Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hrad Strečno

Fortification: Hrad Strečno
Location: Strečno, Slovakia
Built: Believed to have been built by the 13th century. First written mention of the castle is in 1384.

Remaining original structures: Various walls and towers (see model of ruins).

Strečno is an impressive castle set on a very large chunk of rock. It's situated to protect the Vah river and the southwest plains.

I should note I 'cheated' with the zoom lens for this shot.

The road to Strečno:

Lucky for me, the road wasn't as steep or as long as some of the others, but it was still a fair climb. Then again, I hail from Delaware, the flat state.

Arriving at the castle:

There's another bridge just behind me. Take note of the above shot for when we get to the models of the castle.

Stepping inside, we have the entrance into the castle:

And to our right, extending off the South Palace:

Here is a model of the ruins of the castle:

This is how the castle looked in the 1930s.

I do not have a map of Strečno, so the following model will have to suffice. You may want to open both views in a new window.

The picture I took just outside the gate, between the bridges, was historically where the second gatehouse (and the associated building) once stood. From said photo you can see some of the remains of the wall stretching down the hill.

If you look at the first picture of the castle model (not the ruins), you will see the Main Tower rising above the rest of the castle. The South Palace is the building in the middle, below the Main Tower, and with four chimneys.  To the left or west of the Main Tower there is the long and narrow Main Courtyard.

To the east of the tower is the East Palace, and if you look at the second picture of the castle model, you will see that there is an unenclosed area which is a small courtyard. I shall call it the East Courtyard since I don't have its name.

Moving north from there, we have the North Palace, the Chapel (rising slightly above the other buildings), and the North Tower.

Looking from the north:

Going from roof to roof- We have the small tower on the northern most point (unfortunately not reconstructed and not part of the tour). Next is a single story building which I also don't know the name of. I do know the entrances have been changed over time and it may have served different functions depending on the period. Next is the two story building with three large windows which is the North Tower. Note that the Tower and the single story building are not fully connected and there is a wedge shaped open area between them. The next building, and second tallest of the whole castle, is the Chapel.

So now that you are hopefully oriented, back to the walk through. Randomly, we have a mammoth's tooth, found at or near the castle:

And an image of a house from the paleolithic period:

There were some old tools and artifacts on display as well, but none of my photos came out well.

Below is the main part of the South Palace. It was once covered by a roof and you can see where the floor of the second level once lay:

It's a pretty large building. To the right is more rooms of the South Palace, and these have been restored. They hold the kitchen, which I'll show you in a moment, and on the second level is the room with the models and archeological findings.

Here is a video of the open area of the South Palace, starting with a look at the Main Tower:

Entering into a south facing room, we have what was believed to be the kitchen, with remains of a fireplace:

Some old cookware:

Looking south, from the upstairs of the South Palace:

So, cutting across the ruined part of the South Palace and heading north up these stairs:

As we walked around, the place felt like a bit of a maze. This may be more to do with the fact that I was walking around ruins than any actual complicated structures. Here we have a cistern, situated within the 'East Courtyard'

Water was caught from the roofs, in gutters, and directed to this cistern. It was made of stone, with a layer of clay to prevent leakage of the water. It is 3.5 meters deep and has a diameter of 2.6 meters.

Looking from west to east (below), you can see why I felt like I was in a maze. The bottom left door, by the stairs, leads to a torture chamber. The cistern is not visible, but you could see it if you leaned forward and looked down from this position. The far wall is the remains of the East Palace, and some of that wall is original, having survived the neglect over the years. Through the central window you can just make out the Vah river.

Another view of the Vah river, as we climb the Main Tower:

And the view from the top:

And a nearly 360 view from the towers, in two videos:

The second video begins looking south and down into the now open South Palace (with the covered and restored sections around it)...

And now the north end of the castle:

So, heading down the tower and carrying forward, we pause at the aforementioned torture chamber:

I was never comfortable thinking about all the things they have done to people in castles...

Inside the North Palace, the area wasn't fully reconstructed. Here we have what's left of one of the toilets, which of course opened to the outside. You can see the outer protuberance on the model, above, if you look closely. There was also a toilet in the East Palace.

We soon found ourselves in the Chapel (please forgive me the poorly framed shot):

The ceiling was quite impressive. The former ceiling was found in the chapel and dumped in one of the wells. The new ceiling is reconstructed based on that finding. It is an impressive Gothic vault with a star pattern.

In the Chapel they displayed some of the coat of arms of the original proprietors of the castle:

The chapel was once divided into three floors. I'm standing on the reconstructed second floor for these photos, which was once accessed by an outside stairwell, along with the third floor. Now there is a window where the interlocking doors once stood.

