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.
German crusaders known as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword began construction of the Cēsis castle (Wenden) near the hill fort in 1209. When the castle was enlarged and fortified, it served as the residence for the Order's Master from 1237 till 1561, with periodic interruptions. Its ruins are some of the most majestic castle ruins in the Baltic states. Once the most important castle of the Livonian Order, it was the official residence for the masters of the order.
In 1577, during the Livonian War, the garrison destroyed the castle to prevent it from falling into the control of Ivan the Terrible, who was decisively defeated in the Battle of Wenden (1578).
In 1598 it was incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Wenden Voivodship was created here. In 1620 Wenden was conquered by Sweden. It was rebuilt afterwards, but was destroyed again in 1703 during the Great Northern War by the Russian army and left in a ruined state. Already from the end of the 16th century, the premises of the Order's castle were adjusted to the requirements of the Cēsis Castle estate. When in 1777 the Cēsis Castle estate was obtained by Count Carl Sievers, he had his new residence house built on the site of the eastern block of the castle, joining its end wall with the fortification tower.
Since 1949, the Cēsis History Museum has been located in this New Castle of the Cēsis Castle estate. The front yard of the New Castle is enclosed by a granary and a stable-coach house, which now houses the Exhibition Hall of the Museum. Beside the granary there is the oldest brewery in Latvia, Cēsu alus darītava, which was built in 1878 during the later Count Sievers' time, but its origins date back to the period of the Livonian Order. Further on, the Cēsis Castle park is situated, which was laid out in 1812. The park has the romantic characteristic of that time, with its winding footpaths, exotic plants, and the waters of the pond reflecting the castle's ruins. Nowadays also one of the towers is open for tourists.