The moment you emerge out of 5 km long ‘Branisko Tunnel’ while heading towards the town of Spisske Podhradie, an imposing silhouette of the Spis Castle that dominates town’s eastern horizon grabs your attention! Sitting atop a travertine hill that surges 200 m higher than the surrounding landscape, the ‘Spis Castle’ overlooks the town of ‘Spisske Podhradie’ & the village of ‘Zehra’, in the Spis region of the Eastern Slovakia.
The 12th century built massive ‘Spis Castle’ was a boundary fort during the reign of the former ‘kingdom of Hungary’. In the past, the castle was the most important economic & cultural center of the ‘kingdom of Hungary’ & today it stands as one of the largest castle complexes in the world. Although the major portion of the castle is in ruins, the castle still attracts hordes of the tourists from all over the world. The ‘Spis castle’ was honored by the UNESCO in 1993 by listing it on World Heritage Sites.
A Glance Through The History:
From the archaeological research, it is proved that the castle hill has been inhabited since the 5th millennium BC. A citadel was constructed atop the hill during the Roman era by Puchovska clan. The present form of the castle was constructed by the Kingdom of Hungary during the 12th century on the site of the earliest establishments in order to protect the ‘Szepes County’ from the successive attacks of the Tartar invaders.
The castle was under control of the ‘Kingdom of Hungary’ till 1464, after which, it was donated to the Zapolya family by the monarch of ‘Hungary’. The ‘Zapolya’ clan doubled the castle complex, refurbished the Romanesque palace & added some Gothic features into it. The ‘Zapolya’ family had the castle in their hand until the king Habsberg handed over the ownership to the Thurzo family in 1528.
The ‘Thurzos’ rebuilt the castle using the Renaissance style & possessed it until 1635. The Csaky family then took the castle from the ‘Thurzos’ & ruled here until 1945. Although the castle was under control of the ‘Csaky’ family till 1945, the ‘Csaky’ family had abandoned it in the early 18th century following the fierce fire that destroyed the major part of the castle. The castle was then left deserted.
Post 1945, the castle was owned by the state of Czechoslovakia & then by Slovakia. By 1970, the castle’s condition became miserable. The castle conservationists then took immediate steps in order to prevent this veteran witness of the country’s past from decaying completely. The castle went through some serious refurbishment regimes to restore its original grandeur to some extent. Extensive archeological research was also carried out on the hill, which revealed the evidences that the hill area has been inhabited since long past.
A Walk Through The Castle Complex:
As we start climbing the castle hill, an ancient fortification, originally the main entrance, impedes the way. Although, nothing stands beside these ruins of the gate, it was originally connected to the wooden barricades. A deep moat that comes after the gate reinforces tall walls as well as the imperial entrance. The 15th century keep with a Gothic gate lets you to enter into the central courtyard which has the granaries & the guard houses flanking its edges.
Moving further from there, another courtyard featuring ruins of a local administrator palace, foundations of a mill & a small cave appears before you. Another Roman gate gets you to the upper part of the castle, which is considered as the oldest & the most notable of all.
The upper part houses a small cistern, stone walls from the 18th century & small terraces, which used to be the foundations for the Gothic & Renaissance houses of the castle residents. A circular tower from the 13th century & ruins of an 11th century tower that couldn’t stand against the test of time can also be seen in this area. The currently standing tower connects a Gothic chapel that dates back to the 15th century. The most spectacular part of the castle, the 15th century Gothic Palace, is located just behind the chapel. The three-story high palace is renowned for its elegant windows featuring artistic stonework.
Apart from the architectural spectacle, the Spis Museum, which displays the documented history of the castle, medieval arms & the collection of belongings of the sovereignties, is also worth visiting!
Other Attractions Around The Castle:
The area surrounding the castle complex is also renowned for its charming appearance. Spisska Kapitula, the part of ‘Spisske Podhradie’, is renowned as the Vatican of Slovakia! The Gothic architectures, Romanesque churches, Baroque styled ornamentation & dazzling view of the surroundings in ‘Spisska Kapitula’ simply leave the visitors speechless!
One of the earliest Slovak settlements, the ‘church of the Holy Spirit’ in Zehra also attracts hordes of the tourists & is famous for its scintillating wall paintings that date from the Middle-Ages! Both the locations are listed in the ‘World Heritage Sites’ of the UNESCO along with the ‘Spis Castle’.
The area in & around of the ‘Spis Castle’ is one of the most celebrated parts of ‘Slovakia’. The castle has featured in various movies, including ‘Dragonheart’, ‘Kill the conqueror’, ‘The Last Legion’ & ‘The Lion in winter’! Every year, the castle is visited by more than a hundred thousand visitors.