Castle of the Week 56 – Burg Hochosterwitz

Burg Hochosterwitz is in Carinthia, Austria, perched on a 160m high rock rising from the plains. It can be seen from 20 miles away on a clear day and is considered to be one of the most impressive castles in the country.

The castle was first mentioned in 860AD when it was called Astorwiza. In 1209 the Duke of Carinthia appointed the Osterwitz family to be hereditary royal cupbearers and gave them the castle, which at that time was only very small, as a fiefdom. The family remodelled and extended it until it covered the entire top of the hill. When the last member of the family died whilst being imprisoned by the Turks in 1475, the castle reverted to Emperor Frederick III. Emperor Ferdinand I mortgaged the castle to the area’s governor, Christof Khevenhüller to raise some money.

In 1571 Baron Georg von Khevenhüller bought the castle outright and it was enlarged and further fortified due to the threat of Turkish invasions, being completed in 1586. He built a rectangular keep and three round towers on the corners of the curtain walls. An armoury was built and also its famous 14 fortified gates together with five drawbridges. Once these were built, to gain access to the castle, the only access for an attacker was a walk up a 620m path going through all the gates, a type of construction unique among castles.

During its long history the castle was never taken. The closest it came was in about 1360 during the time of Margarethe of Tirol. It was one of the few castles in Carinthia that she did not manage to take which was one of the main reasons she gave up her campaign to take Carinthia.

Keeping to the request of the builder, Georg, on a marble slab in the courtyard that states that the castle should be kept in the possession of his descendants who whould always care for it, the castle is still owned by the von Khevenhüller family although it can be visited during the summer.

Write-up courtesy of GillB at the suggestion of and based on information from Gernot. Pictures courtesy of Gernot and Burgenwelt.