Short history of the Orava Castle

Welcome to Orava Castle which is one of the best preserved medieval structures not only in Slovakia, but throughout all of Europe. The castle hill, a natural fortress, was already settled during the primeval period and the archaeological evidence confirmed the presence of Slavonic tribes there as early as the 9th century. The castle was most probably constructed as a fortress during the war between Hungarian (Ugrian) King Belo IV. and his son Stephen V. who sought his own autonomy in government.

Construction was supervised by the district administrator, as it was the contemporary practice of the time. We can suppose that it was Miko Balaša, who, together with his sons, oversaw construction of the highest structure, the citadel. This was prior to the first written mention of the castle in 1267. Orava Castle belonged to the chain of defensive fortresses along the northern border of the country and provided a site from which the castle crew protected the contiguous trade routes. Also, the castle served as the focal point for the administration of the region.

For the following 300 years, Orava Castle was a royal fortress with the ownership in the hand of the king. However, he could not personally participate in the day-to-day governance and therefore appointed his minister – castellan with the administration. It was King Matthias Corvinus who showed more significant interest in the castle in the 15th century. During his reign the castle underwent large-scale structural development. Concurrently, the Hungarian army was crushed by the Ottoman Empire in the battle at Mohacs in 1526. The Habsburg dynasty took the advantage of the war-ravaged country and seized political power in Hungary. They decided to modernize the castle. It was put under the governance of John from Dubovec, who ordered a major reconstruction in 1540 – 1543. The year 1556 was a critical one for the castle as it was taken over by Francis Thurzo, a member of one of the richest and most influential families of then contemporary Hungary. His rule left a significant historical imprint upon the development of Orava district.

After the death of Francis Thurzo in 1574, the castle passed to the custody of his son George Thurzo. He continued with the construction work and as a result, the castle became heavily fortified, virtually impenetrable and thus extremely difficult to conquer. It was helped by the fact that castle became hereditary property of the Thurzo family in 1606, bestowed to them by King Rudolf II for the dedicated service during the anti-Habsburg uprising of Stephen Bocskay.

George Thurzo was a farsighted man and restricted the division of his property in his will prior to his death in 1616. This legal provision meant that his heir must have obtained title to the entire property. However, his heir apparent, the only son Imrich, was not as visionary and reflective as his father. He subsequently joined Gabriel Bethlen in his anti-Habsburg uprising and mediated the peace talks between Bethlen and the emperor Ferdinand II. in Mikulov. Unfortunately Imrich Thurzo suffered an untimely death at the age of 23.

George Thurzo left seven daughters. They, together with their husbands, established the Orava com-possessorate (which means co-ownership). One of them was elected into the function of the administrator and had the privileges of a county squire, amongst his duties was to visit all the properties once a year, control the administration and redistribute the profits amongst the partners justly.

The Orava com-possessorate played an extremely important role in the restoration work after the castle suffered a major catastrophe in the early 19th century. Although it was never conquered by its enemies, it was almost destroyed by a fire in 1800. At that time, the aristocratic families started to build comfortable mansions in the valleys and lowlands, and most of the castle deteriorated into ruins - often as a direct consequence of a battle or a fire. The visionary thinking at that time by the director of the com-possessorate, Francis Zichy, saved the castle despite the fire that almost ravaged this important building. Zichy provided for and oversaw the most necessary repairs including having the castle roofed.

Functional use of the castle began in 1868, when the Museum of Orava com-possessorate was established in the castle complex under the patronage the governor - Duke Edmund Zichy, whose activities were greatly aided by the woodland steward William Rowland. The current Museum of Orava, which subsequently assumed this responsibility, is thereby ranked amongst the oldest museums in Slovakia.

Another wave of important restoration took place at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, under the last director of the com-possessorate Duke Jozef Pálffy. Due to insufficient funds, the works were limited to only the repairs of the buildings in the Castle’s central ground’s complex. After World War II, the castle was taken over by the Czechoslovak state which 100th anniversary of the museum in 1968. Currently, the castle operations are administered by the Orava Museum of Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav (poet and author), which is superintended by the Žilina region. The museum tries to continually enrich the cultural heritage of Orava Castle and make it available to the public

History of the Orava Castle for Download

Text for guides - download

Klenotnica Oravského hradu na stiahnutie