Various tourist guidebooks and promotional materials claim that Slovakia has the most castles per capita worldwide. This may come as a shock considering the size of the country. Regardless, the purpose of this article is not to examine the truth behind this claim and the amount of castles presented here is far from final. What is certain, however, is that when you find yourself at a viewpoint or even while passing through this country, you will see countless castles and ruins covering endless hills. Why such a high density of castles? The mountainous relief of the country required the construction of numerous castles and fortresses for defense of trade routes and protection from enemy invasion. As a result, many of these castles have now become one of the main symbols of Slovakia: the castle country. Today, we show you our selection of the 20 most exquisite. Of course, it is next to impossible to visit all 20 during a short visit, but that only gives you an excuse to visit again :).Without further ado, welcome to castle country. Enjoy!
(To better illustrate the semblance of the ruins in the past, click on the pictures for a digital representation of historical engravings. Also click to enlarge the image.)
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20. DARK SHADOWS OF THE PAST
Have you heard of Countess Bathory and her evil past? It is likely as her deeds are well-known. A significant portion of these deeds took place in the town of Čachtice and this castle was where she was sent to repent for her sins and live out the remainder of her life. She, literally, remains within the castles walls until today as, it is rumored, they were chosen to be her burial place as a punishment. Her body was never found. Today when you walk through its corridors and relish the views of the peaceful countryside surrounded by a wreath of the Small Carpathian mountains, it is hard to imagine that such horrendous events took place in such a near vicinity. Nevertheless, regardless of its disturbing past, the Čachtice castle is a popular tourist destination (or maybe because of it?).
19. HAVE YOU EVER HEARD ABOUT TINKERS?
Budatín castle, the pride of the city of Žilina. Its beautiful setting at the confluence of two rivers and its extensive park captivate at a glance. There is, however, an even more intriguing reason to visit. Have you heard of the tinker´s craft? Did you know that it laid the foundations of modern business? If not, a unique exhibition will reveal the secrets of this historical craft.
18. A RUIN THAT WILL AMAZE YOU
It can be seen from afar standing on a massive, steep cliff making you wonder if the architect was crazy. Its beautiful, well-preserved ruins of a Gothic chapel, from which there is an enchanting view of the surrounded landscape dominated by the river Vah, is a must-see gem. Welcome to the Beckov castle!
17. CASTLE WITH A TREE THAT REMEMBERS KINGS AND QUEENS
If you´re heading from Banska Bystrica to the Horehronie region, you cannot miss an appealing castle on a hill with a backdrop of the majestic Low Tatras National Park. This recently reconstructed Ľupča castle offers not only impressive history and breathtaking panoramic views or its surroundings, but also an encounter with reportedly one of the oldest trees in Europe: the basswood of King Matthias. In the image above, it is on the right of the castle in the castle´s courtyard.
16. ENCHATING EAGLE´S NEST WITH A STRIKING HISTORY
It is well-known that the Spiš castle is famous for its size. What is not-so-well-known, however, is that the castle of Lietava takes the second place in size due to its great expanse. Steep and inaccessible cliffs protected the castle from raids to such an extent that the castle was considered impregnable in the Middle Ages. And it remains unimpregnated until today. During its glory days, however, according to legend, it was deceitfully robbed by the folk hero Juraj Jánošík. Over the years, it gradually transformed from a castle to a ruin; as its importance waned the lordship of the castle began to lose interest. Presently it is being revived by an association created to rescue the castle and their hard work over the years is reflected in its present state. Admission is free, but the association appreciates small contributions which go towards its continuous renovation.
15. MEDIEVAL VIEW TO DIE FOR
An ancient landmark of the center of the remarkable Banská Štiavnica, built on a projection of the headland symptomatically named “Paradise”, has reigned this city since the Middle Ages. Inside, you will find everything from a fortress to a medieval cemetery to a church and a magnificent courtyard. Welcome to the Old Castle. Wander through corridors of the Dark Ages and walk to the top of the Church tower for a reward: a view of the medieval Štiavnica, simply unforgettable.
