Niedzica Castle, also known as Dunajec Castle, was erected between the years 1320 and 1326 by Kokos of Brezovica on the site of an ancient stronghold surrounded by earthen walls in the Pieniny mountains. The Niedzica Castle stands at an altitude of 566 m, on a hill 300 m upstream from the Dunajec River mouth. The outline of Niedzica Castle can best be viewed from the ruins of Czorsztyn Castle on the other side of the lake. It is known as one of the most picturesque castles in the country and adorns the covers of many books.
The castle was an important centre of Polish-Hungarian relations since the 14th century. It was a place where the money lent by the Polish king to the Hungarian king Sigismund had to be returned following an agreement signed in 1412. Once the loan was paid back, the Polish king returned the 16 Spiš towns given to him by Sigismund as collateral. For centuries the castle was a border-post with Hungary. At the time of the Turkish invasion five hundred years ago, a deal was struck at Niedzica to make it a Polish protectorate.
The castle was built by a Hungarian known as Kokos from Brezovica with family rights dating back to 1325. In 1470 it became the property of the aristocratic Zápolya family. However, in 1528, the entire county including the castle was given away by John Zápolya aspiring to the Hungarian throne, and became the property of Viliam Drugeth who received it as a reward for his support. Sixty years later it became the property of Hieronim Łaski and his son Olbracht. At the end of the 16th century the castle was bought by Ján Horváth from Plaveč. The fortress was renovated many times in the fifteenth, sixteenth, eighteenth and in the beginning of the 19th century by its successive owners. The last Hungarian inhabitants remained there until in 1943 when the coming of the front in World War II inspired the Salamon family to abandon it. The last countess left with her children two years before the Red Army marched in. The final reconstruction of the castle was completed in 1963 under the supervision of the Polish Ministry of Culture. It has served as a historical museum ever since.
A new artificial reservoir, the Czorsztyn Lake, was created in 1994 by damming the Dunajec River downstream of the castle. The castle now stands approx. 30 m above the upper water level. The castle hill consists of limestone rock saddled on shale and marl found much below the current bed of the Dunajec River. Studies and analyses show that rock strata forming the limestone bank are weather-resistant, and provide secure foundation for the castle in spite of visible surface deterioration. In order to secure the stability of the hill, a number of reinforcing works were effected in the strip between the high- and low-water marks. The works include concrete reinforcement of rocks, substratum (weathered shale and marl) replacement, and surface protection elements on the hill. The castle and the hill are subject to constant monitoring.
Although in large part only ruins remain of what used to be the Gothic castle in Niedzica, its dungeons and a number of rooms survived, as have some of the paintings — including the Crucifixion that once adorned the chapel — and furnishings which are not entirely as they were in the 1930s. The architectural design consists of a densely packed complex of buildings with a courtyard surrounded by residential wings with arcades, towers and fortified walls.
The museum in Niedzica holds archaeological artifacts related to the castle, remnants of the masonry that once adorned its interiors, prints and engravings with views of the castle from various periods, and historical documentation. The museum's collections include ethnographic exhibits from the Spiš region, a collection of antique clocks, 18th and 19th century pistols, hunting rifles, and taxidermied game. In 1996, a new collection was added. Because of the fortress's Hungarian origins, Ákos Engelmayer, Hungarian ambassador to Poland (1990-1995), donated his collection of Hungarian-related items of historical interest from Poland, such as maps of Hungary from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, engravings depicting various Hungarian kings and castles, as well as cities and battlegrounds; which it is hoped have become the largest collection of Hungarian-related materials outside of Hungary. The castle is a great place to visit. The views are magnificent, particularly to the south over the Pieniny mountains.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.