Pustý hrad is a castle whose ruins are located on a forested hill. With an area of 76,000 m² it is arguably one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. The original name was Zvolen Castle or Old Zvolen; Pustý hrad (meaning 'deserted castle') is a much later name used to distinguish the ruin from the present-day Zvolen Castle. Pustý hrad consists of two parts, the Upper Castle and the Lower Castle.
The strategic hill site upon the river Hron attracted settlers as early as the late Stone Age (Baden culture). A stone-earth wall discovered in 2009 under the western line of medieval fortification included shreds of pottery from the late Stone Age inside its filling. Research carried out at the Upper Castle in 1992–2008 by Václav Hanuliak also identified stone walls built during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Excavations have unearthed many precious prehistoric artifacts, including several big bronze treasures of the Lusatian culture, fragments from the Kyjatice culture, and even pottery imported from the Roman Empire. The subsequent Slavic medieval castle was founded in the 9th century.
As a regional center, Pustý hrad was incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary and it became a seat of Zólyom County. The oldest stone buildings (for example the keep) are attributed to King Béla III of Hungary. The keep from the 12th century is located at the highest point of the hill - at an elevation of 571 m above sea level - and was once 50 meters high. In the 13th century, an exceptionally large area of the present castle was fully fortified by the royal stonemason master Bertold in order to protect eventual refugees from Zvolen in case of a Mongol invasion. Both the Upper (3.5 ha) and the Lower (0.65 ha) Castle were surrounded by massive fortifications and a 206 metre long defense wall was erected in the saddle below the Lower Castle. In addition to an older keep, another one was built around the same time. Its dimensions of 20 by 20 meters made it one of the largest residential buildings in Central Europe at that time. Pustý hrad was first mentioned in written sources at the beginning of the 13th century, in the chronicle Gesta Hungarorum.
Subsequent development was connected with counts Demeter and Donč from the Balaša family. Magister Knight Donč was a noble warrior and diplomat serving to Charles I of Hungary. Under the influence of his journey to France, Donč built a significant extension in the Lower Castle and ordered a Gothic modernization. During that phase a four-storey tower was added to the entrance gate of the Upper Castle. A palace, a water tank, a terraced courtyard and other newly constructed buildings in the northern panhandle of Pustý hrad formed what is now known as Donč's Castle.
The castle lost its importance in the 15th century, the period of military conflicts between John Hunyadi and John Jiskra of Brandýs. Pustý hrad was ruined by fire during a siege in 1452, probably burnt down by John Hunyadi's troops. The last building constructed on the site was a watchtower erected in the second half of the 16th century.
Systematic excavations have been conducted since 1992. Some parts of the castle have been recently reconstructed and the site is easily accessible from Zvolen.References:
Czocha Castle is located on the Lake Leśnia, what is now the Polish part of Upper Lusatia. Czocha castle was built on gneiss rock, and its oldest part is the keep, to which housing structures were later added.
Czocha Castle began as a stronghold, on the Czech-Lusatian border. Its construction was ordered by Wenceslaus I of Bohemia, in the middle of the 13th century (1241–1247). In 1253 castle was handed over to Konrad von Wallhausen, Bishop of Meissen. In 1319 the complex became part of the dukedom of Henry I of Jawor, and after his death, it was taken over by another Silesian prince, Bolko II the Small, and his wife Agnieszka. Origin of the stone castle dates back to 1329.
In the mid-14th century, Czocha Castle was annexed by Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia. Then, between 1389 and 1453, it belonged to the noble families of von Dohn and von Kluks. Reinforced, the complex was besieged by the Hussites in the early 15th century, who captured it in 1427, and remained in the castle for unknown time (see Hussite Wars). In 1453, the castle was purchased by the family of von Nostitz, who owned it for 250 years, making several changes through remodelling projects in 1525 and 1611. Czocha's walls were strengthened and reinforced, which thwarted a Swedish siege of the complex during the Thirty Years War. In 1703, the castle was purchased by Jan Hartwig von Uechtritz, influential courtier of Augustus II the Strong. On August 17, 1793, the whole complex burned in a fire.
In 1909, Czocha was bought by a cigar manufacturer from Dresden, Ernst Gutschow, who ordered major remodelling, carried out by Berlin architect Bodo Ebhardt, based on a 1703 painting of the castle. Gutschow, who was close to the Russian Imperial Court and hosted several White emigres in Czocha, lived in the castle until March 1945. Upon leaving, he packed up the most valuable possessions and moved them out.
After World War II, the castle was ransacked several times, both by soldiers of the Red Army, and Polish thieves, who came to the so-called Recovered Territories from central and eastern part of the country. Pieces of furniture and other goods were stolen, and in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the castle was home to refugees from Greece. In 1952, Czocha was taken over by the Polish Army. Used as a military vacation resort, it was erased from official maps. The castle has been open to the public since September 1996 as a hotel and conference centre. The complex was featured in several movies and television series. Recently, the castle has been used as the setting of the College of Wizardry, a live action role-playing game (LARP) that takes place in their own universe and can be compared to Harry Potter.