Spiš Castle

Spiš Castle


Location: Žehra, Spiš  Map

Tel. (053) 454 1336

Official site


May-Sept. 8:30am-7pm

Oct 9am- 6pm daily

Nov 9am- 3pm daily


Description of Spiš Castle

Spiš Castle is a massive medieval citadel that stands near a village of Žehra in Spiš region in Slovakia.  With a total area of 41 426 m² Spiš Castle is one of the largest military fortifications in all of Europe. It was constructed as a royal castle of the Kingdom of Hungary in the 12th century on a site of a much older fortress. In 1464- 1528 it was owned by Zapolya aristocratic family, then Thurzo family (1531- 1635, Csaky family (1638- 1945) and finally at the completion of World War II its ruins were nationalized by the newly established Soviet- backed government.


History of construction

Travertine mound with an altitude of 634 m rises two hundred meters above the surroundings. The almost perpendicular walls, 20 - 40 meters high, create an inaccessible and impregnable place even without stone walls. The natural strategic location of the castle gate, but also the adjacent slopes, predestined this place for settlement and it is therefore quite natural that it was continuously inhabited almost without interruption from the 5th millennium BC. until the launch of the castle in the 18th century.

Prehistoric and early historical settlement
Evidence of the settlement of this area already in the Paleolithic period is provided by a number of archaeological finds. From time immemorial, important trade routes connecting southern Europe with the north and east with the west have crossed this place.

The present castle hill has long been a natural refuge for locals. One of the first known settlements comes from the Neolithic, when the so-called people settled here. beech mountain culture. The bearers of this culture densely settled the territory of eastern Slovakia not only on the lowlands, but also on gentle ridges and hills. Their presence on Spiš Castle Hill is documented by numerous finds of ceramic products and stone tools.


Celtic settlement

The most extensive and intensive early historical settlement of the castle hill falls into the turn of the century and is linked to the presence of the people with the so-called Puchov culture. The bearer of this culture was probably the Celtic tribe of Kotín. In the economic sphere, cattle breeding, mining and processing of iron ore played an important role in this ethnic group. The fortified fortified settlement probably formed a kind of administrative center of this people in the eastern part of Spiš. The maturity of this ethnicity is evidenced by a number of archaeological artifacts, e.g. silver coins called Spiš type, probably dating from the period of the 1st century BC.

The fortified settlement on the rock massif was already at that time surrounded by a defensive rampart with an internal stone structure. The area delimited by the walls, with the main entrance on the eastern slope, was intensively used. The largest area fell on residential buildings and farm buildings of various uses. One of the identified objects dating from these times was the sanctuary, the foundations of which covered an area of ​​6.5 x 19 meters, with a stone foundation and a log wooden structure.

At the end of the 2nd century AD. however, the fort was suddenly abandoned. For the next more than nine hundred years, the hitherto pulsating hill orphaned. At the turn of the 5th - 6th century, the first Slavs and Slavs began to appear in the wider area. The subsequent Slavic settlement was located on the neighboring plain of the elevated Dreveník in the form of a large fortified settlement.


Medieval castle

The period from the 10th to the middle of the 13th century was filled with struggles for the formation of the early Hungarian state. In particular, the existing Slavic and older strongholds provided the new state with the necessary fortified points. Thus, during the 11th century, life slowly returned to the Spiš castle hill. The turn of the 11th and 12th centuries was already marked by the intensive settlement of the castle hill, which was reflected in the extensive construction activities. Gradually, a building complex of unprecedented proportions began to emerge here. The favorable development was disrupted in the first half of the 13th century by a devastating Mongol invasion, which created an acute need to secure the country from an external enemy.

The central building of the fort was a massive circular residential tower at the highest point of the castle gate. However, shortly after its construction, the tower was probably destroyed by a tectonic fault and replaced in the first third of the 13th century by today's one, built in its immediate vicinity. In the first third of the 13th century, a spacious multi-storey Romanesque palace was built on a massive fortification in the massive fortification. Romanesque fort.

