Hidden Culture Inside Central European Castles


Winter is coming, and with it colorful holidays. It’s a great chance to use your free time for traveling alone or with your family or friends. Central Europe is an amazing area with its rich cultural and historical heritage and beautiful scenery. So for those who prefer nearby, indoor destinations, winter trips to the amazing castles of Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria and Poland beckon.

Gyula Castle



It’s less famous than some, but among the most worthwhile to visit among the almost 20 castles in Hungary. Gyula Castle is a gothic, brick-built, fortified compound and the only gothic castle located on flatlands. Gyula Castle is located in southeastern Hungary in the town of Gyula, near Hungary’s border with Romania. It dates from the XV century and is named in honor of an early Hungarian ruler. The Castle was owned by Hungarian aristocrats for most of its history but was under Turkish control from 1566 until 1684. Today the Castle is a public museum that fascinates all lovers of history.

On approach, the visitor observes tall brick walls that were used to defend the castle. Inside the castle are more than 20 rooms which you can explore to learn how daily life looked in the castle thanks to preserved objects such as furniture, clothing, glasses, carpets, lamps, tables, decorations, pottery dishes, books, and weapons. At Gyula Castle, vistors can compare how Hungarian aristocrats and Turkish aristocrats lived since there are furnishings and other objects from both cultures. Visitors can also see what living areas, sleeping quarters, and the tavern and other public areas for guests looked like. In the basement of this mysterious castle there is a big, long, dark, and wet former prison with iron cages and chains. Just imagine how frightening it was in centuries past for the prisoners who were kept, tortured, and starved here. You can also check out the Castle’s bakery and blacksmith workshop. Also there is a Knights’ Hall that was used for gatherings of famous Hungarian and European knights for the purpose of planning military campaigns or celebrating vicotories. Today the Knights’ Hall is used by Hungarian officials for receptions and conferences.

Within the complex there is also a chapel where weddings were performed during former times. The chapel is open to visitors. Those who want to have a wedding or baptism here can reserve a time and plan an old-style wedding or baptism at the Castle.

Červeny Kamen Castle



A literal translation from Slovak means Red Stone. It’s one of the most interesting castle museums in Slovakia, located about 1h from Bratislava by car. Červeny Kamen dates from the 13th century and was built of stone high atop a hill above Čašta village. There is a legend that a forest fairy visited the site during the night and built the castle’s first pillars, so the next morning workers decided to continue building a new castle. Until the end of WWII, the castle was owned by the aristocratic Hungarian Pálffy family. The most notable owners were Peter Pálffy and his son Mikulas Pálffy, who commanded a substantial number of troops and several times defeated Ottoman armies near the Castle and thus prevented their further advance into Central Europe. Today the Castle serves as a museum.

Before you enter the Castle you can walk around the Castle courtyard with its nice fountain, which will probably not be turned on during the winter. You can also enjoy a re-enactment of a battle between medieval knights that is frequently performed there. Museum entrance costs only 3eur, and it’s more than worth the price. Inside the Castle there are 20 different rooms where the exhibits and furnishings will allow you to imagine the daily life of the patrician family who lived there. Many of their personal possessions such as clothes, shoes, and wardrobes are on display, as well as other old items such as furniture in the living room made from wood with bronze or silver embellishments, tables, beautiful paintings, and beds in the sleeping quarters. On the dining room table there are plates, silver forks, and knives and very beautiful candlesticks. Throughout your visit you will have the feeling like that someone will appear to sit at the table and start eating or speaking.



There is also a big collection of old European swords, Turkish sabres, spears, and rifles which witnessed the battles near the Castle. In the dungeon there are large barrels as the dungeon was formerly a place for brewing beer and storing it. Just imagine how much beer could be stored in a large dungeon in a big castle.

Schloss Hof



Austria’s Shloss Hof is located near the Austrian Republic’s border with Slovakia and is actually within walking distance of Bratislava. It’s a baroque-style castle, built in the XVII century and purchased, in 1725, by Prince Eugene of Savoy, a famous military leader in the service of the Habsburg Empire. He expanded the Castle by adding two wings in baroque style and used the surrounding fields and forests for hunting. Later, the Castle was owned by the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa, who used Schloss Hof as a country refuge from her two palaces in Vienna and added one more floor to the Castle. Today the Castle is a museum with objects that belonged to the afore-mentioned important owners and includes a garden and adjacent farm.

