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Orava belongs to one of the most typical natural and historical regions of Slovakia. Its territory was inhabited as early as in Primeval Age. A few solitary findings originate from Late Stone Age and from the Early Bronze Age. More extensive inhabitation of the region goes back to the Late Bronze Age. In this era, in place of the today’s Middle and Lower Castles an elevated settlement was founded. Its inhabitant’s, the people of “Lusitian urn fields” (1100-1400) fortified it with walls of wood and earth.
In younger Hallstatt era the elevated castle cliff belonged to the important Hallstatt settlements, and in the era of fortified homesteads the place was inhabited by Slavonic people.

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First historical mentions about Orava Castle are dated in 1267. At that time the castle occupied only a small area and consisted of only few buildings built of stones. However, the fortified area was almost as large as the area of the nowadays castle with its vertical arrangement into the Upper, Middle and Lower Castle. Buildings of the Upper Castle, erected on the top of a 112 meters limestone cliff had only their ground floor built of stone, while the upper part was constructed of wooden logs. In the second half of the 13th century, the Middle Castle consisted only of a four-storied tower and the Middle Castle buildings belonged to the outer bailey.
Building of the castle was motivated mainly by the need for protection for the important long ­distance merchants' rout leading to Poland, and by the need of an administrative centre for the region. Of considerable importance was also protection of the nearby state borders.
Orava Castle with the whole territory of Orava region was alternately in possession of the king and of rich sovereigns.
First documented owners of the castle were the Bala
ša family of Zvolen, who, in 1267, donated the castle to the King Belo IV. Government of the castle went to the hands of castellans that were given several privileges. In 1298, the castle fell to the region which was under the sovereign power of Matúš Čák Trenčanský. However, in 1314, it became again royal possession, represented by Zvolen Counts. The most important of them was Master Donch, who, in 1333, donated the castle to the King Charles Robert. For 15 years the castellan and Count Master Leopold governed Orava Castle.

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In the following period the castle was quickly changing masters going from the hands of one castellan to another. On the majority of them exist only fragments of indirect mentions: Master Štefan of Štiavnica (1349‑1354), Count and castellan Štefan Kathy (1355), Rudolf Kratzer (1358), Juraj and Detrick Bubek (1370), Ladislav and Ján Kakaš de Kaza (1380), Peter Perenyi (1382), Master Jakub (1386), Hungarian Palatine Leustach of Jelšava (1392), Ladislav Piast (1395), Hungarian Palatine Mikuláš Gara (1402), Ctibor of Beckov (1420), Mikuláš Balický (1437). Even Ján Jiskra, protecting interests of Queen Elizabeth, widow of Albert Habsburg, attempted to capture Orava Castle. In 1441, Peter Komorovský became castellan, and, 10 years later the castle was given to him through a royal donation bill. Komorovský devoted much attention to the castle
s defence systems. First of all he ordered to replace wooden constructions by stone and masonry.

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In 1474, Komorovský sold the castle to the possession of the King Matiáš Hunyady‑Corvinus. The King made several steps to improve security of the castle and to protect its surroundings, mainly the state borders. Through the bill dated March 6, 1474, he confirmed the old privileges of the settlers (Wallachian Law) who safeguarded northern borders of the country. They were exempted from the duties of the subjects. He managed to rebuild some parts of the castle. Erection of a palace within the Middle Castle meant addition of several rooms to the existing ones. Matiáš Corvinus donated Orava Castle to his illegitimate son Ján (1482). Ján Corvinus lost his interest in Orava Castle and hired it to the castellan Horvath Kišovič. To govern the castle he nominated the Count Irnrich Zápoľský. Thus, one of the mightiest families in Hungary became involved in the castle’s history. Štefan, Irnrich’s brother, possessed tens of castles and feuds and through several intrigues he captured also Orava castle. Along with the Zdpolský family, Mikuláš Kostka and Peter Kostka arrived in Orava and became castellans.
In 1536, the castle and with it the count rank were given to Ján of Dubovec. With his arrival a busy building activity began at the castle. He ordered to build new fortification systems (the second gate, bastions), and new palace in the Middle Castle that bears his name until the present me.  

