Spišské Podhradie – Spiš Castle


   The castle hill was settled already  in 5000 BC. After several thousand years of uninterrupted human presence, it was deserted in the second century BC. Only after the collapse of the Great Moravian state, people again lived on the castle hill. The first information about the castle comes from the document of king Andrew II from 1209, in which the Spiš County is also mentioned. On the basis of more recent archaeological research, it is estimated that the stone castle was created a whole century earlier, probably in the first half of the 12th century. The end of this first phase probably occurred at the beginning of the 13th century, as a result of damages caused by unstable ground.
Even before the Mongol invasion, the castle was rebuilt and enlarged, intended for the seat of the royal son, Coloman. In 1241, the Spiš Castle, as one of the few in Hungary, resisted the Mongol invasion. In any case, it has never been conquered in its history as a result of an assault or siege, it only passed from hand to hand as a result of bribery or surrender. After the Mongol invasion, the castle was extended of an outer bailey, for the needs of the provost from the nearby Spišská Kapitula, destroyed by the Mongols.
In 1312 the castle resisted the army of Matthew III Csák, but some of its buildings had to be damaged, because in the following years repair works were carried out. After the battle of Rozhanovce, in which the troops of King Charles of Hungary, supported by units of the Spiš Saxons, knights Hospitaller and townspeople from Košice defeated the nobles of the Aba family and the army of Matthew Csák, castle passed to zupan Phillip Drugeth. After the death of his son Wilhelm, the castle administrators changed many times. In the years 1370-1380, that is in the time of Louis the Great, the castle was enlarged by the western outer bailey.

   In the first half of the fifteenth century Spiš  zupans were members of the Rozgonyi family. Because at the same time they held the dignity of Bratislava’s zupans, they visited Spiš rarely. On their behalf, the castle was managed by the commander of the crew, Peter Baska, who in 1442 betrayed his bosses, opening the gates to the mercenaries of John Jiskra. The castle became a huge camp for them, surrounded by a long wall with several towers. In the middle of thus created grand courtyard, a separate fortress was built, surrounded by a moat and a palisade, in which the walls, the commander’s quarters were located. The leader of the crew was Peter Aksamit, who a few years later left the service of Jiskra and created the movement of bratrzyks. After the Jiskra troops left, the castle was too expensive to maintain, so the large courtyard of the lower castle was abandoned and at best served subordinate economic purposes. After the resignation of Aksamit in 1453, the castle fell to George Thurzo, but already in 1460 it was taken over by king Matthias Corvinus and four years later he donated it along with the hereditary dignity of the Spiš zupan to Imre Zapolya. Although the brothers Stefan and Imre Zapolya had over 70 castles, it was at the Spiš Castle that they decided to establish an ancestral seat and stayed most often. Zapolyas turned the castle into a luxury residence, without neglecting its defensive values. The largest changes affected the oldest Romanesque part of the building.
After 1526, the castle was taken away from Zapolyas, and in 1531 the emperor gave it to Alexius Thurzo. Thurzons built a lot at the castle, but most of the works consisted of rebuilding old buildings and raising the standard of the aristocratic residence. The Spiš Thurzon line expired in 1636 and the castle was briefly returned to the imperial hands. In 1639, the owners of the castle were the Csák family, associated with the Thurzons. In they hands the castle remained until 1945.
After the fall of the Francis Rákóczi uprising, the building began to gradually decline. The small repairs made by the insurgents, who in 1703-1710 occupied the castle, did not change its state. The final collapse of the fortress occurred in 1780, as a result of a great fire. Its cause is unknown, the lightning strike sometimes referred to in literature, is just one of the hypotheses. In 1961, the Spiš Castle was declared as a National Cultural Monument, and in 1969 extensive conservation and reconstruction works began, which continue to this day.


