortly thereafter the construction of a new castle began. In the 13th century a county that extended from the Mosel across the Westerwald and from the river Lahn to the Cologne/Bonn area, was reigned from here by Count Heinrich III the Great von Sayn and his wife Mechthild von Meissen-Landsberg. When Heinrich III died in 1247 without leaving any children behind, the county went over to his sister’s son, the Count Johann von Sponheim, whose descendents again were to call themselves Counts von Sayn. They reigned from their residencies in Sayn, Hachenburg, Altenkirchen and Friedewald.

A younger branch, originally seated in the Marienburg in Vallendar, reigned the county Wittgenstein (acquired through marriage after 1345) with residencies in Berleburg and Laasphe. In 1606 the older branch ended with Heinrich IV. As a result the castle was annected by the Electors of Trier as an expired fiefdom, against the protest of the remaining Sayn-Wittgenstein relatives. Deprieved of its ancestral seat the county Sayn with its territories in the Westerwald and the towns of Hachenburg, Altenkirchen and Bendorf was preserved until the end of the 18th century.

In 1632, during the 30-years-war, Sayn Castle was destroyed by the Swedes. After the dissolution of the Electorate of Trier in 1803, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm von Nassau-Weilburg, who was married to Luise Isabella Countess of Sayn-Hachenburg, received the ruins in Sayn as well as further territory along the Rhine. At the Vienna Congress Sayn, as part of the Rhine province, was allocated to Prussia.

When in 1848 Prince Ludwig zu Sayn Wittgenstein and his wife Princess Leonilla returned from Russia, purchased a small estate and settled in the neo-gothic Palace at the foot of the castle hill, they received the ruins of his ancestral castle as a present from King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. Thus, from 1139 until today, 19 generations from the house of Sayn have owned the castle, with an interruption of 242 years.

In 1982 Princess Gabriela and Prince Alexander zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn started extensive restoration works on the castle ground, which stretches out over more than 300 meters. Major parts of the still impressive grounds were excavated, the remaining walls of the central buildings were secured and the castle hill was opened up with walking paths and panoramic view-points. The castle’s keep was widely renovated and a castle tavern was installed.

Today, the medieval Sayn Castle is one of the popular touristic attractions along the Rhine valley. Prince Alexander zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn is president of the Deutschen Burgenvereinigung e.V. (German Castles Association) and a vice president of Europa Nostra, the pan-european federation for heritage