Ceský Sternberk Castle is an early Gothic castle which was constructed, named and still owned by members of the same family. Today it is a residence that bears a long historical and architectural heritage and represents an attractive tourist destination open to the public. It is considered one of the best preserved Gothic Bohemian castles.
The castle was initially built in 1241 by Zdeslav of Divisov, later called Zdeslav Sternberg. The development of new firearms in the 14th century posed an unexpected threat to the defensibility of the castle. Its 13th century architects hadn't foreseen the danger of long-range firearms and its reinforcement became a necessity. During this period the Ceský Sternberk castle's fortifications were improved through the construction in the north of a three-story tower, which was connected to the castle by a rampart. In 1467 the castle was seized by the royal armies of George of Podébrady. Later, the ruined castle was regained by Sternberk's aristocracy, who, by the turn of the 15th to 16th century, had reconstructed the castle, renewed its defensive system and expanded it with the construction of a new cylindrical tower in the south and the Dungeon in the north. The castle managed to survive the looting of the rebels in 1627, during the Thirty Years' War. With the death of Jan Václav in 1712, the Holicý branch of the Sternberg family died out and its ownership passed to other families, who in 1751 built the lower palace next to the surrounding wall.
The ownership of the castle was returned to the Sternberg family in 1841 when Zdenék of Sternberg from the Konopisté branch of the family bought it. It remained in Sternberg's ownership until 1949 when it was nationalized by the Communist government of the Republic of Czechoslovakia. After the fall of Communism and the Velvet Revolution, in 1992, Ceský Sternberk castle returned to Jirí's son, the count Zdenék Sternberg, the current owner of the castle.
Ceský Sternberk Castle was originally built as a Gothic castle. Eventually it underwent several periods of reconstructions and further fortification and the Gothic architectural features were in parts concealed by the new reconstructions. Especially the interiors of the castle were realized under the Baroque and Rococo styles. In 1760, the master Carlo Brentano performed the elaborate stuccoing and renderings of the halls' interiors. The castle offers a rare collection of 545 copper engravings, depicting the entire history of the Thirty Years' War. Also, historical weapons and hunting trophies are exhibited within the castle's halls.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.