The oldest written mention of Spiš Castle dates back to the beginning of the 13th century. A document from 1209 mentions the sale of land in this area to the Spiš post office Adolf. The document says that this area was excluded from the jurisdiction of the county of Spiš, which means that the center of the county - the castle - must have existed here by law.

The beginning of the 13th century was a period of massive building activity at the castle. A large fortification with a new entrance with a falling grid was created along the entire perimeter of the crown of the rock massif. A two-storey palace with an economic ground floor was built on the steepest part of the gate. Another building was a cylindrical tower in the middle of the courtyard, functionally designed to defend the castle.


Spiš Castle was one of the few castles that withstood the devastating Mongol invasion in 1241, yet strengthened its fortifications. The northern Italian stonemasons took part in the construction work in the 13th century, who later also worked on the construction of the Spiš Chapter and in Spišská Štvrtok, as well as on other constructions in the area. An important building dating from this period, which did not survive later building modifications, was a Romanesque chapel, located above the entrance gate.

In the second half of the 14th century, a new large fort - a central courtyard - was created on the castle by damming the existing space - delimiting an area of ​​150 x 60 meters. Lower Castle - the large lower fort was delimited by a fortification wall, two residential towers and an entrance tower.

The middle of the 15th century was an important period for the history of Spiš Castle. In 1437, King Sigismund of Luxembourg died and Queen Elizabeth of Luxembourg called in the fraternal troops of Ján Jiskra of Brandýs to protect the interests of her son Ladislav. After controlling the surrounding area, he focused on conquering the castle. After the first unsuccessful attempt, however, after an agreement with the then captain of the castle, he managed to take control of the castle.

The castle, which became Jiskrov's seat, experienced a new building boom. The result was the creation of new buildings on the castle and new fortifications, especially the lower courtyard. The first building, dated to this period and to this place, was a circular fortress (so-called Jiskrova) with a diameter of seventeen meters.

Zápoľské, Turzovci, Čákiovci
After the departure of the Spark Army, this courtyard practically lost its significance. For other owners of the castle, the defense of the courtyard became unthinkable and the courtyard was used only for economic purposes.

The second half of the 15th century, which in political life in Slovakia meant a certain relaxation after the Hussite riots and the struggle for the throne, brought relative economic prosperity, which is also reflected in construction activity. The nobility rebuilt the older castles in the spirit of late Gothic, demanding in terms of shape-separated architecture and large murals.

The richest nobility also included the Zápoľskí, the owners of numerous estates and castles. In 1465, Matej Korvín donated the Spiš Castle to the monarch's hereditary possession with the title of hereditary count for his military service and loyalty to the monarch. Together with the castle, they also received eleven free places in Spiš. When the Zápoľsk family became the lords of Spiš Castle, despite several castle estates, it became their base, which they emphasized by the construction of its area into a noble residence corresponding to its importance. After restoring the damaged parts, they began its reconstruction. In the first stage of the work, their main idea was to keep the Romanesque palace as the main object. The following two reconstructions, as well as the modification of the Romanesque palace, meant the creation of new buildings and a Gothic chapel with entrances from the palace, which they built in the open space in the courtyard.

Another important event falls within the period of the Zápoľsk family. On February 2, 1487, the palatine Štefan Zápoľský and his wife Hedvige had a son here, Ján, later King of Hungary.

Spiš Castle, which became the subject of internal disputes in the first half of the 16th century, often changed owners. He finally fell to a new family - the Turzovci. During their reign, the building modifications were influenced by a new artistic expression - the Renaissance, whose influx was aided by the intensive trade relations of the Turzovs with foreign countries. However, the castle was not owned by the Turz family for even a century. Already in the thirties of the 17th century, the family died by the sword branch of the Spiš branch. The castle became the subject of inheritance disputes.

