Devin Castle lies around 12km from the historical centre of Bratislava in the village of Devin, today an administrative division of Slovak capital.
Protected by a mountain massif of the little Carpathians, with the highest peak Deniska Kobyla 1687ft in the north and the rivers Danube and Moravia in the west, the castle itself is situated on a cliff at 700ft above the confluence of the two rivers. The strategic location and ideal natural conditions made this area destined for human settlement, for which there is archeological evidence from the Neolithic ages through to the modern period.
Not only in Slovakia, Devin castle is one of the most important archeological sites in Central Europe. Both the material and immaterial relics reflect the character of Devin as a place where several cultural influences met. Devin castle was declared a national cultural monument in 1961.
I headed over to the tiny Slovakian town of Devin to visit this mythical and mysterious place.
Devin castle is actually one of the most important historical sites in Slovakia and as such it has become a national symbol. The word “Devin” has even become a synonym for all things typically Slovak!
The castle in its earliest form dates back as early as the eighth century when a wooden fortification stood on this rocky outcrop. The site was chosen due to its raised location along the two major rivers of the Danube and Morava which provided key defensive and lookout opportunities as well as trade control over the waterways.
The stone fortress on the 212m cliff was built centuries later and added to and improved over hundreds of years to serve as both a palace and as a strengthened fortress. The castle, in its long and complicated history passed through the hands of many kings, queens, dukes, knights and nobility. It has guarded the western frontier of the Hungarian Kingdom in the 13th century. In the 14th century the castle was held by the Dukes of Austria and then King Charles I of Hungary. After changing hands again several times between esteemed families -more dukes and rich investors - it was occupied by King Frederick IV of Germany in 1444 and the Palace was added shortly after.
The last owners of the castle were the Palffy family. In 1809 after the siege of Pressburg, it was destroyed by Napoleon’s army on direct orders from the man himself. Its ruins became a monument to the troubled and fascinating history of Slovakia.
In the 20th Century the castle yet again became an area of political importance as it stood at the border between the soviet Eastern bloc and the west. Prior to 1989 the border of the Iron Curtain ran just in front of the castle in a heavily fortified and restricted military zone which stood until the Velvet Revolution and the split of Czechoslovakia.
The bus which had trundled through the tiny village drops you off right at the foot of the castle and the joining of the two rivers. Straight away it’s an unmissable sight; it towers above the town and is what brings the majority of new faces onto its peaceful and picturesque streets. The walk up through the car park is eerily quiet.
The castle has a grand feel to it; wandering around these ruins you get the sense of the history of the place, its strategic importance clear to see from the impressive views down on the town below to one side and the merging rivers to the other. It’s obvious why such an imposing position was chosen and the advantage this amazing panoramic view would afford.
The castle in fact feels much bigger than what in reality is left of it. The scale of the cliff and the rural riverside edge create a feeling of splendor and a quite romantic atmosphere. The day I visited, the weather was glorious and the fantastic cloud formations over the rolling landscape added to the feeling of magnitude.
Alongside the castle is a multitude of cycle and hiking trails that follow alongside the rivers, merging seamlessly with the peaceful and ambient atmosphere in which to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Walking alongside the river you will find the memorial to the victims of communism who died trying to flee into Austria, its bullet-ridden gateway symbolizing Slovakia’s escape and subsequent independence.
If you have time, the area also has over 20km of cycle paths which run through a stork reserve, wetlands and the wonderful Slovakian countryside. Otherwise there is also much to explore on foot. The first thing you will come across along the riverbanks is the striking 'Maiden’s town' which is the most well known feature of this mythical castle. It serves as the basis of many legends and myths about beautiful imprisoned virgins jumping to their deaths.
In addition to the ruins of the medieval castle and the foundation of Roman and Great Moravian buildings, as well as the river bank, visitors can see two exhibitions . The permanent exhibition is located in the caves inside the cliff under the upper castle, while the temporary exhibitions take place in the country yard of the central castle.