Hochosterwitz Castle

Birgit Stegbauer

Hochosterwitz Castle is your ultimate castle in Carinthia. The imposing fortress towers on a 175 metre high, free standing rock formation and is visible for miles around, just as from the top of the castle one can see far into Carinthia. The climb to the castle winds up a serpentine narrow alley that is fortified with 14 differently designed gates and defence constructions. Use the elevator only if you really have to - you don't want to miss most of the fun!

The important strategic location of the Hochosterwitzer rock was always evident. Finds from excavations suggest that the area was continuously used as a defence structure from the Bronze Age onwards. A castle at 'Asterwizza' is reported for the very first time in a chronicle dating from around the year 1200. The castle was given its present appearance during the 16th century, mostly as a result of alterations carried out by members of the noble Khevenhüller family, who administrated Hochosterwitz from 1541 as a fief until they finally bought it in 1571 from the Archduke of Inner Austria. The Khevenhüller ranked among the most influential families of Carinthia and some if its members became Governors of Carinthia. The family still owns Hochosterwitz Castle.

It is striking that while at Spittal/Drau a Renaissance building, Porcia Castle, was under construction, at Hochosterwitz a dilapidated medieval castle was undergoing renovation and alterations in a retrospective gothic-like style. Georg Khevenhüller proclaims, chiselled on marble plates that can be seen in the castle, that he has built and completed Hochosterwitz for himself and his house (= family) as a fortress against the general enemy. There is more behind this phrase than just the imminent Turkish danger and the desire to adapt the defensive structures of the castle to then contemporary weapon technology.

Another explanation might be found in the religious circumstances of the time. From 1525 Protestantism spread in Carinthia and found many supporters. In the early part of the mid-16th century most Carinthians were followers of Martin Luther's teachings, among them the Khevenhüller family. However, religious tolerance towards Protestantism did not last long. From 1545 onwards the Catholic Church made religious practice for Protestants more and more difficult and tried, with increasing force, to re-catholic areas that had a Protestant majority. Maybe Hochosterwitz Castle, the castle of Carinthia's most prominent Protestant family, can also be interpreted as a symbolic stronghold against the Counter-Reformation. Or, to quote Martin Luther in his famous hymn: "A Mighty Fortress is Our God, a Bulwark never failing."

Of the 14 gates, all built between 1570 and 1580, special attention should be paid to two in particular: The Fähnrichtor (1580) - the first gate - is painted with two mercenaries waving the flags of Austria (red-white-red) and of the Khevenhüller family (black-yellow). The Khevenhüller-Tor (1580), the seventh barrier on the way up to the castle, is the most splendid of the gates. Over the keystone with the coats and arms of the Khevenhüller family is a niche containing a marble half-statue of Georg Khevenhüller in armour.

After having passed all 14 gates and the Zwinger one reaches the main buildings of the castle. There is a presentation of weapons from the armoury, as well as ancestral portraits and memorabilia from the castle's and the family's history. The castle church, constructed in 1586 in the gothic style, holds the Khevenhüller family vault.

Burg Hochosterwitz, Hochosterwitz 1, 9314 Launsdorf. Tel.: 04213 - 2010

Information on prices, opening hours and events are available here.


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