At the beginning of the 14th century Magister Donč, the head of the Zvolen county, built a Gothic stone castle on a small dolomite rock. The castle was surrounded by a moat which is now only a small romantic lake. In 1341 was the first written record about the castle named Wywar, in later documents it is referred to as Novum Castrum – New Castle, or Hradek. One of its strategic roles was to control the important trade road called Via Magna. This historical road of emperors, kings and Transylvanian princes ran from central to southeastern Europe. In 1399 the King Žigmund gave the castle to the administration of M. Gorjanský. In 1433 the castle was captured by the Hussites, later it was seized by the Jiskras. Throughout its long history, the castle owners were often changed.
A major part of the Magna Via was an Imperial-Royal postal road built in the 16th century by order of the King Ferdinand I since southern territories of the Monarchy were taken by Turkish troops. After the Magna Via road was finished in 1558, it was more than a thousand km long and was one of the longest postal and transport connections. More than 500 km of the road ran through Slovakia and it also passed by Liptovský Hrádok.
An important figure at the castle was Valentín Balaši. Balaši came from a prominent Hungarian aristocratic family, the Balassa. In the 13th century his ancestors owned in the territory of Slovakia several towns and properties; even the builder of the castle Magister Donč came from this family. In 1554 -1600 the Balassa family also owned the castle in Liptovský Hrádok.
Valentín was born and raised in Zvolen castle. He spent his youth in Liptovský Hrádok castle where he learned Slovak language and local customs. He received a very good education – Balassi spoke eight languages. Valentín studied at a University in Germany, he travelled a lot and led a Bohemian way of life. He then joined the army and fought in Transylvania and in Poland, he fought the Turks and became a respected sodier. After his father’s death, Balassi returned to Hungary and in the late 1570s he again lived in Liptovský Hrádok castle, which he was very fond of. He had several legal disputes with his own family because of family properties. Along with his brother František they renovated the castle and had new castle walls built. According to the preserved documents we know that in 1579 they invested more than 3,000 gold coins into renovations. Later, Valentín again joined the army, but died as the result of a severe leg wound in Ostrihom (Esztergom) in 1594, only 40 years old. He is buried in a family tomb in Hybe, not far from Liptovský Hrádok.
The same Valentín Balaši was also the first great Renaissance poet in Hungary; he wrote in Hungarian, Slovak and in Turkish. He is the founder of modern Hungarian lyrical poetry as well as the first author of Hungarian erotic poetry. Besides poems he wrote one comedy in Hugarian too. Balaši is also the author of the oldest secular love poem in Slovak published in the Codex of J. J. Fanchali which has a late Renaissance character.From the Balassa period in Liptovský Hrádok castle and estate, there is also the first written record about Roma in the Liptov region. In 1563 the Balassas allowed a group of Roma (probably from the Spiš region) to settle at the castle and make iron tools (hoes, axes, pitchforks and nails) for the needs of the castle and neighbouring villages, and halberds for night wardens.
In 1600 the castle and the property was given to Mikuláš Sándorfi. He married the young owner of the castle, Magalena Zai, a widow of the former owner – also from the Balassa family – Žigmund, whom she married shortly before his death. Initiated by Sándorfi and his wife, a Renaissance manorhouse and additional buildings necessary for the estate were built around the castle from 1601 to 1603.
The manor house was built from demolished castle walls. The ground floor of the manor house was used for stores and as a housing area for the servants, whilst the first floor was arranged to accommodate the owners and their guests. Mikuláš Sándorfi did not live to see the reconstruction, however, and died in 1603.
Magdalena Zai, after the death of her second husband, legally secured her position of the castle owner by marriages to other claimants to the property. Her fourth husband Imrich Mérey preferred to marry the widow than to pay her a forfeit for the castle. Altogether Magdalena Zai married five times, she buried every husband in less than four years of marriage and all her husbands are said to have died a natural death.
In uneasy times of the beginning of the 17th century, Liptovský Hrádok castle was most probably a secure place, since the Crown of St Stephen was momentarily hidden here in March 1622.
The castle withstood all waves of anti-Habsburg uprisings and it played the most important strategic role during the period of Estate uprisings in the 17th century. The commanding imperial general built a strong defence against the rebels of František Rákoczi. Later, at the beginning of the 18th century, the King Leopold I gave the castle and the property to the Prince of Lichtenstein.
In 1709 the important Battle of Švihrová was fought between rebels and imperials troops. They withstood the attack but the rebels seriously damaged the castle during the battle.
In 1731 the Royal Chamber bought the whole castle from Emanuel Lichtenstein. From then on the castle and the property declined. After a destructive fire of the castle and manorhouse in 1803, only the manor house was renovated and since then the castle has been in ruins. In the rainy summer of 1813, catastrophic floods hit Liptovský Hrádok castle.
In the second half of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries the manorhouse housed the district court as well as the Hungarian royal forest office. In 1932 dangerous parts of the old castle were repaired. From 1960 until the Velvet Revolution the manorhouse served as the Ethnographic Museum of the Liptov Region.
For centuries, the remains of Hrádok castle along with the manor house have been a dominant feature of the town Liptovský Hrádok and of the whole picturesque upper Liptov region. Since the 1930s the ruinous state of the castle and manorhouse worried minds of the people which were not indifferent to the destiny of the cultural heritage in Liptov. However, this historical monument was not reconstructed either between the two World Wars or during the period of socialism. Deterioration of the buildings continued also into the 90’s and locals as well as tourists were troubled by the look of the old buildings falling apart.
From 1989 the place was empty, the buildings were unheated, all valuable parts and objects were stolen. Only empty walls without doors and windows remained. The reconstruction started in 2002 and completed in 2011. Today Liptovský Hrádok castle hosts a hotel and restaurant.References:
The Beckov castle stands on a steep 50 m tall rock in the village Beckov. The dominance of the rock and impression of invincibility it gaves, challenged our ancestors to make use of these assets. The result is a remarkable harmony between the natural setting and architecture.
The castle first mentioned in 1200 was originally owned by the King and later, at the end of the 13th century it fell in hands of Matúš Èák. Its owners alternated - at the end of the 14th century the family of Stibor of Stiborice bought it.
The next owners, the Bánffys who adapted the Gothic castle to the Renaissance residence, improved its fortifications preventing the Turks from conquering it at the end of the 16th century. When Bánffys died out, the castle was owned by several noble families. It fell in decay after fire in 1729.
The history of the castle is the subject of different legends. One of them narrates the origin of the name of castle derived from that of jester Becko for whom the Duke Stibor had the castle built.
Another legend has it that the lord of the castle had his servant thrown down from the rock because he protected his child from the lords favourite dog. Before his death, the servant pronounced a curse saying that they would meet in a year and days time, and indeed precisely after that time the lord was bitten by a snake and fell down to the same abyss.
The well-conserved ruins of the castle, now the National Cultural Monument, are frequently visited by tourists, above all in July when the castle festival takes place. The former Ambro curia situated below the castle now shelters the exhibition of the local history.