14. THE PLACE OF AN INCREDIBLE STORY
If you are travelling from Bratislava to the Tatras by car, watch for a majestic castle towering high over the river Vah. The Strečno castle, presently a museum with incredible views of the surrounding mountains and a gateway to the National Fatra Park, hides a much more significant priceless, implausible “exhibit”. It is the story of the Countess Sophia Bosniakova, revered as a non-canonized saint, whose body was found perfectly intact, while all surrounding corpses were decomposed. Her body was destroyed by a fire a few years ago, but, thanks to the efforts of the castle´s administrators, you can admire a very close replica modeled to its original form.
13. ITALIAN RENAISSANCE IN THE HEART OF EUROPE
When King Louis I had this castle built, he, logically, hired skilled architects and stonemasons. It was built and sumptuously decorated in the spirit of Italian Renaissance. The king searched for a setting in the woods where he could, uninterrupted from the court, hunt in lavish hunting castle grounds. Today, the castle of Zvolen lies in the outskirts of the bustling main square, yet, it has not lost any of its renaissance charm. The castle is not only the pride of the city of Zvolen but also the center of countless cultural events.
12. GOLDEN CASTLE OVER A GOLDEN TOWN
The castle of Kremnica is a conspicuous dominance of the city. It is actually a complex of buildings that were gradually built over centuries, of which the most important is the church of St. Catherine. Here, organ concerts are held annually due to its excellent acoustics. Those who´d like to get to know Kremnica and admire the spectacular views of surrounding hills and the historical heart of the former golden treasury of the kingdom, should definitely pay this castle a visit.
11. JOURNEY TOWARDS ITS PAST GLORY
First, it was set afire and destroyed by Napoleonic troops. For many years after, the ruins were a symbol of the city, depicted in many paintings and postcards. A complete disintegration of the castle was only a matter of time. Fortunately, the communist regime realized its importance for Bratislava and decided to commence reconstruction. Unfortunately, this reconstruction rather degraded the castle´s cultural value. Recently a complete restoration of the castle´s historicism took place and, with the completion of the grounds and baroque gardens in accordance with their historical origins, it seems that the castle has been fully reattributed to its faded glory and will become an important place for culture and tourism.
10. IN THE MOTHER OF SLOVAK TOWNS
Nitra is referred to as the mother of all Slovak cities. However, when you visit her castle and admire the breathtaking views of this city and the nearby hill named “Zobor”, it may be hard to believe. The city is decorated mostly by towers of baroque churches and the city shows little signs of such old history. This is because its the castle itself which conceals traces of its glorious past which extends to the times of Great Moravia. Hence, while admiring the sumptuous splendor of the St. Emeram Cathedral also ask about the grave of St. Svorad and the foundations of the first Great-Moravian Christian church in Slovakia, dating back to the 9th century.
9. RENAISSANCE JEWEL IN A BEAUTIFUL MEDIEVAL TOWN
One of the most beautiful examples of Spiš Renaissance and one of the reasons why the city of Kežmarok has proven to be a worthy opponent of the nearby city Levoča. A beautiful castle in a historical city with a large courtyard which regularly hosts cultural events. If your trip to the Tatra´s is interrupted by rain, this is the place to visit: the Kežmarok castle.
8. WHERE IMPORTANT COMMON HISTORY WITH POLAND ONCE TOOK PLACE
Magnificent Ľubovňa castle placed in a mystic, mountainous environment with an old open-air museum directly beneath it. If the weather permits, it provides spectacular views of majestic Tatra Mountains. What may come as a surprise is that, for some time, this castle hid Polish crown jewels. During the 19th century the originals were destroyed by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II, but the replicas can still be admired here. Furthermore, for a taste of medieval atmosphere, attend the medieval banquet directly at the castle.
