The first object on the site of the castle was the parish church of the Virgin Mary, which together with the neighboring cemetery chapel of St. Michael (charnel house) was built in the 13th century, before the Mongol invasion. This church first appeared in written sources in 1240, when its parish priest Gerardus was recorded. In the fourteenth century, a defensive wall was built around the church, and then in the first half of the fifteenth century, the defense system was expanded to include a four-sided tower and gate tower. The so-called town castle was the seat of the administrator of the mining chamber, a place for storing valuable spoil and a refuge where the inhabitants could protect themselves in case of an emergency.
In the years 1377 – 1382 in Banská Štiavnica the simultaneous activity of two administrators of the mining chamber, holding their office together, was documented. Their work could probably have been conditioned by the existence of two settlements which formed Banská Štiavnica, and thus by the parallel existence of two mining chambers. These settlements were Štiavnica in the valley near the church of the Virgin Mary and Baňa on the Glanzenberg Hill where there was a second castle. Apart from mining and mining tax collection, the chamber’s administrators also supervised the exchange of old coins and the distribution of newly minted coins. They also judged and punished cases of counterfeiting and the use of counterfeit coins.
In 1442, these fortifications did not stop Simon Rozgonyi, fighting his political opponent Ladislaus the Posthumous and his allies. As a result of these fights, the church burned down and, worse, a year later was damaged by an earthquake. In the years 1497-1515, during the reconstruction, the basilica was rebuilt into a gothic hall temple, and the fortifications were reinforced with round towers. The danger of the Turkish invasion resulted in the need for another reconstruction, which changed the fortified church into a fortress. In the years 1546-1559 the church was rebuilt into a four-wing building with an internal courtyard in the place of the old nave. These were the last major works carried out in the castle, because the baroque reconstruction in the eighteenth century concerned mainly the old gate tower.
The original church of the Virgin Mary from the first thirty years of the thirteenth century was a late Romanesque three-aisle basilica with a four-sided tower added to the central nave. On the first floor it housed a gallery, open to the nave by a semicircular arcade. Both side aisles were extended westwards to the front wall, so that their westernmost bays contained the side wings of the gallery. They were covered with a heavy cross vault with square ribs, without bosses. The porch under the tower was also covered in a similar way, while the nave was crowned only with a wooden ceiling. The side aisles in the east ended with semicircular apses, and at the height of the central nave, the eastern part of the church was closed by a quadrilateral, apsed-free chancel with a width similar to the central nave. It was probably vaulted like the gallery. From the north, it was adjacent to a single-storey sacristy, also covered with a cross vault.
After the reconstruction from the end of the fifteenth century, church became a gothic hall, three-aisle with a narrower and shorter chancel with polygonal end on the east side. Probably the works on the nave were never completed, whereas, the sacristy was raised by one storey, and additionally extended on the west side to the side of the north aisle.
In the mid-sixteenth century, after the collapse of the vault, an internal courtyard was built, and the walling of the side aisles resulted in the creation of individual floors. The entrance to the inner courtyard led through the ground floor of the west tower. The rooms on the ground floor served as a kitchen, cells, food and weapon magazines. The floors were used as living quarters for a 50-60-person garrison crew.
Situated on the eastern side of the church charnel of St. Michael was a typical example of a cemetery chapel from the 13th century, consisting of upper and lower part. The lower floor had a cylindrical shape, and the upper one consisted of a circular nave and a semicircular apse. There were two original entrances, both similar, semicircular and quite wide: one was in the north-west and the other in the longitudinal axis of the nave. Inside, the upper chapel was originally crowned with a timber ceiling, the apse with a conch, and the lower, sunk into the ground morgue with a barrel vault supported by massive ribs, based on a central, quadrilateral pillar. The lighting of the lower floor was made possible by small windows on the south side, thanks to the slope of the area. From the fourteenth century, the upper chapel also received a six-part rib vault, which rested on pyramidal corbels. The interior was then decorated with wall paintings, illuminated by a new pointed window with a two-light tracery. Further modifications were introduced in the 16th century, when the charnel house and the apse were included in the fortifications of the stronghold. A semicircular cannon tower was added to it and the loop hole was pierced in the apse.
The circumference of the defensive walls was erected on the plan of an irregular hexagon. It was strengthened in the first half of the fifteenth century by the eastern four-sided gate tower (also serving as a prison) called Himmelreich and the four-sided tower on the southern side. At the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a cylindrical tower from the north-west side was added and two semi-circular half towers opened from the side of the courtyard: north and south-west. The new towers at the ground floor level had narrow arrowslits, but already on the upper floors they were equipped with cannon shooting positions. In the perimeter of the walls, the chapel of St. Michael was earlier included. The outer zone of defense was a ditch and earth rampart, built on the west and probably on the north-east side.
Currently, the castle complex consists of a palace building, a perimeter wall reinforced with towers and a belfry (originally a gatehouse) and a romanesque charnel. The Old Castle serves as the Slovak Mining Museum with an archaeological, craft, sculptural and historical exhibition of the region. During the summer season, theatrical performances and cultural programs take place in the castle.
Bóna M., Plaček M., Encyklopedie slovenských hradů, Praha 2007.
Mencl V., Stredoveká architektúra na Slovensku, Praha 1937.
Štefánik M., Mestské hrady v Banskej Štiavnici a Kremnici do konca stredoveku [w:] Stredoveké hrady na Slovensku. Život, kultúra, spoločnosť, red. D.Dvořáková, Bratislava 2017.