During the summer, visitors can enjoy many flowers and shade trees in the extensive gardens. Also there are benches where visitors can listen to flowing fountains and singing birds. During the winter the garden offers a Christmas market where, as is customary in December, visitors can enjoy hot wine and tasty sausages. In winter evenings the Castle is especially beautiful when everyone around you is happy, the lights in the Christmas trees are shining, and when the aroma of sweets and hot wine is in the air.



The main Castle building is a very beautiful and elegant baroque palace. Inside the Castle there are many chambers with beautiful décor. The entrance fee is 13eur per person. Schloss Hof is much bigger than the two castles mentioned above. It reminds me of a small Versailles. Inside you will find, first, the chambers where Prince Eugen spent most of his time, including his favorite coffee room, equipped with a comfortable fireplace, where he used to spend time reading and drinking coffee. Prince Eugen only admitted family members and close friends to this room. Also there is a dining room with a large table and many paintings on the walls. Particularly special is the game room where he used to invite friends to play cards or chess, as his real passion was gambling. There is also an exhibition of paintings on which are depicted the most famous battles in which Prince Eugen was victorious. Also in Eugen’s section of the Castle is his personal chapel, with very beautiful frescos that date from the 18th century.

You should also have a good look at the personal chambers of the Empress Maria Theresa. In that section of the Castle you will find her antechamber with paintings that show the Habsburg army as it was during her reign. There is also her elegant living room, with her conversation desk, and also a room with two mirrors, furniture, and paintings done by painters from the Vienna Academy of her time. There is also a room with portraits of her sons. Lastly there is the banquet room that was used by both Eugen and Maria for entertaining guests and hosting larger receptions.

Behind the castle there is a farm where you can still find animals such as chickens, turkeys, cows, and sheep that were used in former days to supply the Castle with food. Also there is a stable with horses which you can ride if you want. The Castle’s owners used to ride a lot since there are many fields around the Castle.

Malbork Castle



This is one of the northernmost castles in Central Europe and of course one of the most particular. Malbork castle is located in Malbork town in Poland, on the banks of the Nogat River, near the Baltic coast. Malbork is the largest gothic castle, and the largest brick building, in Europe. The Castle was built at the end of the 13th century by the Teutonic Order, which was one of most powerful knight monastic orders in Europe. When they were defeated in Middle East, at the end of the Crusades, the Teutonic Order built Malbork Castle to serve as their main headquarters and the base of their power. The Teutonic knights launched crusades into the Baltic countries from their headquarters at Malbork and invaded Russia as well. When the Teutonic Order dissolved, the castle became part of the Polish kingdom and was attacked and captured by the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). After the Russo-Prussian partition of Poland, the Castle became part of the Prussian Kingdom. It was partially destroyed during WWII. Malbork castle has been under the protection of UNESCO since 1997. Extensive restoration work was completed in the spring of 2015.



Entrance costs 9eur and is worth the price. Tall cupolas and a location on a peninsula, surrounded by a river with bridges that connect it to the far shore, Malbork reminds visitors of castles from fairytales. When you pass through the tall, red brick fortifications through the large iron door you enter an inner courtyard surrounded by the tall walls, buildings, and towers of the Castle. In the courtyard there are iron statues of Teutonic knights. If the weather is cold you can visit the buildings one by one. First you can visit the Grand Master’s Palace, the largest residential section of the castle, where Teutonic grandmasters used to live. Its interior is beautifully decorated with murals and arches. There is the Master’s office (equipped with working table and chairs) and the Master’s bedroom. The Middle Castle is a separate building where the main kitchen, the dining room, and cellars for supplies were located. There are many beautiful arches and paintings in the Middle Castle. In the third big building there is a large chamber where ordinary knights used to spend free time listening to music and painting. Within this building you will find their bedrooms. Also you can visit the large hall where the council used to sit and make important decisions. In the Castle complex there is a mill, a monks’ cemetery, and a chapel. In the chapel are buried a few high officials of the Order. Within the Castle there is large collection of products made from amber, which was widely exploited here. And of course Malbork Castle would not be a warriors’ castle without an intimidating, dark room that served as a prison for captives from the battlefields. Visiting this castle, you can imagine how life in the headquarters of the Teutonic monastic state looked and felt.

In the next article, read about the ski and mountain resorts of Central Europe.

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