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
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.
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
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 Balaša
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.
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
defence systems. First of all he ordered to replace wooden constructions
by stone and masonry.
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
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
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 Gašpar
Illeshazy who governed the domains more than 20 ears.
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
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.
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
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 Dubovský
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
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.
Hrad, Peter Huba, Osveta, n.p. Martin 1986
TO SLOVAKIA'S CASTLES
Published in the Slovak Heritage Live
newsletter Volume 9, No.2, Summer 2001
Copyright © Vladimir Linder 2001
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