Heinfels Castle (Burg Heinfels)

Heinfels Castle (Burg Heinfels)

Heinfels Castle is a medieval stronghold that stands on a strategic hill over Heinfels in Tyrol region. It gets its name from a local legend about Huns that is said to found first fort here.


Location: Heinfels, Tyrol

Constructed: 13th century


History of Heinfels Castle

The legendary foundation by the Huns dates back to the 5th century. The castle was therefore called "Huonenfels", "Huonifels", "Huenfels" or "Heunfels" up until the 16th century. However, today's historical research assumes that Heinfels was founded by the Avars. It is also considered likely that the castle has belonged to the Bavarian dukes since the 7th century.

In 1239, Otto Welf de Hunenvelse, who belonged to the older lords of Welsperg, appeared for the first time as a ministerial who named himself after the castle. The castle was first mentioned in a document in 1243 and was owned by Freising ministeriales.

As late as the 13th century, the Counts of Gorizia inherited Heinfels Castle and, from 1275, expanded it into an important base, which was also the seat of a court. It is not known when the castle came into the possession of the Counts of Gorizia, but it was handed over to the Counts of Gorizia Meinhard II and Albert I in a contract in the same year. Accordingly, the castle must have been in Gorizia's possession before then.

In 1307 the castle, along with the associated property and court, fell through an inheritance contract between Albert II and Heinrich III. to Albert. He divided his inheritance among his sons while he was still alive.

In 1460, Count Johann II of Gorizia lost the dispute over the inheritance of the Counts of Cilli against Emperor Frederick III. In addition, he lost his Carinthian possessions and the Bruck residence as a result of the Treaty of Pusarnitz. He then moved to Heinfels and chose it as his future residence. In the period that followed, he expanded the castle into a residential castle and erected equally strong defenses.

View of Heinfels Castle from the east.
When the last Count Leonhard from Gorizia died, the castle fell to the Habsburg Maximilian I on April 12, 1500 due to an inheritance contract from 1394. He used it as a weapons and ammunition depot and had it expanded. A year later, Maximilian pledged the castle to the Bishop of Brixen, Melchior von Meckau, due to financial problems, although this pledge had been denied while Count Leonhard von Gorizia was still alive. In the meantime, however, the Gorizia captain and burgrave Virgil von Graben had Heinfels transferred to the administration for life, which could not be reversed, especially as Von Graben played a major role in the entire transition process of the Gorizia heritage into Habsburg hands. Only after his death in 1507 was Virgil's son Lukas von Graben zum Stein, who had been entrusted with the administration of Heinfels, asked on February 24, 1508 to cede the castle, court and office of Heinfels with all belongings to the Bishop of Brixen, at the same time all subjects became Obedience to the Prince Bishop requested.

Due to the ongoing Venetian conflicts and the threat from the Turks, the castle has always been repaired and modernized. The population usually had to bear the costs for this. This led to peasant uprisings. In 1525 the castle was temporarily occupied by the peasants. A year later, on July 7, 1526, the Burgmannen were able to fend off another siege by a 2,000-strong peasant army led by Michael Gaismair.

In 1570, the Tyrolean sovereign Archduke Ferdinand II redeemed the pledge for Heinfels Castle. However, in 1581 he had to pledge the possessions back to the diocese of Brixen and the then bishop Johann Thomas von Spaur.

In 1593 there was major construction work, which largely gave the castle its current appearance.

In 1612, Archduke Maximilian III, known as the Deutschmeister, redeemed the pledged Heinfels rule and handed it over to Engelhard Dietrich von Wolkenstein-Trostburg. In a major fire on January 15, 1613, large parts of the castle were completely destroyed. Soon after, the castle was rebuilt by the court chamber and due to the ongoing Venetian threat, the fortifications were expanded.

Archduke Leopold V bought back the property in 1629, but immediately pledged it to Hall Abbey. After the pledgee's bankruptcy, the royal convent in Hall took over the castle in the same year. At first they only took over the lien, but in 1654 they acquired Heinfels by purchase. During this time, the structural condition of the castle deteriorated rapidly. An earthquake in 1714 caused further serious damage to the castle.

