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Picturesque scenery of the Middle Váh River Valley is further enriched by a number of cultural and historical monuments. Among them the Trenčín Castle a National Cultural Relic, one of the mightiest medieval complexes in Slovakia, occupies an important place, second only to the Spiš’s Castle.

Archaeological findings made on the territory of Trenčín Castle prove its inhabitation already in the Early Bronze Age. In Roman times, namely in the 2nd century AD, Trenčín falls to the sphere of influence of the powerful Roman Empire. A clear evidence of the Roman inhabitation of Trenčín is the inscription carved to the castle rock glorifying the victory of the Romans over the German tribes (179-180 A. D.), which, at the same time, is an evidence of Roman Legions having spent some time at the winter camp near Trenčín. The fate of this territory after the withdrawal of German tribes and before the advent of the Slavs is completely obscure. The discovery of a rotunda on the acropolis and the findings evidencing for the existence of crafts in the area of the lower castle speak of its inhabitation in the time of Greater Moravia.


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After territory of today’s Slovakia had been incorporated into the Hungarian State in the 11th century Trenčín had become a royal castle. Its existence is evidenced by written documents indirectly since as early as 1068 A. D. and directly in a bill dated 1111 A. D. In 1241, the castle had resisted the attack of Tartar hordes.
In feudal era, among those who first started anew the architectural development of the castle was Matúš Čák of Trenčín. He had fortified it appropriately, mostly in its lower part, and the castle became his major seat. Further extension of the castle is connected with then name of the King Ludovít the Great who had repaired the damage to the castle inflicted by the armies of the King Charles Robert in 1321. During the reign of Ludovít the Great a new palace was erected and the castle became the venue of several international negotiations.
In the 15th century, the castle’s fate was connected with the name of Queen Barbara, the second wife of Sigismund of Luxembourg. The palace was then equipped with a Gothic portal and a gable bearing the coat of arms of the Queen. Among the further users and feudal leaseholders of this royal castle worth mentioning are Queen Elizabeth, Jan Jiskra of Brandýs, Ján Hunyady and his son Mathias Corvinus. Here, in 1461, the daughter of the Bohemian King George of Poděbrady had become engaged to be married to Mathias Corvinus. From Mathias Corvinus the castle went to the hands of Zápolský family.


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Reconstruction of the castle during the Zdpolskýs was an extensive one and within it another palace was erected in the upper castle. In Barbara’s Palace and in the Gothic chapel the ceilings were reconstructed and provided with high brick vaults. The fortification was further strengthened by the construction of mighty walls, deep moats and by the out built Mlynská veža (Mill Tower) connected by a bridge to the older Jeremias Tower. In the lower castle a two floor barracks had been built.
In 1528, during the siege of the castle by the Emperor’s general Katzianer the castle was considerably damaged. Reconstruction of the damage had extended to the time of Alexius Thurzo, the royal comptroller. At that time the Jeremias Tower was reconstructed along with a part of fortifications. From the side facing the town the castle was equipped with two little towers. The older medieval tower in the courtyard of the lower castle was reconstructed and a bastion secured the entrance to the upper castle.  


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In the 16th century, the castle went often from hands to hands as a royal lease, since the King Ferdinand Habsburg was financially exhausted by the war with Turks. At that time, under the support of Irnrich Forgáč and assisted by the Italian masters several reconstructions were made that considerably changed the architectural pattern of the castle. Low attics with arcaded frieze, a typical element of Renaissance, replaced the high roofs.
In 1594, the castle and the whole feud went to the hands of Štefan Illéšházy. After his death it went to the hands of his nephew Caspar Illéšházy, follower of Gabriel Bethlen, a humanistic man of learning who gave shelter to Habans and to protestant refugees after the Battle at Bílá Hora. He also paid his special attention to the interior inventory and armament of the castle. In 1666, the Illéšházy family leased the castle to of George Rákoci, and the lease of this family lasted then until 1710. Security of the castle was at that time improved by the erection of a gun bastion. On the circumference of the lower courtyard new buildings and barracks were erected, of which only the underground part remained preserved to the present time. The defence system from the side of Brezina, after the advancement of the artillery technique, was found insufficient, and therefore in 1673 the building of a star shaped fortification with walls in e foreground was started.
The presence of numerous German troops at the castle had prompted the moving of the Illéšházy family from the castle to their chateau at Nemšová in 1663, and later on to their chateau at Dubnica where they have moved in the first half of the 18th century with all the feud’s administration. Only the castellan and the beadles remained at the castle and the castle was then used as a County Jail.  


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One of the last members of the Illéšházy family, particularly Joseph Illéšházy excelled in the development of Trenčianske Teplice Spa where the family owned a representative chateau. Another important member of the family George Illéšházy had founded several manufactures and supported the Slovak national revivalists in their struggle for equal national rights. And then it was Nicolas Illéšházy who continued the development of the spa.
In the second half of the 18th century, the castle had lost all its importance. In 1783, on the order of the Empress Maria Theresia, the imperial troops left the castle too, and then on June 11, 1790, the disaster came in form of a fire that had swallowed the castle. Štefan Illéšházy II sold the castle to Baron Sina. But neither he nor his descendents were willing to invest in the castle, and they eventually donated it to the Trenčín town. Efforts for rescuing the damaged castle were taken already in the first half of the 19th century. However, all these attempts for the reconstruction were insufficient and incompetent. Only after the proclamation of the castle a National Cultural Monument in 1953, the turn for the better came. After an archaeological survey and proper project documentation, a real reconstruction was gradually started, and it lasts until the present time.
Some of the reconstructed buildings are currently used as exhibits. At present the following castle exhibitions are opened to the visitors: Castle well, Feudal Justice, Coat of arms of the castle owners, leaseholders and captains, Historic arms of the collections of Trenčín Museum.  


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Trenčín Castle with its rich history and monumental architecture has become an object of constant interest of painters, writers and music composers. Mostly painters and sculptors find the castle a mighty source of inspiration in the impressive panorama. The oldest known picture of the castle is dated in 1580. More numerous vistas originate in the 17th-18th centuries. In the 19th century, several painters and graphic artists had created romantic views of the castle ruins. Trenčín Castle was also a popular topic, mostly since the 19th century. In poetry and prose the most popular was the idealized person of Matúš Čák. A favourite source of inspiration for literary works was mainly the legend of the castle well. Less known are the operetta and operatic elaboration of the person of Matúš Čák. However, even the present artists find their inspiration in the rich history of Trenčín Castle.

Reprinted from:

Trenčiansky Hrad, Peter Huba, Osveta, n.p. Martin 1991


Published in the Slovak Heritage Live newsletter Volume 8, No.3, Fall 2000
Copyright Š Vladimir Linder 2000 
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.