Hochosterwitz Castle or Burg Hochosterwitz is one of the most impressive and spectacular castles in Austria, constructed on a picturesque rock 160 m (525 ft) high.
Location: East of Sankt Veit an der Glan Map
Open: Apr, Oct: 9am- 5pm
May- Sep: 8am- 6pm
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Obviously due to its strategic location ancient people used the hill of Hochosterwitz Castle long before the current fortifications were added. First defensive settlement date back to the Roman times. Hochosterwitz Castle is mentioned in the deed of Francia who donated the fortifications and surrounding lands to the Archdiocese of Salzburg. Its name at the time was "Astarwiza" or "Ostroviza" clearly indicating Slavic origin of the name. It is translated roughly as "an island" apparently hinting on appearance of the mountain in the surrounding landscape. Hochosterwitz Castle was granted by the Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg to the Dukes of Carinthia from the House of Sponheim in the 11th century. The nobles distinguished themselves by support of the Catholic Church during Investiture Controversy which was a major conflict between religious and secular authorities on privilege of appointing important figures in Church such as abbots and bishops.
The rock castle stands on a dolomite rock towering 175 m above the surrounding area east of St. Veit an der Glan on the right side of the Gurk and north of the Magdalensberg. The highest point of the castle is at an altitude of about 660 m above sea level. A. The castle and the houses surrounding the castle hill belong to the village of Hochosterwitz.
Ceramic remains indicate a settlement of the rock from the early
Bronze Age. Other finds are from the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures,
but most are from Roman times. Spinning whorls, loom weights, iron
slag suggest permanent settlement.
The rock cone with the Alpine Slavic name Astarwizza (= Scharfenberg) was first mentioned in 860 AD as part of a gift from Ludwig the German. The castle was owned by the archbishopric of Salzburg until the middle of the 12th century, then as a princely fief until 1478 in the hands of the taverns of Osterwitz, who held the hereditary title of cupbearers of the Carinthian dukes. After the donor Georg von Osterwitz died in Turkish captivity during a Turkish invasion in 1475, the economic decline of the family began under his successor Hans von Osterwitz. In 1478 he had to go to Hochosterwitz Castle in favor of Emperor Friedrich III. waive. In the years that followed, ownership of the castle changed until it was finally handed over in 1509 by Emperor Maximilian as a fief to Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, Bishop of Gurk and later Archbishop of Salzburg. He had the castle expanded further.
After the death of Archbishop Matthäus Lang, the castle was pledged to Georg von Khevenhüller in 1541 and bought by him in 1571. During his time as governor of Carinthia, Khevenhüller had the castle expanded from 1570 to 1583 to give it its present form and to become Carinthia's "main fortress" as "an example of Mannerist artistic will". The expansion of the castle took place at a time when the defensive line against the Turks was being strengthened. At the same time, the fortifications of Riegersburg and the cities of Vienna, Graz and Klagenfurt were strengthened. Since then, the castle has been owned by the Khevenhüller family without interruption.
A popular legend tells of the siege of the castle by Countess Margarete von Tirol, who was deceived by a trick of the castle residents. Historically, however, this story is very unlikely.
Until 1961 the castle did not have its own water supply. However, the then estate manager Raimund Ruhdorfer discovered a spring during an inspection tour, which still supplies the castle with water today.
The fortifications of the Burgweg with 14 large gate structures
leading in several turns through the rocky terrain to the top are
characteristic and interesting from a fortress point of view. This
road overcomes deeper rock notches at a moderate incline,
occasionally leads along carved rock walls or widens to weapon sites
until it reaches the main castle. A second approach, called the
Narrensteig, leads up the steep, rocky western slope, is partially
carved into the rock and leads into the castle without touching the
gates of the main path. This access was blocked off by a defensive
transverse wall erected at the lowest part with a few additions that
no longer exist today. Both defensible approaches existed in earlier
times, as reported by the 13th-century chronicler Unrest.
Due to its age, the castle can be found both as a medieval fortress and as a fortress in the modern sense. A document from 1388 mentions the original design, consisting of a square tower or keep, the adjoining living quarters (palas), the small castle chapel and protective walls with battlements (wintperge) and embrasures, when the crossbow was still the main weapon. The actual core of the complex, the stronghold, is an independent defense body that includes older parts. The gates, partly in red sandstone, partly in green chlorite slate and enriched with white limestone or marble, are noteworthy as Mannerist architecture.
