Forchtenstein Castle first part with its 50-metre high keep was built in the beginning of the 15th century by the Lords of Mattersburg, who later named themselves Lords of Forchtenstein.
The castle features a tower, known as the 'Black Tower' although the black rock that originally lined the tower has since been stripped. The tower contains a 12-metre deep pit used as a prison cell for those condemned to death. Rezallia, wife of Lettus of Forchtenstein used this with great frequency; on the return of her husband from military service, she was herself sentenced to death in the tower by her husband.
Around 1450 the Lords of Forchtenstein died off due to lack of a male heir and the castle was passed over to the House of Habsburg, which owned it for 170 years. They leased it to others, including the Counts of Weissbriach and Hardegg. During this time the building was not changed significantly.
In 1622 Nikolaus Esterházy, founder of the western Hungarian Esterházy line, received the castle from Emperor Ferdinand II, and Esterházy became a Count. Nikolaus started to fortify the crumbling castle and refurbished it with the services of Vienna builder Simon Retacco from 1630 to 1634 and with Domenico Carlone from 1643. The construction workers were all from Italy. Kaiserstein stone was used for the main portals, fountains, cannonballs, etc. Once hewn the stone was delivered on large wagons drawn by six oxen.
In the second half of the 17th century his son Paul further extended and ornamented the castle with architect Domenico Carlone. After Paul's death the castle's function changed. It became a repository for weapons, archives, chronometers, machines, exotic animal preparations and other 'marvels'. The only access to the treasure vault was a secret passage leading to a door requiring two different keys used together. One key was kept by the Count and the other by his treasurer. In the second half of the 18th century the castle was extended by master builder Ferdinand Mödlhammer. During this work the roof truss was lifted and the interior was renovated.
The treasure vault remained undiscovered and intact throughout World War II. The original glass-paned cabinets containing the collection are works of art in themselves.
The castle is still owned by the Esterházy family and, together with Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt, it chronicles the history and treasures of this ancient aristocratic family.
When Austria and Hungary separated in 1921, the Esterházy family's lands were split between the two countries. Their financial records remained at Castle Forchtenstein and the family records were taken to the Hungarian Federal Archive in Budapest.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.