By a royal decision, Spiš Castle finally became the property of the new and last owners - the Čáki family, in whose ownership it remained until 1945. They proceeded to a major reconstruction of the castle. The first representative of family ownership at the castle was Štefan. The Čáki family marked Spiš Castle with significant building changes, which took place from the 1740s until 1663. The courtyard of the upper castle was merged into joined wings, in front of which they represented arcades, while changing the function of older buildings to farm (they placed an armory in the Romanesque palace). They changed the entrance and adapted it to the cannon defense.


The new changing social conditions were essential for the future of the castle. Defense requirements were reduced and the maintenance of the castle required ever higher costs. With increasing time, the castle estate gradually moved to the newly built mansions under the castle (to Hodkoviec, later also Bijacoviec) and the castle began to decay relentlessly.

Once again, however, the castle had to be fortified in connection with the events during the anti-Habsburg uprisings of Imrich Tököli (Thököly) and Francis II. Rákociho (Rákóczi). The migrating imperial army broke the high walls in the upper castle near the palace so that it could endanger the road from Branisko to Levoča with cannons. In the middle of the courtyard, they set up another work station. After their departure, only a small crew remained at the castle, which the family maintained. The castle began to fall into disrepair. The work of destruction was completed by a sudden fire in 1780.

19th and 20th centuries
The large building complex of the castle, closely connected with countless historical events, was the subject of interest of researchers in the second half of the 19th century, both in terms of the history of architecture and the historical legacy of preserved written reports.

Already in this period we can talk about some signs of monument care. In 1865, Spiš Castle, as an important historical and fortification monument, became the subject of interest of the Imperial-Royal Commission for Research and Preservation of Architectural Monuments. However, due to the extensive destruction of the castle masonry and the buildings of the castle complex, the rescue of the castle in the form of conservation works was abandoned. The main effort was focused on collecting written and material sources. It can be said that the dilapidation of the castle continued during this period, which was greatly aided by the locals, who used the loose parts of the masonry as a building material.

The destructive activities came to a halt only after the end of the Second World War. Already in 1945, the castle, together with other important monuments, was declared a state cultural property.

In 1961, the government of the Slovak Socialist Republic declared Spiš Castle a national cultural monument in the first group of selected historical buildings, and almost immediately, after extensive archaeological and historical-architectural research, a comprehensive rescue of the castle began. Extensive research has brought a number of important new findings concerning not only the genesis of the castle itself, but also the wider area. Conservation and restoration work is still taking place at Spiš Castle to this day.

The castle, the extended exposition of the Spiš Museum, is open to the public. Several buildings are accessible - in the lower courtyard, the so-called educational route, which includes (in addition to the accessible parts of the protective wall) the preserved and reconstructed foundations of the circular fortress of the Sparks, the barbican of the western gate of the middle courtyard from the 14th century, the foundations of prehistoric cult buildings and the foundations . In 1985, a historical exposition was opened in the building complex of the Renaissance arcade corridor and Western Gothic palaces in the upper castle, presenting evidence of the settlement of the castle gate from the earliest times to the construction of the castle, and documentation of the political and military power of the nobility, with emphasis on defensive combat technology. castle in the 15th - 16th century and to feudal justice.

The castle in the context of historical events
Spiš Castle is not only a unique architectural monument, but also deserves general attention with its significant position in the history of the region and the whole country. Many historical events or destinies of historical figures are directly linked to this castle.

One of the first documents confirming the existence of the castle is a document by which King Belo IV. On September 19, 1249, he confirmed the ownership of the village of Jablonov to the post office of Spiš. The document also mentions the permission "in castro nostro Scypus" (i.e. at our castle Spiš) to build a tower and a palace.

The position of the castle directly resulted in its defensive function. At the same time, the castle garrison had to check the nearby trade routes to Spiš from all directions. At the time of the threat, the crew was to occupy the surrounding passes and repel the enemy's troops. This resulted in another important function - it was also the center of Spiš County and the seat of the administrator of the royal property in Spiš.