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After Ján of Dubovec the castle was governed by Václav Sedlnický, and in 1556, it went to the possession of Fraňo
Thurzo. Since the 15th century the Thurzo family belonged to the richest families in Hungary. Together with industrial and financial entrepreneurs, the Fuggers, they were shrewd businessmen and as such they considered the merchant’s route as very important as well as Orava Castle that had to protect it.
Between 1556-1621 the Thurzo family let the castle to be rebuild and fortify. Wooden roof constructions in the Upper Castle were replaced by stone masonry. These reconstructions lasted until 1561, and, after their completion, the rebuilding of Middle and Lower Castles were started. Among them the major tasks were: to cut well in the limestone cliff, to cut cellar, to construct a new palace with chapel, to modernize the defense systems of the Lower Castle. During the rule of Thurzo family, beside the building activities at the castle, there was also an extensive colonization of the region. Its purpose from the side of rulers’ was to exploits the domains to the maximum. In 1606, the Thurzo family was given the castle as their family feud. Since 1609 Juraj Thurzo became Palatine and Governor of the Hungarian Kingdom. After his death in 1616, the feud and the rank of Count of Orava descended to his son Imrich, who died young in 1626, and thus the spear side of the Thurzo family had died out. Until 1626, his domains were governed his mother. Then, heiresses of vast domains became seven daughters of Juraj Thurzo with their husbands. They used to nominate governors of their domains, somebody from the family circle. Thus the “Orava Compossessorate” was created. Its first governor and manager became Ga
špar Illeshazy who governed the domains more than 20 ears.  

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In the 17th century, the times in Orava were full of unrests. During the anti-Habsburg rebellions the armies stayed also in Orava and the region was plundered. Unbearable conditions suffered mainly subjects who with their wives and children started to escape to other counties.
In 1672, a great uprising of Orava serfs broke out under the leadership of Gašpar Pika. Insurgents captured also Orava Castle. Aftermath of the rebellion was a cruel retaliation. Gšpar Pika died speared on the pole and 24 village mayors of Liptov and Orava villages died the way characteristic for the feudal justice beheaded, hanged, broken on a wheel etc.
In 1683, another big disaster afflicted Orava, when part of the armies of Ján Sobieski on their march to Vienna to fight the Turks, had burned 25 Orava villages to the foundations.
The stormiest times in Orava history were the 80’s of the 18th century when the new Theresian law on the allocation of land came into life. People were discontented and the local turmoil’s and clashes resulted in 1774 in an open rebellion that was at last suppressed by the army and the organizers were cruelly punished.
The subjects tried to improve their position by home industries. In Orava, the most important of them were: linen­ weaving and the associated linen printing with typical blue color patterns, cloth-making, pottery, stone-cutters, bell­ founding, wood-carving (carved wooden kitchen utensils) and others.
Orava Castle already in the 18th century began finally losing its former importance. Its rooms were used only partially for administrative purposes and as accommodation for the officials of Orava Compossessorate. In 1800, the castle was afflicted by the worst disaster, the fire that destroyed it, and the castle remained deserted. At that time manager of Orava Compossessorate decided to reconstruct only the lowest part of the castle. The roofing of the Middle and Upper Castles was the matter of a decision made in 1861. In 1868, until then neglected and sparsely utilized castle complex gave shelter to one of the first museums in Slovakia. Its foundation shared mainly by: William Rowland, Anthony Kocyan and Jozef Gruber. Mainly Mikuláš Kubínyi sponsored building of the collections.
At the end of the 19th century, under the governorate of Jozef Pálffy some architectural reconstructions of the castle were started. In
1898-1914 the Gothic parts of the Middle Castle were restored and the rooms were furnished with new style mobiliar.
The most extensive reconstructions of Orava Castle were carried out only after the year 1948. In 1951, Orava Castle including the museum collections it housed went from the hands of State Forests to the State Cultural Propriety and preparations for extensive reconstructions were started. In 1953, they decided to rebuild Orava Castle for the purposes of All Orava Natural History Museum


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Unprecedented development experienced also the museum. Since 1955 a systematic archaeological survey was going on as well as the intensive collection of ethnographic material. The consequent adjustment of the castle had created favorable conditions for installation of museum collections both in deposit rooms and in exposition rooms.
In the second part of the 60’s, installation of natural history collections in Dubovsk
ý Palace was started. They were opened to the public on the occasion of the centenary of the museum. The first and the second floors are occupied by natural history collections, the third floor by an archaeological exposition of Primeval Orava, and the fourth floor by an ethnographic exposition. At the beginning of the 70’s, the highest part of Orava Castle, the so called Citadel, was opened to the public with the exposition documenting architectural development of the castle. In 1981, also the original dungeons were opened to the public with the expositions of Middle Ages justice.
Every year the castle is visited by several tens of thousands of visitors from almost all parts of the world, to admire its historical, artistic and aesthetic values.
Orava Castle commemorates many historical events and movements, which had a decisive impact on the fate of our country. It is a witness of creative faculties of our people, who, despite the hardest oppression could create such great and lasting values.

Reprinted from:

Oravský Hrad, Peter Huba, Osveta, n.p. Martin 1986  


Published in the Slovak Heritage Live newsletter Volume 9, No.2, Summer 2001
Copyright © Vladimir Linder 2001 
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.