In 1783 Emperor Joseph II dissolved the convent, with the result that the entire property, including Heinfels, fell to the state. 50 years later the vacant castle was sold to the municipalities of the Sillian judicial district, with the exception of San Candido. In the meantime, the building has been leased to Baron Ertl from Graz.


In 1880, however, a company of Tyrolean Kaiserjäger moved into Heinfels. They used the castle as a barracks until 1910, which seriously damaged it. As a result, in the snowy winter of 1917, the roof of the Romanesque residential tower collapsed. Finally, in 1932, the western gable wall of the residential tower collapsed. The chapel bay window and the stair tower were severely damaged.

Four years later, in 1936, Heinfels Castle was auctioned off to the market town of Sillian. In the same year, they sold the castle to the local businessman Alois Stallbaumer on August 26th. He tried to save the castle from further decay with his financial resources. In his will, he bequeathed the castle to the Jesuit college in Innsbruck in 1974. In 1977, the Viennese lawyer Dr. Max Villgrattner.

Extensive restorations were carried out in 1999, with a new hipped roof being placed on the wide battlements of the keep.

In 2005, after Villgrattner's death, his daughter sold the castle to the South Tyrolean entrepreneurial family Loacker. The Loacker family runs a candy factory in Heinfels. It was agreed not to disclose the purchase price.



Heinfels Castle consists of three building groups. The oldest part dates from the 13th century and was built on the rocky hilltop as a stronghold. To the west of the keep are several buildings from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Together they form the courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard there was a cistern, which was described as dilapidated as early as 1535.

The core of the medieval castle complex is the 20 meter high keep. The Palas was added to this in the 13th century. The southern part of this residential tower was built later. This is the chapel wing. This was adapted to the late Gothic style in the second half of the 15th century. This section of the castle has fallen into disrepair today.

The western core castle is still in better condition today. In the southeast corner of the castle courtyard is the stair tower, which connects the medieval buildings with those from the 15th and 16th centuries. This has been partially damaged since the Palas partially collapsed in 1932.

The largest part of the castle is the west wing, which extends over the entire west side. In the 16th century loggias were installed in the inner courtyard. The basement rooms of the wing also served as a prison at times. On the ground floor was the Dürnitz, which served as an apartment for the staff. The showpiece of the west wing is a large hall with stucco decoration from the 18th century. This is now known as the Knights' Hall.

The core of the castle is surrounded by an enclosing wall, which was built by Emperor Maximilian I between 1505 and 1514. This also included the extensive outer bailey. Nothing remains of the medieval outer bailey today. A century later, the ring wall was expanded and strengthened after the castle fire. It is reinforced with rondels and round towers and equipped with a total of 38 loopholes for small arms at the most vulnerable points, the south and east side. The castle gate was additionally secured with a machicolation.

Todays use
In September 2010, essential parts of the castle were made accessible to the public for the first time in decades. As part of the day of the monument, which was organized throughout Austria, more than 1200 people were interested at Heinfels Castle. The castle has been closed to the public since 2012 due to its desolate condition. After that, the intention was to renovate the castle together with the new owner and to make it accessible to the general public again. In September 2014, the "Museumsverein Burg Heinfels" was founded, which was to plan the basic renovation and develop a usage concept in cooperation with the Federal Monuments Office, the state of Tyrol (state memorial foundation) and the local communities. The medieval castle complex of Heinfels in East Tyrol is currently being revitalized by eight million euros. Since summer 2020 it has been used as a museum on 1000 m², the opening of the restaurant is expected to follow in 2025.



Below the castle is the Salcherhaus, today's "Gasthaus Burg Heimfels". This is said to have an underground passage that leads up to the castle. The following legend is tied to this: the treasure of the castle is hidden behind closed iron doors. Two black dogs with fiery eyes guard it and each hold a key in their mouths, which they should hand over to the first courageous treasure hunter. Two bold lads from Panzendorf tried their luck once, because their "Gitschen" could hardly wait for the wedding day. Armed with flaming torches, they groped their way along the dark corridor, which was soon lit up by the sparkling eyes of the two dogs. They also carried the keys in their mouths, but disappeared as soon as the boys tried to grab them - because only one man is allowed to lift this treasure.