The building complex of the core castle encloses a partly chestnut-lined courtyard, which is now used by a restaurant. On the left rear courtyard wall there is also the inscription, translated into German by Günter Hermann Neckheim, that the Khevenhüllers keep the castle in their possession for all eternity and may lead a Christian, virtuous life.
The buildings house the castle museum with exhibits, documents and paintings on the history of the Khevenhüller noble family. In the exhibition rooms in the basement, a dubious statue of Margarete Maultasch is on display alongside modern photographs.
The castle chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas also opens from the castle courtyard. Above the arched portal is a painting of the church patron. The altarpiece of the baroque altar shows the Holy Family. The vaulted ceiling shows portraits of the apostles.
Historical armor and weapons are restored and manufactured in the forge on the outside of the castle. Next to it is an approx. 20 meter deep cistern for collecting rainwater.
The castle church can be reached from the church gate (13th gate, see below) via a narrow path and is therefore lower than the castle. In contrast to the actual castle, the church was always available to the population. Interesting is the portal, which comes from Italy and shows busts of the twelve apostles with Christ in the upper area. The high altar is baroque and shows St. Johannes Nepomuk, to whom the church is dedicated.
The crypt of the princely Khevenhüller-Metsch family has been in the castle church since 1607. At that time, the parish of Villach, which had become Catholic again, refused to bury the Protestant Franz Freiherr von Khevenhüller in the main parish church ("Villach Cathedral"). Most recently, Prince Maximilian zu Khevenhüller-Metsch (1919-2010) was buried in the castle church.
The gates protecting the access route were essential for the defensive strength of the castle. Their skilful layout made the castle impregnable, since an opponent first had to conquer gate by gate and was constantly exposed to the defensive fire of the defenders from all sides.
1st Ensign's Gate, 1575
The gate is decorated with two larger-than-life flag-wavers, lansquenets of the 16th century with flags in the colors black and yellow (for Khevenhüller) and red and white (the national colors). These gave the gate its name. According to the keystone, the construction of the gate was completed in 1580.
The gate has a particularly well thought-out strategic location and equipment. To the right of the gate lies a sloping and inaccessible area, to the left rises the mighty stone wall, which was invincible by the standards of the time. The ground floor consists of two rooms open to the rear: the passage and next to it a room for the cannon, which also flanked the entire gate front in a forward part of the gate with exit openings. The iron-bound gate is still the original; it was painted and bore the bronze ram's heads exhibited in the collections as door knockers.
2. Guard Gate, 1577
A narrow rocky path leads from the Fähnrichtor to the guard gate. Built against the mighty cliff on the left, it juts out over a yawning abyss on the right. It has a fortified oriel with a foot slit, from which it could be easily defended. In the event of a siege, the windows were closed with iron-bound shutters. A broken stone stairway inside the gate leads out onto a small rock plateau from which blocks of stone could be hurled at attackers.
The portals are richly faced with marble; The portal that is now in the museum was extremely lavishly decorated with brass fittings and brass rings, fittings in the shape of animal heads, iron band decorations and door paintings. The roof was covered with incombustible stone shingles. The gate was completed in 1577.
The gate bears its name from the Middle High German nau, small ship, because it towers above the abyss like a ship's bow. The path to the gate is very narrow and it was intentionally pulled up very close to the rock to make it difficult for an opponent to run into the gate.
4. Gate of Angels, 1577
This gate is one of the stately gate structures of the complex, protected in front and behind by deeper rock notches (gorges) and uphill by an overhanging escarpment. The chain slots for the former drawbridge can still be seen on it. In addition to the passage in the direction of the Burgweg, there was also an exit to the subsequent weapons area. The portal is made of red sandstone. The marble keystone with the eponymous angel relief bears the year 1577, which, however, only refers to the conversion. The crews were housed in a separate watchtower built in 1577. This was expanded in the years 2012-2015 to the Guard Museum of the Khevenhüller Guard Hochosterwitz. It shows military uniforms and equipment from the 16th century to the present day. The tower has half a basement, on the upper floor there was a bedroom.
