Zvolen – Empty Castle


   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. It 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, and was managed by Donch. After a few years, the scale of victory in the civil war began to tilt on the side of king 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 was located in the southern, highest part of the hill. 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).
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. More or less at that time, more buildings were erected: 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. 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.
   Located on the north-east, the lower castle had the shape of an elongated oval with dimensions of 210 x 60 meters. In its western part, a large building (21×24 meters) was erected, a residential tower or a palace with a tower-like character.
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. It consisted of at least three buildings of a residential and economic character and a gatehouse.

Current state

   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.