Spis castle in Slovakia is one of the largest castle complexes in Europe, yet it stays under the radar for most travelers. Though only a restored ruin and a museum remains, locals told me it still had a lot to offer. I decided to visit on my way to the High Tatra mountains.
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HISTORY OF SPIS CASTLE
At 41,426 m2, Spis is the largest castle in Slovakia and one of the largest in Europe. Spis Castle started as one tower in 1113 and was enlarged to protect the wealthy Spiš area, which was then part of the Hungarian empire. In the span of the following 600 years it acquired its great size, and in that time it had several owners, including Hungarian kings, the Szápolyi family, the Thurzo family and the Csáky family. Since 1945 Spiš Castle is owned by Slovakia.
The castle was destroyed by fire around 1780 and gradually fell into ruins until 1970. At present it has a museum, a tower and a torture dungeon, and movies like Dragonheart (1996) with Dennis Quaid and The Last Legion (2007) with Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley were filmed here.
In 1993, the castle became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
SPIS CASTLE TODAY
I got to Spis by car and took the short way up, which is 5-10 minutes from the parking lot. If you arrive by bus you can walk from the village Spišské Podhradie. It’s up a good slope and takes about an hour.
Spis castle is towering beautiful from the village and it’s just as pretty from the top. I walked around the castle and got some pretty sweet views from the enormous window sections, but the best view was from the tower. You can almost imagine the castle lords scouting for enemies, whom could be spotted many miles away.
If you climb the tower, expect poor lightning and a lot of steep walking on uneven surfaces. In return you’ll get outstanding views of the castle grounds and the countryside, plus the High Tatras on a clear day.
SPIS TORTURE DUNGEON
Like any other self-respecting castle, Spis castle also has a torture chamber, and a quite inventive one I might add. I got the opportunity to tour the castle and see firsthand the torture devices still inside.
From excruciating medieval weapons to an entire room filled with bona fide instruments of torture, it’s not difficult to imagine what went on here. Prisoners could be left for days in this room, with no one to hear them scream but the cold stone walls.
I mean this in all seriousness; people of the Middle Ages were alarmingly creative. How do you come up with making The Wheel for example? This torture device had the prisoner strapped to a wheel and slowly turned over a fire. The few moments of relief at the top of the turn gave him (or her) a chance to confess their crimes before the wheel brought them back over the scorching flames.
I didn’t see this particular device at Spis castle, but it made me wonder. You had to be a sadist or someone who laughs at horrible things to invent and use torture instruments like these.
WEAPONRY, CHAPEL AND CHAMBER
After the dungeon, I went to the castle’s chapel, St. Elisabeth, which is very small with tall, arched windows.
In the castle museum is also a replica of a bedroom with a bed, chair and what looks like a medieval preacher chair. I particularly liked the dragon figures on the bed; a symbol I’ve seen a lot in Slovenia and Romania.
I liked the museum, and it did its job by showing how life was in the Middle Ages. Although Spis castle largely is a ruin, you still get an idea of what it looked like and how life was back in the day.
TIPS FOR VISITING SPIS CASTLE
Admission fee 6€ (adult) and 4€ (children).
Season starts in April and the castle is open daily from 9:00 – 18:00. There are audio guides available if you want for a fee.
- Spis castle is closed during winter
- Admission is free every first Sunday of the month
- Get there before 10am to avoid the crowds
- Free parking
- Dogs are allowed on leash
- The castle is not handicap friendly as there are quite a few steps
A thousand thanks to Martin from Kosice Region Turizmus for showing me around Kosice Region. I was a guest, but all opinions are my own as always.
So, what do you think about Spis castle?
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