The Slavs arrived in what is present day Slovakia in the 5th and 6th centuries. It was later integrated into Hungary, until the dissolution of Austria-Hungary after the First World War, at which point, the state of Czechoslovakia was established. After the end of the Second World War, Czechoslovakia was re-established as in independent country, before coming under communist administration following a coup in 1948. After much political turbulence, Slovakia peacefully became an independent state in 1993 after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia.
As a result of its changeable history under a variety of different political systems, the country is home to a number of fascinating castles which have stood the test of time, many of which were repurposed throughout their history. Here’s our selection of 7 of the very best.
1. Spis Castle
Occupying a hill site inhabited since before 5000 BC, Spis Castle is said to be Slovakia’s most famous castle ruin and is now among the largest castle complexes on the continent, covering over 4 hectares.
Whilst a 12th century incarnation of Spis Castle collapsed due to tectonic shifts, a second version built in the early 13th century in anticipation of Tatar incursions forms the root of what we see there today. Over the next few hundred years, Hungarian noble families controlled the castle, converting it from a fortress into a palatial home and endowing it with a wealth of architectural influences.
2. Orava Castle
Above the Orava River is a high spit of land, and atop the cliff is Orava Castle . The site of several fortresses over the years, the first stone building dates from 1241, although its current shape was mostly formed in 1611.
The castle burned down in 1800 and was reconstructed after World War II. It became a national cultural monument in 1953. Classic horror fans may recognise the castle from the film ‘Nosferatu’, where it was used as a filming location.
3. Devin Castle
Located on a cliff overlooking a strategically important stretch of the Danube River, it is unsurprising that the site of Devin Castle has been occupied since the times of the Roman Empire.
The castle seen today was formed over several centuries. The Upper Castle dates to the 13th century, while most others were built right up to the 17th century. In 1809, Napoleon’s troops destroyed much of it. Nevertheless, there is much to see, particularly its star attraction, The Maiden Tower. It is also part of the Bratislava City Museum.
4. Bojnice Castle
Bojnice Castle (Bojnicky zamok) is seen by many as Slovakia’s most romantic castle, with a history dating to the 12th century. The castle has undergone many changes over the centuries. In its present form it is more similar to a French chateaux or Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein than to other Slovak fortresses.
Known to exist since at least 1113, the castle passed through many an aristocratic hand and underwent several changes in style until the 17th century saw it pass into the hands of the Palfi family. It was Count Jan Palfi who decided in the late 19th century to renovate the castle in the romantic style seen today. Bojnice Castle has been part of the Slovak National Museum since 1950.
5. Trencin Castle
Trencin Castle looms dramatically above the Vah River, not far from the Slovakian capital, Bratislava. It held royal status from the 11th century, also the time that its main structure was built.
The most famous master of the castle was Matus Cak (also given as Csak, the Hungarian spelling), a nobleman with considerable holdings in western Slovakia in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, known as Lord of the Vah and the Tatras.
6. Fil’akovo Castle
Built on volcanic rock near the border between Slovakia and Hungary, Fil’akovo Castle dates back to sometime around the 12th century. The most interesting period of Fil’akovo’s history is from the 16th century, particularly from 1554 when it was taken by the Ottoman Empire. The town belonged to the Turks for forty years, and was made the seat of a sanjak or administrative district of the Empire – hence the palm tree on Fil’akovo’s coat of arms.
Burned and abandoned in the late 17th century, its main tower, known as Bebek’s Tower, now houses a permanent exhibit on the castle’s history.
7. Tematin Castle
The relatively isolated, picturesque ruins of the Tematin Castle only hint at the mighty medieval stronghold it once was. Located in the mountains to the east of the modern towns of Hrádok and Lúka, Tematin Castle was probably built in the second half of the 13th century as part of the wider defences of the Kingdom of Hungary.
However, rather than a foreign enemy, the castle was soon to see action in a Hungarian civil war between the famous King Bela IV and his son Stephen. Stephen became king in 1272, gifting the castle to the leader of his defence forces for his loyalty. Having survived these events, Tematin Castle was later destroyed by forces of the Habsburg rulers, leaving it in the ruinous state in which it remains to this day.