Hohnstein Castle is located on a hard sandstone slab, 140 metres above the Polenz valley and is the major landmark of the small town. It was probably built around 1200 or earlier as a Bohemian border fortress for the Margravate of Meißen to defend it against Saxony. In 1353 the castle went into the possession of the Bohemian nobleman, Hynek Berka z Dubé, whose coat of arms with crossed oak branches decorates the entranceway to the second courtyard. In 1443 the Berkas of Dubá lost the estate through exchanges and purchase, only mentioned for the first time under their name, to the Electorate of Saxony under Frederick the Humble, although it remained a Bohemian fief until 1806. The Wettins used it as a base for hunting and for salmon spearing (Lachsstechen).
In the succeeding centuries the castle acted alternately as a seat of administration (electoral Amt), a court and a prison. The original wooden structures were gradually replaced during the 17th and 18th centuries by the present stone buildings and even successfully withstood a Swedish siege in 1639.
After the dissolution of the Amt in 1861 the castle served as a men's correctional institute (Männerkorrektionsanstalt) and from 1919 as a juvenile prison.
In 1925 the mighty castle became a youth hostel. In the years 1933/34 a concentration camp was established here for so-called protective custody prisoners (Schutzhäftlinge), in practice 5,600 political prisoners. During World War II a prisoner of war camp was housed in the castle and, after the war it was a refuge for displaced persons. From 1949 it was extended to become the largest youth hostel in the GDR. In 1953 the National Science Museum for Geology, Botany, Zoology and Ecology of the countryside was established here. In 1997 the castle was turned into a Friends of Nature house and youth guest house, to which the museum belongs today.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.