Falkenstein Castle (Burg Falkenstein)

Falkenstein Castle (Burg Falkenstein)

Location: Obervellach, Carinthia Map

Constructed: 12th century


Description of Falkenstein Castle

Falkenstein Castle is a modest citadel in Obervellach, Carinthia. Despite its relatively small size it is one of the most picturesque castles in Austria due to its unique architecture. Falkenstein Castle or Valchenstain Castle is a medieval complex that was constructed in the 12th century by the Lords of Falkenstein, servants of the Count of Gorizia. Its purpose was to control a strategic mountain over Moll Valley below. There is archaeological evidence that these mountains were inhabited by the Roman settlers. Around 600 AD several surrounding villages and Roman troops retreated into this area to hid from the barbarian tribes.



In the village of Pfaffenberg, to the east of Obervellach, Falkenstein Castle stands on a rocky ridge that grows out of the steep northern flank of the Mölltal valley, high above the Mölltalstraße (B 106).

The rock, under which the Tauernbahn passed through a 67 m long tunnel, bears the ruins of Oberfalkenstein. What is now known as Unterfalkenstein or Niederfalkenstein Castle was not a castle in the past, but only an outwork of the Oberfalkenstein Castle, which is much higher up.

The two castles in the eastern region of the Hohe Tauern are about 25 minutes' walk apart.



Falkenstein Castle was protected from falling by arched pillars and buttresses and was surrounded by a defensive wall, which was repaired and secured during the construction of the Tauern Railway so that it could withstand the blasts in the tunnel more easily.

Oberfalkenstein Castle
The old Oberfalkenstein Castle was a Romanesque type with a square, four-story keep at the entrance to the castle on the mountain side, which was preceded by a moat. The palas, only recognizable in its basic square, consisted of particularly strong walls. There was also a small Romanesque chapel here, in which at times even a dedicated chaplain performed the religious services.

In 1295 a Haenicus and in 1346 an Engelbrecht is mentioned as "Capellanus auf Ober Valchenstain". The chapel dedicated to St. John was converted into a church by the Pfaffenberg farmers in 1772 and is still in use. The Romanesque core of the wall can still be seen on the church. It is a hall without an apse, but has a two-storey wooden gallery. The high altar and a ceiling painting show the baptism of Christ. On the pulpit you can see full-length gospel pictures. While the lateral altar of Mary and the other sacred works of art date from the 18th century, the castle church still has a panel painting of St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners, made in the 16th century.



When Falkenstein Castle was built can no longer be determined with certainty. In any case, it is one of the oldest castle structures in the province of Carinthia and was first mentioned in a document in 1164. It was then called Valchenstain, later also Walchenstein. This spelling of the name indicates that this could be a Walchen settlement. The Walchen are the "Wallische", as the Italians are also called in the Alpine dialect. In fact, there is documentary evidence of a place called "Walaha", i.e. a Welschen settlement, near Falkenstein Castle. These settlers are probably the remains of the former inhabitants of Roman Teurnia. The last Romans of Noricum evaded the advance of the Slavs just before 600 AD by retreating into the neighboring mountains.

The lords of Falkenstein were ministeriales, i.e. noble followers of the Meinhardin counts of Gorizia. As the third of this family, a Gumpoldus de Valchenstein is proven in 1164, who was expressly designated as the ministeriale of Count Engelbert I of the Puster Valley. It was not until 1200 that these nobles called themselves Counts of Gorizia.

In 1271, Otto von Falkenstein ruled in a dispute between the Counts of Görz and the Admont Abbey, which was rich in the upper Mölltal, about new quarries in the Stall im Mölltal area.

The Falkensteiners maintained friendly relations with the Benedictine monastery in Millstatt. In 1272 a daughter of Chotos von Falkenstein entered the Millstatt convent. This existed since the 12th century next to the men's monastery there. As a dowry, the Falkensteiner bequeathed a Hube in Litzelsdorf to his daughter and to the Millstatt monastery.

The von Falkenstein family seems to have died out soon after 1300, because in the years that followed the Counts of Gorizia differentiated between an upper and a lower "Valchensteyn", which they awarded separately to smaller nobles. On June 24, 1394, Count Heinrich IV of Gorizia pledged the upper Falkenstein to the Austrian Duke Albrecht III. Because Count Heinrich was later no longer able to redeem the pledged castle, it remained under the rule of the Habsburgs, who now treated Falkenstein as their property. With the Peace of Pusarnitz, the Falkenstein dominion also came into the possession of the Habsburgs with legal effect. Emperor Frederick III. now left both castles to various caretakers, who changed quickly and constantly had to collect large sums of deposit. Up until 1462, Andreas von Graben zu Sommeregg was also mentioned as the lord of Unterfalkenstein Castle.