   The castle from the first half of the 12th century consisted of a large, cylindrical tower and quite thin defensive wall protecting access to the rocky promontory in the south. Inside it was equipped with a water tank. Archaeologists determined the diameter of the tower at 22.5 meters, and the thickness of its walls at 4 meters. Based on such massive walls, it can be assumed that the tower could be quite high, at least several-storeyed. In addition to defensive, it probably also had a residential function. Architectural connections of this keep should be sought in the French buildings of Philip II, whose sister Margaret was the wife of the Hungarian ruler Bela III.
   During the great reconstruction of the first half of the thirteenth century, forced by the collapse of the earlier keep, at the highest and also the safest, northern area of the hill, a three-story Romanesque palace was erected, built on a plan similar to a rectangle, with an irregular northern elevation adapted to the shape of the slopes of the hill. At the time of its creation, it was second to none in Slovakia and then Hungary. It was built of unworked stones reinforced in the corners with carefully worked large blocks. Its ground floor, illuminated by small four-sided windows, served economic functions, the first floor, illuminated with Romanesque two-light windows, served as a representative hall, and the top floor was surrounded by a wooden porch, accessible by a semicircular portals on each side of the building. Inside, the storeys were separated by wooden ceilings based on timber columns, while the entrance was at the ground floor level in the west elevation.
Another building erected at that time was a round tower – bergfried, and the whole castle was surrounded by new defensive walls with battlement, which surrounded castle on the edges the highest part of the rocky hill.
The stronghold occupied then an area of approximately 145 x 60 meters. The entrance to the castle courtyard was located in the southern corner in the four-sided gatehouse. The cylindrical tower protected the Romanesque palace and at the same time was the last place of refuge.

   After the Mongol invasion, the castle was extended by small ward from the south-west. It was equipped with a square tower, probably also with residential functions. Placed in the southern part, the entrance to the castle was protected by a gate tower. Construction works also continued at the upper castle, enlarged by a Gothic, free-standing chapel, located between bergfried tower and the Romanesque palace.
In the years 1370-1380, the castle was enlarged by a new, longitudinal outer bailey (150×60 meters) on the west and south side, that is a later middle ward. Its walls were equipped with battlement and protected by a ditch and earth ramparts. During their construction, earth fortifications of the former stronghold of the Púchov culture were used. Entry led through the southern gate tower with a large foregate. In front of the gate tower a pit was dug, above which a drawbridge was placed. The other gate or wicket was on the west side and was protected by the tower protruding from the perimeter of the walls, surrounded by a ditch. It was later incorporated into joint fortifications. In the courtyard of the second outer bailey (later the middle ward), crew houses and utility buildings were erected.

   In the first half of the fifteenth century, the lower castle was surrounded by a long defensive wall. The outer (lower) ward was almost 285 meters long and up to 115 meters wide. Its defensive wall, with a length exceeding 500 meters, was equipped with arrowslits for hand-held firearms and three square in the plan towers, one of which (western) served as a gatehouse equipped with a portcullisIn the middle, around 1443, a huge, cylindrical tower, called the Jiskra’s Tower, was erected. It was additionally reinforced with a palisade and a dry moat (ditch), as a result of which it was an independent defensive work.
In the second half of the fifteenth century, the Romanesque palace was rebuilt (the lower storey was vaulted, making the upper ones lower, new windows were pierced), while in the eastern part of the upper castle two more residential buildings were erected. A new, Gothic chapel was built between bergfried and the romanesque palace. Its western gallery (matroneum) was placed nearby an elongated residential building which occupied a larger part of the space at the western curtain. A timber, covered porch provided a direct connection between these buildings. A semi-circular tower was also erected then in the western part of the upper castle, while older bergfried tower was raised and thickened. On the initiative of the Zapola family, due to the significant enlargement of the castle and the number of its inhabitants, a new, larger water tank was cut into the rock.
In the sixteenth century, the upper ward was adjusted. The buildings that stood loosely were joined together, their foreheads were leveled, an arcaded corridor was added to them. The walls were reinforced and equipped with positions for guns and shooting holes. At the end of the century, the old gatehouse leading to the upper castle was also rebuilt. In the first half of the seventeenth century, the Csák family rebuilt the middle ward. Also here, along the walls, stood buildings, mainly used by the castle crew. The lower ward was also developed, service dwellings, stables and outbuildings were created there. In its final shape, the Spiš Castle consisting of the upper, middle and lower parts, occupied an impressive area of ​​4,15 ha.

Current state

   The castle has been added to the UNESCO World’s Cultural and Natural Heritage List in 1993. Currently, most of it is in a state  of well preserved ruin and in the rebuilt part there is a small museum. It is open to visitors from May to October, every day from 9:00 to 19:00. Unfortunately, the large (eastern) part of the upper castle is waiting for the necessary renovation works and has not been open to the public for a long time.

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Mencl V., Stredoveká architektúra na Slovensku, Praha 1937.

Moskal, K. Zamki w dziejach Polski i Słowacji, Nowy Sącz 2004.
Wasielewski A., Zamki i zamczyska Słowacji, Białystok 2008.