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 castle was created a whole century earlier, at the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries. This oldest part of the castle did not survive to our times, it was destroyed by the tectonic movements of the ground.
Even before the Mongol invasion, the castle was rebuilt and enlarged. 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 armies of Matthew Csák, and after the battle of Rozhanovce in the same year, it fell to zupan Filip 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 Csak 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 turn of the 11th and 12th centuries consisted of a large, cylindrical tower and defensive wall cutting 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 meters, and the thickness of its walls at 4 meters. It had five floors, including a basement. 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 point of the hill, a two-story romanesque palace was erected. At the time of creation was second to none in Slovakia and then Hungary. Its ground floor served an economic function, illuminated by romanesque windows the first floor served as a representative great hall, and the highest storey was surrounded by a timber gallery. Next, a round tower – bergfried, a gatehouse and a romanesque chapel were built, and the whole 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.
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. In the years 1370-1380, the stronghold was enlarged by a new, longitudinal outer bailey ((150×60 meters)) on the west and south side, that is a later middle castle. Its walls were equipped with battlement, protected by a dry moat, and south entrance led through the gatehouse with the barbican. The second gate was on the west side and was protected by the tower extended in front of wall and moat. In the courtyard there were crew dwellings, an arsenal and buildings of the economic back-up.
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 towers square in the plan. In 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 this century, the romanesque palace was rebuilt, two more residential buildings were added to the upper castle, and a new gothic chapel was erected. Its western gallery (matroneum) was attached to an elongated residential building which occupied a larger part of the space at the western curtain.
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, a new gate was built together with a barbican that protected it. In the first half of the seventeenth century, the family of Csak 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.
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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Wasielewski A., Zamki i zamczyska Słowacji, Białystok 2008.