The Slovenia Times

The home of the aristocracy



The origin of the first castles in Slovenia can be traced back to the 10th century. In that period, the original Reichenberg above Brestanica and Divja Loka on Lubnik Hill were built. At the beginning of the11th century, the Bled and Ptuj castles were built.

In those days, the nominal owner of the uncultivated land was a ruler who distributed this land among feudal overlords and the church. Large complexes of land were soon owned by the church, aristocratic families and feudal lords. At first, only the highborn gentlemen - the Emperor's vassals - were allowed to build castles.

In the first half of the 10th century, Henry I fortified the eastern border of his country with a series of castles. Granting the local knights the right to build castles soon resulted in their independence. The independent building of castles flourished and reached a peak in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The owners of castles

The emergence of the first castles on Slovenian soil corresponds with the re-establishment of German rule after the victory over the Hungarians at Leško Field in the year 955. At that time, the borders of the Roman Empire had to be fortified against Croatia and Hungary. From the mid-11th century onwards, the marquis, dukes and other highborn feudal lords started changing these regions into their own dynastic territories.

In the 10th and 11th centuries, Slovenia lacked prominent feudal centres and parish seats. This is why the ruling nobility reigned from castles outside the boundaries of Slovenia. The ecclesiastical and feudal lords built several smaller castles and mansions, which were administered by local lieges.

At that time, huge amounts of land were in the hands of the church, the aristocratic families and powerful feudal overlords.

Development of castles

Castles were usually built on the edges of a precipice and atop steeply-sloped hills, generally in places with only one access point, making it easy to defend.

The first feudal fortifications were tower-like castles, several storeys high, with walls up to 2.5 meters thick, made of chiselled or broken stone, with loopholes or small windows, an entrance in the first floor, and access via ladders or drawbridge. Their primary function was defence rather than residential comfort. At first, they were surrounded by wooden walls, and later by stone walls and one or more trenches.

In the following decades and centuries, these Romanesque tower castles were remodelled and enlarged, and much bigger castles begun to emerge. These reached a peak in the Gothic period and with Renaissance remodelling. More prominent castles featured additional buildings within the walls, such as residential quarters, defence towers, chapels, outhouses, and so on.

In this way, large castles emerged in Slovenia, including Castle Kamen near Begunje, Turjak and Žužemberk in Dolenjska, Konjice, Podsreda, Bizeljsko, and Kunšperk in Štajerska, and Socerb and Rihemberk on the coast.

These can easily be compared to similar castles outside our borders, and were undoubtedly of great pride to their owners. They also made their way into the stories told by the travellers in these lands, centuries ago.

The decline and revival of castles

The decline started in the 16th century, when the feudal lords started to abandon the uncomfortable fortresses on remote heights and started building mansions in the lowlands. Many medieval castles fell into ruin, destroyed by fires and earthquakes; many were badly damaged in the disastrous 1511 earthquake. Others were abandoned by the feudal lords themselves. Over 100 castles were destroyed during the peasant uprisings; many were demolished during feudal wars, or demolished by the Turks. WW II did not spare castles, either. The partisans burned down around 30 castles where they suspected the enemy did or could settle down.

The demolished castles were often used as a source for building; the already-sculpted rock was used by the locals in construction of their villages.

Today, castles are frequently being renovated for a variety of purposes. Some host museums, others restaurants and hotels, but all show a pride of national history. Certain castles hold an important role in the state diplomatic functions, hosting all sorts of important political events. A castle wedding is more a rule than an exception in Slovenia. Unfortunately, some castles and manors are still in a state of decay, because unresolved cases in the denationalisation process. However, since the process has settled questions of ownership in many cases, Slovenian castles have entered the real estate market.

Want to become a count? Why not - if you can afford it.

Life in the castles

At first, life in the castles was anything but comfortable. Rooms were dark and cold; floors were covered with brick paving stones, and only the master premises had wooden flooring. The first floor had only loopholes and small windows, only the second floor, where the knight's hall and master premises were situated, had larger window holes. These were closed with thin animal skins, parchment, fabric or wooden boards and the only heating came from an open fireplace. Furniture comprised of benches, tables and chests. It was not until the advent of Renaissance and late Gothic period in the 15th century that there was any progress in this area. Daytime premises were separated from the sleeping quarters, kitchen and bathroom were assigned separate rooms, windows were glazed and fireplaces were replaced by clay stoves. The basic furniture was upgraded with wardrobes, chairs, etc. The rooms were smaller and heated, ceilings and floors were adorned with carpets, animal hides and tapestries. The estate was managed by lord of the castle, who spent his time hunting, competing in tournaments, aristocratic private wars or other battles.


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