Herberstein castle sits on a rock in the Feistritz ravine and thus is not accessible from 3 sides. At the same time, the castle is not visible from out of the ravine and was thus naturally protected from attackers.
The oldest parts of the castle situated near the zoo stems from the 12th century. The first small castle called Herwigstein stood under the fiefdom of the Stubenberg Clan. Otto von Hartenberg could free the castle by a payment to the Stubenbergs and is considered to be the ancestor of Herberstein Castle since then.
By 1400 the castle was expanded by a massive outer bailey, which included the previously built Gothic chapel of St. Catherine. The bailey was extended in the 15th century a number times. Mid-16th century, the castle was transformed into a residential building with Renaissance elements and expanded to accommodate the numerous offspring. In the 17th century the magnificent banqueting hall was built, the deep moat was built on. Mid-17th century the Florentinerhof was constructed after an Italian model and by the end of the century St. George's Chapel, the gardeners home and the 'Maierhof' were completed.
In the 17th and 18th century about one-fifth of Styria was possessed by Counts of Herberstein. Some 1,000 farms were tributary to the castle. The castle is still owned by the Herberstein family and serves as a residential and administrative center.
Admission to the castle includes guided tours of part of the castle, access to the historic gardens, the zoo, and the Gironcoli Museum, which features works by contemporary Austrian artist Bruno Gironcoli.
The keeping of wild animals has a long tradition in Herberstein. It can be tracked back to the 17th century, the first time fallow deer were kept in Austria. At the end of 1960 Herberstein was converted into a zoo where visitors could see animals from all five continents. At that time the castle was opened to the public for the first time, too. Today the Herberstein Zoo is very well designed and has the largest cheetah park in Europe. It includes a remodeled ski-lift, forcing the cheetah to catch their food, which is hauled by the ski-lift at fast pace.
The Externsteine (Extern stones) is a distinctive sandstone rock formation located in the Teutoburg Forest, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg. The formation is a tor consisting of several tall, narrow columns of rock which rise abruptly from the surrounding wooded hills. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC.
In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul (sacral pillar-like object in German paganism) idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne; there is however no archaeological evidence that would confirm the site's use during the relevant period.
The stones were used as the site of a hermitage in the Middle Ages, and by at least the high medieval period were the site of a Christian chapel. The Externsteine relief is a medieval depiction of the Descent from the Cross. It remains controversial whether the site was already used for Christian worship in the 8th to early 10th centuries.
The Externsteine gained prominence when Völkisch and nationalistic scholars took an interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This interest peaked under the Nazi regime, when the Externsteine became a focus of nazi propaganda. Today, they remain a popular tourist destination and also continue to attract Neo-Pagans and Neo-Nazis.