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Castle system in Slovakia has its beginnings in the 11th and 12th centuries. In those times it was necessary to protect the border areas against attacks of invaders and to prevent their entering into the country. In addition to the guarding services a system of castles was used also to guard the most important roads. The seat of the region castles and other buildings were not sufficiently ensured against enemy's attacks (most of forts were fortified with wood in the first half of the 13th century). An exemption was a protecting system of castles in the Považie region-Trenčín, Šintava, Hlohovec, Baňa (at Piešťany) and Beckov-protecting crossings over the Váh river. There are other castles documented for the same period-Levice, Fiľakovo, Starý hrad (opposite to the Strečno castle), Orava, Plaveč, Sariš and Slanec.

The most extensive construction of stone castles in Slovakia started immediately after the Tartars invasion in the middle of the 13th century and lasted till the half of the 14th. New stone forts were built in the place of original wooden castles or near them. New castles were built as well: Budatín castle at the confluence of the Váh and Kysuca rivers from1323. It was built or purchased by the Balag family or their ancestors. Previously the castle served for protection of the country border as well as a toll station for merchants passing from Silisia and Poland.

The Balas family was also the first known occupier of the Lietava castle near Ružomberok. Their big enemy Matús Čák Trenčiansky gained form the Balas's and he also occupied the following castles: Budatín, Lietava, Starý hrad and Hričov. After death of Matúš Čák Trenčiansky the castles Hričov, Budatín, Starý were gained back by the Balas family. The Emperor got gradually all the property as all those castles were royal property originally.

Most of the Slovak castles were built before the half of the 15th century. The nobility got the royal property step by step either as advance payment for a loan given to a monarch or for extraordinary and loyal services to the king. This was also the case of the aristocratic family of Zápolský who got more castles from the monarch of Matej Korvín (Matthias Corvinus) in the 15th century (Trenčín, Spiš and Kežmarok) and then they paid for reconstruction and changed the old castles for luxury palaces. At the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries Štefan Zápolský had Trenčín, Spiš and Lietava castles reconstructed and enlarged. Only when Turks attacks started again in the half of the 16th century it was necessary to built new fortifications for the castles. The Habsburg monarchs entrusted Italian builders with new tasks. That period seen many ownership changes of castle properties. Ferdinand Habsburg, crowned Hungarian King took the property of the Zápolský family and gave it to the nobility loyal to him. Thurzo family got a large land holdings together with castles. They got a right of succession for the Spiš region, Nitra, Hlohovec, Bojnice and Trenčín castles. Along with the Fuggers they owned the castle Červeny Kameň as well as the Lietava and Orava castles.

The system of the castles gradually lost its military and strategic importance from the l7th and the beginning of the 18th century and aristocratic families started to move from castles to manor houses. In this period lot of castles were demolished, burned and others fell into disrepair after inhabitants moved out.

At present many of the castles are reconstructed and are open for visitors like in the case of the, Čachtice, Beckov, Topoľčany, Trenčín, Budatín, Strečno and many others.



Published in the Slovak Heritage Live newsletter Volume 6, No. 2, Summer 1998
Copyright © Vladimir Linder 1998
3804 Yale Street, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5C 1P6
The above article and photographs may not be copied, reproduced, republished, or redistributed by any means including electronic, without the express written permission of
Vladimir Linder. All rights reserved.