There is a crypt beneath the chapel floor, as is common. Zofia Bosniakova was laid to rest here. She was 35 when she died, and was loved for her good deeds and warm heart. She established hospitals and took care of orphans and the poor. When they found her body 45 years later, mummified and intact, people were convinced she was a saint.

Zofia's husband, Frantisek Veseleny, and she were first happily married. Later, however, he often left the castle to visit another woman, Maria Szecy. Zofia went daily to the chapel to pray to God to return her lost love to her. When she died, Frantisek married Maria.

There is an excellent 360 view of the Chapel, the main courtyard, and other areas in the link at the end of this post.

Speaking of the main courtyard, here we are, facing the Main Tower:

The well and the entrance building (center):

The Main Tower is recognizable by the slightly different pattern of stones and the fact that it rises above the other structures.

The well is 88 meters deep. Archeologists found the aforementioned ceiling, tools, trash, and other parts of the architecture from when the castle was at one point being destroyed. Unfortunately I don't have any other information about why that was done.

Still in the courtyard, we can see the North Tower and the Chapel towering above it:

Wandering the North Tower now, we have an open fireplace and chimney:

This is a northwest view from the North Tower:

Unfortunately I did not learn what the remaining buildings on the north end were for, and our guided tour quickly came to an end.

As we walked out, I got this shot inside the entrance building:

Here's a cannon:

Still inside the castle walls, here is a view of the west side of Strečno:

Heading out:

A view of the castle from across the Vah River:

More pictures can be found here.

A 360 view of many areas of Strečno, including the Chapel and Main Courtyard, can be found here

I hope you enjoyed the tour, and I apologize if it seemed a bit disjointed.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Helfštýn, Part II

In part I, I stopped just as we were beginning to explore the palace.

First, a little fun with windows. Here is the East Palace (44) as seen from the courtyard (40):

Different angle, same window (it was the most photogenic):

Going down into the East Palace, we have some old stone carvings:

That's one of the castle's former coat of arms.

Exploring further:

This room is near the corner of the East and North (43) Palace:

And here's a close up of that modern statue:

As we come around under the North palace and climb the stairs, we have a nice view of the East Palace and unnumbered tower.

A little to the right:

That window in the center is where I photographed the kitchen in Part I.

Exploring the North Palace:

On the map there is a structure outlined in brown beside the Palace and #43. Standing there and looking south, we can see the Hussite Tower (35).

The metal 'pipes' at center are for the smiths and their fires (modern, of course). The grassy strip leading away from this door is the road to the cemetery (42). You'll see it again when we climb the tower.

Now, if I ever catch someone graffiti-ing or carving on a castle, I will bop them on the head with my water bottle, which may or may not be empty. At least this time it is just the wood. I have no idea why people need to mark things like dogs. Go learn some actual craft and leave your mark on the world that way, people!

*ahem* Moving along. We can make our way along to the corner of the North and East Palace and out onto the terrace (47- the long triangle in silver):

The north edge of the outer wall:

You can see the moat was pretty sizable here as well. This moat isn't labeled on the map, but the 'Devil's abyss' well (30) sits within it. I'm not certain what part of the moat was used as a cemetery.

Stepping back inside the East Palace:

Exiting the Palace and returning to the Fourth Courtyard (32), we have an entrance beside the Hussite Tower:

Again, those walls were impressively thick.

And here's the tower; I try to save them for last so I can see what I've explored:

First, a general scenery shot:

Now the newest part of Helfštýn, sprawling out below me:

That's the stables with the red roof.

To the left, we have the north edge of the large second courtyard:

And a little more left, the tower by the former entrance (24):

I've just cut off the inner end of the fourth gate in the bottom left of the above photo.

Further further left, and leaning out the tower, we can see the fifth gate (37), remains of the tower, the palace, et al.

Even more stunning, here's the full view of the palace, thanks to a friend who stitched two pictures for me in photoshop:

And the classic 'looking straight down' shot, from the back of the tower:


So, climbing back down to the courtyard, we can take a closer look at the smithy (28):

The above photo shows about a third of the room.

Standing under the arch of the 3rd gate (20) and climbing on the wall and gate, we have this view:

I took a similar shot in Part I, but couldn't resist another.

Exiting the second gate (10):

Here's the tower by the first gate and tower (6):

And a little left, the openings for the cannons:

The next few photos were taken as I strolled around the castle:

Second gate tower.

Thou shall not pass!

And, driving away, we see just how sprawling the castle is, and how much the terrain changes:

That's the palace, Hussite tower, second and first gate towers.

Thus ends my tour of Helfštýn. I hope you enjoyed it.

One last item of interest. On the way, we passed Hrad Stary Jicin:

I returned here at the end of my trip, and will be posting on these ruins soon.