7. INCREDIBLE LOCATION OF A CASTLE WITH INCREDIBLE HISTORY
The Devín castle: one of the most eye-catching symbols of Slovakia. It towers over a steep cliff at the confluence of the river Morava and the imposing river Danube, providing a view of the Austrian lowlands with a backdrop of the Austrian Alps. A castle with a more-than-a-thousand year old history which was reigned by various ethnicities throughout its history. Sadly, it didn´t survive the presence of Napoleon´s troops, who blew it up – just for fun. Interested in visiting it? Just hop on a bus under the New Bridge in Bratislava or right outside of the Eurovea shopping center. Bratislava is a city of two magnificent castles.
6. ONE WORD: THE CELLARS!
It is coveniently located near Bratislava. Its setting, grounds, gardens and interior are mesmerizing. The real treasure; however, is hidden beneath. If you dare to examine its undergrounds, you will discover one of the largest cellars of any castle in the world. Its surprisingly tremendous layout was used for storing wine and is presently used for cultural events. The subterrane of the Červený Kameň (Red Stone) castle also reveals how it got its name.
5. STORY OF LOVE ABOVE A MAGNIFICENT CITY
Here, you can find the well of love which, according to an ancient myth, Turk Omar had dug in order to rescue Fatima from the captivity of nobleman Stephen Zápoľský. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The incredible setting of the castle on a steep escarpment above the city enclosed by the river Vah changed very little throughout history thanks to its hard-to-penetrate location. Furthermore, there is no higher or better place in Trenčín than the tower of Matthew for an astonishing view.
4. AS A PHOENIX RISING FROM THE ASHES
Krasna Hôrka was one of the most beautiful Slovak castles, admired by thousands of tourists from all over the world yearly. Why are we using the past tense? In March 2012, this priceless monument was ravaged by a devastating fire and it seemed that the history of the castle had reached its end. But, miraculously, the fire inflicted its damages only on the roof and the interior of the castle remained nearly 90% intact and an extremely precious collection of artefacts was preserved. Reconstruction, which began a year after the fire and should be finished next year, plans to restore the castle´s former glory. ..and according to a recent photograph, it looks like it will be a success.
3. PLACE WHERE NOSFERATU WOKE UP FROM HIS GRAVE
When Friedich Wilhelm Murnau chose this castle as the location of his world-famous film “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror”, he was not far from the ideal setting. The Orava castle truly has somber and eerie nooks and only a courageous person would spend the night here. If you can get past the dark corridors, mysterious paintings and sculptures and the chapel with a mysterious atmosphere, you will uncover a very impressive castle with an extraordinary history and breathtaking views of the fierce Orava River which, somewhere deep below, bypasses the base of the rock which the castle is built upon.
2. IT IS NOT PAYS DE LA LOIRE, BUT YOU WILL BELIEVE IT IS
The fascinating story of this castle was written by a pair of two men: John Pálffy and Jozef Hubert. They were considered odd by many; Jozef Hubert was an architect, John Pálffy a nobleman. It is rumored that Jozef Hubert, during the construction of what was to be a royal hunting castle, had trouble getting a word in. The strange owner with an exceptionally refined taste intervened in all aspects of the project. The result is the most beautiful castle in Slovakia and certainly one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. No, it is not the castle near Loire, but John Pálffy got his inspiration from France, and thanks to this merging of architectural styles from Loire into one, it can sincerely be called a castle: the castle of Bojnice.
1. KING OF ALL THE CASTLES
Its expansive area is its branding and also its main decoy. Its size has been ranked 5th worldwide. It is the only one to be registered as a UNESCO heritage sight due to its international significance. It is annually visited by tens of thousands of tourists from all over the worlds and offers breathtaking views of the former settlement, the UNESCO complex of Spiš canonry and the Tatras. The uncrowned king of all Slovak castles and one of the top castles throughout Europe: The Spiš Castle.
GET DIRECTIONS (click on the map) =UNESCO
© Expedition Slovakia 2016 with the english version by Mimi Fabian
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Photo by Andrej Kovac