The castle as a royal property was constantly the subject of disputes, which always erupted in full force after the death of the king or his appointed owner. In connection with this, Spiš Castle can be referred to as a kind of landing principality within Hungary, when its owners became members of the royal family (in the first half of the 13th century it was owned by Duke Koloman, younger brother Bel IV, a century later Stefan, brother of Louis I the Great of Anjou).


In 1301 Andrew III. the Arpad dynasty died out. Succession battles hit the entire country, including Spiš. Two parties opposed each other to the vacant throne (Charles I. Robert and Ladislav V.). At that time, Omodej Aba, who was appointed by Ladislav V., became the owner of Spiš Castle and at the same time the county of Spiš. However, the Omodej family soon sided with Charles I and helped him to own the castle. However, Charles I soon had to defend it against the conquest plans of Matúš Čák Trenčianský, who besieged the castle in 1312 after the battle of Rozhanovce. However, Filip Druget, the county of Spiš, resisted him and defended the castle.

During the reign of Charles I Robert, members of the highest Hungarian aristocracy were appointed by the counties of Spiš. Thus, the Druget family, Sečén family, Perínsk family, Berzević family and others took turns in the ownership of the castle.

Busy times in Hungary occurred in the first half of the 15th century. Albrecht II died in October 1439. Habsburg leaving no heir. It was not until February of the following year that his son Ladislav was born, whose interests his mother Alžbeta Luxemburská decided to defend. She called the leader of the brothers, Ján Jiskra from Brandýs, for help. Ján Jiskra came to Slovakia and gradually gained him into his power. In 1441 he reached Spiš. After taking control of several estates, he turned his interest to Spiš Castle, which he managed to control with the help of castle captain Petr Bask. Jiskra appointed Petr Aksamit as the castle captain. In 1453, however, Aksamit left the castle.

After Jiskra, the castle fell into the hands of Juraj Turz, a rich burgher from Levoča. However, it belonged to him only for a very short time, because already in 1460 the castle was taken over by King Matej Korvín. For the next five years, Spiš Castle was a royal property, a military fortress and the seat of the Spiš county.

In 1465, together with the hereditary title of Spiš county, it was owned by the Zápoľsk family. The significance of Spiš Castle and the title for them stems from the fact that despite the fact that at that time they allegedly owned up to seventy-two castles, Spiš Castle became their seat and used the title of Spiš County in front of all and much higher titles.

The Zápoľsk family owned the castle until 1528. One of its owners was the later Hungarian king Ján Zápoľský, who even defended himself against the imperial troops of Ferdinand I. In March 1528 Ferdinand besieged the castle and after two weeks the castle garrison surrendered.

Again in royal hands in 1531 it became the property of the Turzov family. Alexander Turzo, previously appointed county of Spiš, became lord of Spiš Castle in that year, to which he also received a royal donation in 1553, but only for descendants by the sword. The Turzovci became extinct in the male line in 1635 (Matej Turzo was the last member of the family and the owner of the castle) and so the castle became the subject of disputes again; this time various distant relatives applied for it. Eva Forgáčová, granddaughter of Alexander Turza, married to Štefan Čáki, had the most legitimate claims to inheritance. He forcibly seized the castle, which fell into disfavor of the royal chamber. In 1636 he was forced to give up the castle under duress, but three years later it was given to him by King Ferdinand III at the intercession of the palatine Mikuláš Esterházi. back. The castle thus became the hereditary possession of the family, which owned it until the middle of the 20th century.

From the second half of the 17th century, there was a period of gradual decline in the history of Spiš Castle. He survived two more sieges. One during Tököli's uprising, when he was besieged by chickens from August to mid-November 1683. The second time he resisted in December 1703 the troops of Francis II. Rákoci, but at Christmas that year the castle fell to the conquerors. For the next three years, it was in the hands of the Rákoci family.

