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:
The Veste Coburg is one of Germany's largest castles. The hill on which the fortress stands was inhabited from the Neolithic to the early Middle Ages according to the results of excavations. The first documentary mention of Coburg occurs in 1056, in a gift by Richeza of Lotharingia. Richeza gave her properties to Anno II, Archbishop of Cologne, to allow the creation of Saalfeld Abbey in 1071. In 1075, a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul is mentioned on the fortified Coberg. This document also refers to a Vogt named Gerhart, implying that the local possessions of the Saalfeld Benedictines were administered from the hill.
A document signed by Pope Honorius II in 1206 refers to a mons coburg, a hill settlement. In the 13th century, the hill overlooked the town of Trufalistat (Coburg's predecessor) and the important trade route from Nuremberg via Erfurt to Leipzig. A document dated from 1225 uses the term schloss (palace) for the first time. At the time, the town was controlled by the Dukes of Merania. They were followed in 1248 by the Counts of Henneberg who ruled Coburg until 1353, save for a period from 1292-1312, when the House of Ascania was in charge.
In 1353, Coburg fell to Friedrich, Markgraf von Meißen of the House of Wettin. His successor, Friedrich der Streitbare was awarded the status of Elector of Saxony in 1423. As a result of the Hussite Wars the fortifications of the Veste were expanded in 1430.
In 1485, in the Partition of Leipzig, Veste Coburg fell to the Ernestine branch of the family. A year later, Elector Friedrich der Weise and Johann der Beständige took over the rule of Coburg. Johann used the Veste as a residence from 1499. In 1506/07, Lucas Cranach the Elder lived and worked in the Veste. From April to October 1530, during the Diet of Augsburg, Martin Luther sought protection at the Veste, as he was under an Imperial ban at the time. Whilst he stayed at the fortress, Luther continued with his work translating the Bible into German. In 1547, Johann Ernst moved the residence of the ducal family to a more convenient and fashionable location, Ehrenburg Palace in the town centre of Coburg. The Veste now only served as a fortification.
In the further splitting of the Ernestine line, Coburg became the seat of the Herzogtum von Sachsen-Coburg, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg. The first duke was Johann Casimir (1564-1633), who modernized the fortifications. In 1632, the fortress was unsuccessfully besieged by Imperial and Bavarian forces commanded by Albrecht von Wallenstein for seven days during the Thirty Years' War. Its defence was commanded by Georg Christoph von Taupadel. On 17 March 1635, after a renewed siege of five months' duration, the Veste was handed over to the Imperials under Guillaume de Lamboy.
From 1638-72, Coburg and the Veste were part of the Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg. In 1672, they passed to the Dukes of Saxe-Gotha and in 1735 it was joined to the Duchy of Saxe-Saalfeld. Following the introduction of Primogeniture by Duke Franz Josias (1697-1764), Coburg went by way of Ernst Friedrich (1724-1800) to Franz (1750-1806), noted art collector, and to Duke Ernst III (1784-1844), who remodeled the castle.
In 1826, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was created and Ernst now styled himself 'Ernst I'. Military use of the Veste had ceased by 1700 and outer fortifications had been demolished in 1803-38. From 1838-60, Ernst had the run-down fortress converted into a Gothic revival residence. In 1860, use of the Zeughaus as a prison (since 1782) was discontinued. Through a successful policy of political marriages, the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha established links with several of the major European dynasties, including that of the United Kingdom.
The dynasty ended with the reign of Herzog Carl Eduard (1884-1954), also known as Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a grandson of Queen Victoria, who until 1919 also was the 2nd Duke of Albany in the United Kingdom. Under his rule, many changes made to the Veste in the 19th century were reversed under architect Bodo Ebhardt, with the aim of restoring a more authentic medieval look. Along with the other ruling princes of Germany, Carl Eduard was deposed in the revolution of 1918-1919. After Carl Eduard abdicated in late 1918, the Veste came into possession of the state of Bavaria, but the former duke was allowed to live there until his death. The works of art collected by the family were gifted to the Coburger Landesstiftung, a foundation, which today runs the museum.
In 1945, the Veste was seriously damaged by artillery fire in the final days of World War II. After 1946, renovation works were undertaken by the new owner, the Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen.
The Veste is open to the public and today houses museums, including a collection art objects and paintings that belonged to the ducal family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a large collection of arms and armor, significant examples of early modern coaches and sleighs, and important collections of prints, drawings and coins.