The Zvolen Castle, from the end of the 14th century called Empty, to differentiate it from the newer one, located in the center of Zvolen, is one of the oldest Slovak castles. According to the Hungarian chronicles, it was established at the turn of the 9th and 10th centuries, that is, the century before the Hungarians had conquered the mountainous regions of Slovakia. At that time it was a timber castle. The medieval stone castle was built later, probably in the times of Bela III in the second half of the 12th century, because the first mention of it dates back to 1214. In 1222, Detrich, the first zupan, Detrich, was mentioned, to whom, seven years later, the ruler donated vast property, cut from the Zwoleń. So the castle was the center of a great royal estate, and soon it became the capital of the newly founded province of Zvolen. Unfortunately, in 1241 it did not resist the Mongol invasion.
At the beginning of the 14th century, the castle remained under the rule of Matthew Csák, a Hungarian magnate who sovereignly ruled the western part of today’s Slovakia. On his behalf, the castle was managed by Donch. After a few years, the scale of victory in the civil war between Csák and the king, began to tilt on the side of Charles I of Hungary. The transfer of Donch to the royal side around 1314, completely changed the balance of power in favor of the king and accelerated the collapse of the Csak’s dominion. It also opened the way to a great career to Donch. Soon he became the second person in the state. Although he built several castles, in the Liptov, Orava and Turiec, the most important of his castles was the Empty Castle of Zvolen.
In the 14th century, the character of the stronghold changed. The development of precious ore mining has led to the emergence of new trade routes, two of which crossed at the foot of the castle, giving protection to merchants and carts of silver and copper. At the same time, it became the residence of Hungarian kings. When, in the second half of the 14th century, Louis I the Great ordered a new castle to be built in Zvolen, the meaning of the Empty Castle began to fall. At the turn of the century, it served only military purposes. During the fights for the Hungarian throne in the mid-fifteenth century, it remained in the hands of John Jiskra, acting in the name of queen Elisabeth. In 1451 or 1452, it was captured by the army of John Hunyady. It burned down during the assault and was not rebuilt. The ruins were still alive only for a short time in the 16th century, when a timber observation tower, part of the defense system, was set up on the top of the hill.
The oldest part of the castle from the end of the 12th century was located in the southern, highest part of the hill with an area of about 3.6 ha. It was a huge, residential and defensive tower with dimensions of 10.8 x 11.7 meters and wall thicknesses up to 3 meters, surrounded by a wall (with a thickness of 2.8 meters) on the oval plan. This massive construction of the tower in the 14th century was additionally thickened by a further 2 meters, reaching up to 5 meters in the width of the perimeter wall.
The expansion that took place at the time of Bela IV made it a huge castle, the area of which was 7,6 ha. In the years 1241-1255, on the edge of the hill, two refuges were built, surrounded by defensive walls, which served as a shelter for a larger population, later called the upper and lower castle. Archaeological research proved that the castle walls were built partly on the earth ramparts from the Bronze Age and that they had at least nine small exit gates. With time, the refuges were combined (perhaps by a single wall line), and the very long inner courtyard of the upper castle was divided by several transverse walls and moats.
The perimeter walls of the upper castle surrounded an area of approximately 430 x 90 meters without any sharp corners. They were 2 meters thick and about 6 meters high. Around the middle of the 13th century more buildings were erected in it: a fortified gatehouse in the southern part of the upper castle and a second, square tower in the central part of the upper refuge. From the name of the builder it received the name Pertolds Tower. It had external dimensions of 11 x 11.2 meters, with an interior size of 7 x 7 meters. With such large dimensions, it certainly also had residential functions. After 1314, its original entrance in the ground floor was bricked up, and a new entrance portal was created on the first floor. The south gatehouse was open from the inside and surpassed the crown of the perimeter wall. Its portal was closed by massive gates with bolt.
Before the end of the thirteenth century, in the eastern part of the upper castle, an early-gothic tower was erected. Perhaps there was a royal mint in it, but its role was also to secure communication with the lower castle. A transverse defensive wall, separating the northern part of the castle, emerged from the tower, and one of the gates was located on its ground floor. Above the passage, the tower had four floors.
Located on the north-east, the lower castle had the shape of an elongated oval with dimensions of 210 x 60 meters, surrounded by 2.5 meters thick walls. In its western part, a large building (21×24 meters) was erected, a residential tower or a palace with a tower-like character. It was almost 100 meters lower than the tower of the upper castle and after building the circumference of the walls, it did not take place in its middle, but on the western forehead of the lower castle, right at the entrance. In addition to the economic grund floor, it probably had three more upper floors. Perhaps it was the work of king Andrew II, who lived in it during visits in Zwoleń, not to occupy the administrative upper castle. As mentioned, the lower castle was connected by a single wall line about 350 meters long with the upper castle (its western end may have never been completed).
The next, the last extension of the castle took place at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, when the zupans were knights Demeter and Donch. The existing facilities have been rebuilt and strengthened, and in the north-eastern part a new castle was created, associated with the person of Donch. The purpose of the builders at that time was, in particular, to improve the residential conditions, until then limited to narrow residential towers. The new complex took an area of about 50×50 meters in the lower part of the upper castle. The entrance to it led through the four-sided gatehouse at the junction of the perimeter and transverse walls. The north-eastern part consisted of at least three buildings of a residential and economic character. The main palace was located in the north-eastern corner, and in its vicinity a rainwater tank was carved into the rock. It contained an extension with a filtration vessel through which water entered the reservoir. One of the smaller buildings was added over the tank. The palace had an economic – storage ground floor and two higher residential floors.
To this day, the lower parts of the defensive complex in the north-east part of the castle, lower parts of two square towers, sections of the outer defensive wall and transverse walls and moats that divided the courtyard, have survived. Their highest fragments are up to 3 meters in height. In the best condition is the southern gate of the castle, whose one wall has been preserved in its entirety.
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Bóna M., Plaček M., Encyklopedie slovenských hradů, Praha 2007.
Wasielewski A., Zamki i zamczyska Słowacji, Białystok 2008.