At that time, however, the Čáki family, as the rightful owners, no longer showed much interest in the castle. The changed social conditions made them need to build more comfortable settlements in the castle grounds, to which they gradually moved. The castle began to fall into disrepair and the devastation could not be prevented even by the small garrison they still held at the castle. The final demise occurred in 1780, when the castle was destroyed by fire. Its former strategic importance has lost its meaning and the castle walls destroyed by fire have remained only as a backdrop beautifying the landscape.


Description of the castle
Today, the castle is in a state of reconstructed and preserved ruins. The conservators intended to make the castle grounds accessible to the public. On the basis of many years of archaeological and architectural research and its results, the individual areas of Spiš Castle were gradually made accessible by construction and exhibition.

The castle grounds occupy the top of Spiš Castle Hill in the east-west direction, with the terrain considering to the west.
The upper castle, occupying the top of the castle hill, forms the most preserved part of the castle. It is dominated by the masonry of the Romanesque palace and defensive tower, as well as the masonry of other residential buildings.

The central castle with the main gate, today mainly provides services for visitors. In its premises, there are presentations of period life, demonstrations of the work of potters, etc.

The largest part of the castle complex is occupied by the lower courtyard arranged as an open space with preserved foundations of buildings and castle fortifications. Interesting parts include the foundations of a semicircular barbican - an advanced entrance gate to the middle courtyard, dating from the second half of the 14th century. Sometimes it played an important role in the defense of the castle, but after the completion of the lower courtyard it lost its significance and disappeared. The foundations of a separate circular building, the so-called Spark stronghold, built after 1442, originally serving as a command residence. The fortress was protected by a circular stone wall and a perimeter moat, which was crossed by a wooden bridge.

Exposure areas
The main part of the preserved buildings is located on the upper castle, where the Renaissance arcade corridor dating from the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries is particularly interesting. It served as a link between the western Gothic palaces, the defensive parts and the chapel. Today it serves as an exhibition room with an exhibition of defense weapons and archaeological finds.

Castle chapel
At the end of the arcade corridor, on the right, you enter the Gothic chapel of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, dating from the 1930s.

The chapel was built in two phases. Its origin was probably related to the construction modifications of Spiš Castle in the years 1430 - 1437. It was first covered by a flat, probably coffered ceiling. The vault in the form of stone ribs, which also means the completion of construction work on the chapel, was realized later, probably in the second half of the 15th century during the manor of the new owners of the castle - Imrich and Stefan Zápoľskovci; it is assumed that it was a net vault.

The original one-storey area of ​​the castle chapel with an emporium, used for the private piety of the castle estate, with an entrance on the west side, changed its function into a funeral chapel in the 17th century. A crypt was dug into the floor, which was covered by a still preserved sandstone plate. On the south side, the chapel had a sacristy from the first half of the 17th century. Probably during this modification, the exterior of the chapel was decorated with sgraffito decoration.

In 1638, an inventory of the castle interiors was carried out, according to which there were five altars, six panel paintings, twelve wood carvings and fourteen paintings on canvas in the chapel.

As part of the restoration of the monument, the chapel was roofed and the system of vaulted battalions was partially reconstructed. In its interior, exhibits of a sacral nature are installed, while the chapel also serves its original spiritual purpose.

Other interiors
The exhibition spaces also include examples of period interiors - torture chambers, medieval cuisine, bedrooms, bathrooms and armories. All these interiors are accessible to tourists.

The castle as a tourist facility
Spiš Castle is an inseparable and permanent part of Slovakia's cultural heritage. Its significance far exceeded the borders of the region and the whole country. It has become a popular tourist destination, as evidenced by the growing number of its visitors each year. The attractiveness of the castle is multiplied by the proximity of other important monuments (the Church of the Holy Spirit in nearby Žehra, a set of historical monuments in Levoča and Spišská Nová Ves, the Cathedral of St. Martin in Spišská Kapitula, several mansions in the surrounding villages, etc.). The castle is easily accessible directly from the main road Poprad - Presov.