Olsztyn castle is the oldest building in the town. It was built in the 14th century and originally consisted of two wings. The archaeological research proves that the fortress was built from scratch, on a raw piece of land, where no traces of any earlier settlement have ever been found.
The castle belonged to the chapter of the Warmia diocese, which along with the bishop of Warmia was subjected to the military protection of the Order of Teutonic Knights until 1454. For that reason the castle played quite an important role during the wars between the Order and Poland. In 1410, after the battle of Tanneberg, the castle surrounded to the Polish king, and in 1414 after a short besiege it was seized by Polish troops. During the Thirteen Years' War (1454-1466) the castle changed hands several times. In 1521 the Teutonic Knights threatened the castle and the town. Owing to the defense measures taken by the castle administrator, Nicolas Copernicus, they gave in after one, unsuccessful attack. Nicolas Copernicus stayed at the castle as the administrator of the chapter property in 1516-1519 and 1520-1521. He lived in the north-east wing, in a large chamber with a view from two windows of the Łyna river and the castle mill. The third window overlooked the castle court. One door led to the castle wall walk and another to the chancery. In the early 16th century both rooms received beautiful crystal vaulting, which was rather low, but four hundred years later the rooms were made higher by lowering the floor.
Within the castle walls, as part of the south-west wing, there is St Anna's Chapel, built in the first half of the 16th century and consecrated by Bishop Martin Kromer in 1580. The external wall of the south wing is topped with very well preserved machicolations - protruding wooden walks with murder holes, through which castle defenders hurdled stones or poured boiling hot water or tar on heads of attackers. In the 18th century Olsztyn castle began to lose stature as the seat of the chapter administration had been moved to Frombork. Also its defensive function began to vanish. When some of the castle walls had been demolished, in 1758 a new palace wing was built, facing the town. In the years to follow the castle served different purposes, including a prison. When the regency of Olsztyn (a large administrative district in Prussia) was created in 1905, the castle was adapted to house an apartment for the president of the regency.
In 1945 the castle became the seat of the Masurian Museum, later renamed into the Museum of Warmia and Mazury. Visitors can see the fine first floor of the north wing, including such rooms as the castle administrator's living chamber, the chancery, the refectory and the old chapel. Upstairs they can see the storage and defensive top floor of the castle. Another building opened to the public is the corner watchtower, from which everyone can admire the views of the town. Today the castle is a popular venue for concerts, art exhibitions, lectures, scientific sessions, film shows (examples include cyclic summer meetings called Thursdays with Copernicus, concerts of the Olsztyn-based chamber music ensemble Pro Musica Antiqua, a series of meetings named Biographies). The Museum in Olsztyn is known for its unorthodox forms of sightseeing. On certain days or nights visitors can look into rooms which are usually closed to the public; they can try on medieval armory or costume. The youngest visitors are invited to take part in special workshops.References:
Hochosterwitz Castle is considered to be one of Austria's most impressive medieval castles. The rock castle is one of the state's landmarks and a major tourist attraction.
The site was first mentioned in an 860 deed issued by King Louis the German of East Francia, donating several of his properties in the former Principality of Carantania to the Archdiocese of Salzburg. In the 11th century Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg ceded the castle to the Dukes of Carinthia from the noble House of Sponheim in return for their support during the Investiture Controversy. The Sponheim dukes bestowed the fiefdom upon the family of Osterwitz, who held the hereditary office of the cup-bearer in 1209.
In the 15th century, the last Carinthian cup-bearer, Georg of Osterwitz was captured in a Turkish invasion and died in 1476 in prison without leaving descendants. So after four centuries, on 30 May 1478, the possession of the castle reverted to Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg.
Over the next 30 years, the castle was badly damaged by numerous Turkish campaigns. On 5 October 1509, Emperor Maximilian I handed the castle as a pledge to Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, then Bishop of Gurk. Bishop Lang undertook a substantial renovation project for the damaged castle.
About 1541, German king Ferdinand I of Habsburg bestowed Hochosterwitz upon the Carinthian governor Christof Khevenhüller. In 1571, Baron George Khevenhüller acquired the citadel by purchase. He fortified to deal with the threat of Turkish invasions of the region, building an armory and 14 gates between 1570 and 1586. Such massive fortification is considered unique in citadel construction.
Since the 16th century, no major changes have been made to Hochosterwitz. It has also remained in the possession of the Khevenhüller family as requested by the original builder, George Khevenhüller. A marble plaque dating from 1576 in the castle yard documents this request.
A specific feature is the access way to the castle passing through a total of 14 gates, which are particularly prominent owing to the castle's situation in the landscape. Tourists are allowed to walk the 620-metre long pathway through the gates up to the castle; each gate has a diagram of the defense mechanism used to seal that particular gate. The castle rooms hold a collection of prehistoric artifacts, paintings, weapons, and armor, including one set of armor 2.4 metres tall, once worn by Burghauptmann Schenk.