5. Lion's Gate, 1577
The lions that were once painted on the iron-studded gates gave this fifth gate its name. A cross can be seen in the keystone, with a plaque above it and a marble relief of Jesus.
The rear section of the bridge is designed as a drawbridge, the roller slots of which can still be seen in the goal wall. The bridge mechanism was on the upper floor, which could be reached via the rocky embankment or a path leading from the fourth to the sixth gate.
6. Man Gate, 1579
The Manntor is a special example of Hochosterwitz's varied defenses: the entrance to the short, barrel-vaulted passage is unblocked and there is only a gate at the rear end. However, this could only be opened against the oncoming enemy. The transit area itself could be defended on both sides by loopholes and by a cast hole in the ceiling. To the left of the gate was a gun that could fire on the area of the castle road in front of the gate. The pinnacles of the ring wall behind could be used to provide support in the event that the gate fell. An inscribed stone on the gate bears the year 1579.
7. Khevenhüller Gate, 1582
The Khevenhüllertor served as the seventh barrier. It is the grandest of all gates. The arched gate is surrounded by a rustic frame made of green slate. In a niche above the keystone, which is decorated with a lion's head and the Khevenhüller coat of arms from 1580, is the marble high relief of the builder of the castle, Georg II von Khevenhüller, in full armour, but without a helmet. It is the most elaborately built gate system, has three floors and is provided with battlements; the upper floor is on corbels. There are also a number of shot bay windows.
8. Landscape Gate, 1570
The landscape gate was donated to the Carinthian landscape by Governor Georg von Khevenhüller. The gate, built of red sandstone, is built over a rocky gorge. The drawbridge is rotatably mounted within the gate about a central axis; so that an invading enemy would suddenly have faced a vast chasm and seen only the locked drawbridge. The gate is framed with diamond ashlars, above which you can see the coat of arms of Carinthia and an inscription of the foundation.
9. Reiser Gate, 1575
At the Reisertor you can see an inscription stone with a winged hourglass and a scale (around 1575/80).
10. Gate of Arms, 1576
At the Waffentor there is a relief stone with the portrait of Archduke Karl of Inner Austria and an inscription from 1576 above the mighty arched gate.
11. Wall gate, 1575
The gate walls of the Mauertor are made of chlorite slate.
12. Bridge Gate
The bridge gate has a chain winch for the drawbridge on the upper floor.
13. Church Gate, 1579
The church gate leans against the bastion of the watchtower. At the church gate, a path branches off to the castle church (see above).
14. Kulmertor, 1576
The last gate is the Kulmertor, built in 1576. It was named after the Kulmer, who were caretakers of the castle for a long time. In front of it, a balance beam bridge with cast holes, a fall tree and a portcullis spanned the deep ditch. Inside the long, arched gate, the Burgweg turns 90 degrees to the left and leads into the long Zwinger in front of the actual castle.
The rustic portal consists of red sandstone. There is an inscription on the north-west outer wall, and a Roman relief with a sacrificial servant is walled in.
The old cable car was removed and replaced by a modern inclined
elevator. This means that visitors can now reach the impressive
castle complex comfortably and barrier-free.
The new lift has been in operation since mid-August 2017. It has a length of 125 m and overcomes a height difference of 99.9 m. The angle of inclination varies between 50 and 58°.
Hochosterwitz Castle is open to the public for a fee from April to
October. It can be reached on foot or by elevator. There is a model
of the castle in the Minimundus amusement park near Klagenfurt.
The castle was the inspiration for the fictional Hochgobernitz Castle of Prince Saurau in Thomas Bernhard's novel Verstör.
The castle has its own anthem, the author of the text is Carl Graf Oberndorff. The hymn consists of two stanzas, the text reads:
Proud castle, from the gray stone,
Do you look far into the country?
Over fields, forests, meadows
- Fairytale dream of bygone days.
fortresses that fell in ruins,
Mourn westward, tired of old age
Rocky fringes of the Karawanken
Emerges from blue fragrance, far, south ....
castle of fourteen defense gate towers,
rich arsenal of weapons,
repelling all turkish storms,
protection of the peasantry valley after valley,
Honor those who built you
- Princely house inheritance -
Joy to those who saw you!
- Greetings, Hochosterwitz!