In 1504 Maximilian I, who in 1493 pledged his father Friedrich III. followed as regent, the castle and the regional court of Falkenstein as well as the offices of Vellach (Obervellach) and Kirchheim (Großkirchheim) in the upper Mölltal to Julian, Count von Lodron, because he had lent the court chamber 7500 guilders. Apollonia, the count's wife, née Lang von Wellenburg and sister of the Salzburg archbishop, Cardinal Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, lost her husband in 1510. She married her second husband, Christoph Graf von Frangipani, a Croatian nobleman who, as imperial supreme commander, was appointed in 1514 had lost his freedom in Friuli. Mrs. Apollonia Frangipani donated a famous altarpiece by the Dutch painter Jan van Scorel to Obervellach.

In those years, Falkenstein Castle was in a poor state of repair, so in 1507 the future emperor allowed Count Lodron to spend 500 guilders on the building. Around 1510, the widowed countess was allowed to use another 200 guilders to rebuild the dilapidated castle.

After Frangipani's childless marriage, the Falkenstein manor changed owners several times, including for a short time the rich goldsmith Christoph Weitmoser, Count Ferdinand von Salamanca-Ortenburg and Bartholomäus Khevenhüller.

From 1693 to 1883 the castle was owned by the Barons von Sternbach, who let the fortress fall into disrepair because they lived in Groppenstein Castle to the west of Obervellach. In August 1825, the Viennese alpinist and Hofkammer official Josef Kyselak (1798–1831) visited the ruins of Falkenstein on his hike through Austria. He finds a large tower with a well-designed apiary in it, the first I saw in Carinthia, and a little church with a wooden tower. More than the ruins, he is fascinated by the mountain farm landscape all around: individual huts leaning against 1000 fathoms high rocks, begging the giant rulers for protection; sparsely stretching strips of meadow that sell a handful of grass for mortal danger... In 1905 Hofrat Ferdinand Kaltenegger von Riedhorst acquired Burg Falkenstein, who gave Unterfalkenstein Castle its current appearance.

After his death in 1912, the owners of the renovated castle changed. From 1939 to 1947 it was owned by Georg Friedrich Scheier, adopted Freiherr Trütschler von Falkenstein. In 1959, Baron Trütschler's son sold the two castles to Anni Helene Johanna Oehmichen, an import and export clerk from Dithmarschen who had previously lived in China, Japan and the USA. Since Niederfalkenstein Castle was already very dilapidated in 1959, Ms. Oehmichen again invested a considerable fortune in the restoration. She also furnished the castle with valuable paintings and antiques.

The efforts of Mrs. Oehmichen were followed by arson by a burglar, during which the Palas (the main building of the castle) and the valuable inventory burned down to the foundations in 1969. The burglar, who allegedly wanted to cover his tracks with the arson, was caught immediately after the crime in the Mallnitz-Böckstein railway tunnel with a backpack full of silver.

Ms. Oehmichen deserves credit for having rebuilt and furnished the Palas of Niederfalkenstein Castle after this severe stroke of fate (commemorative plaque, to the right of the main gate of the castle, donated by the municipality of Obervellach). Ms. Oehmichen died in 1987 at Niederfalkenstein Castle after a long, serious illness.

After the death of Ms. Oehmichen, ownership of the castle ruins of Oberfalkenstein and Niederfalkenstein passed to her two nephews Rolf-Peter Oehmichen (Hamburg, Germany) and Erhard Christian Mahnke (Burlington, Vermont, USA) by inheritance. Rolf-Peter Oehmichen again carried out extensive renovations on the castle complex, e.g. a new covering of the roofs of the tower and the battlements with partly up to one meter long hand-locked larch shingles. In 1989, the two nephews sold the Oberfalkenstein ruins to Mr. Weißmann. In 1998, Niederfalkenstein Castle was sold to the Fersterer family, a family of hoteliers from Saalbach.

Falkenstein Castle (Niederfalkenstein) has been open to visitors during the summer months since 2016.

On November 13, 1973, the Austrian Post issued a definitive stamp of the stamp series Landscapes from Austria for 7.00 Schilling with this motif.

There is a 1:87 (H0) scale model of Niederfalkenstein Castle made by Kibri.