A Fairy tale Castle in Carinthia
Generally speaking, the province of Carinthia is nice for hiking, skiing and all sorts of water sports - but not the best place for sightseeing in Austria. A notable exception of the rule is Burg Hochosterwitz Castle, famous for its characteristic fourteen gates fortifying the access to the main part of the building. It is located not too far from the former abbey of Gurk and combined, the two attractions make a great daytrip in Carinthia.
Hochosterwitz is located in a prominent position on top of a hill that has been fortified since the early Middle Ages - its strategic significance become obvious when you approach the castle and kilometres far from the site, you can already see it. The castle was bought by local nobleman Georg von Khevenhüller in 1571.
Hochosterwitz: Bastion against Invadors from the South
At that time, all of Austria was terrified of the approaching Turks - many large cities like Salzburg, Vienna or Graz invested loads of money in fortifications over the course of the 16th and 17th century. Investments that paid back in such events and the sieges of Vienna. The Khevenhüllers, who originate from Villach, built most of the current castle as well as the fourteen gates.
Hochosterwitz is still owned by the Khevenhüller family; they don′t live in the castle, though, but in a house nearby. The steep road ascending to the castle makes a nice hike, as each of the fourteen gates is decorated individually. The first one, for example, bears the coat of arms of the Khevenhüller family and is called "Fähnrichstor" ("Private Gate" as in the rank of a soldier).
Losers and sissies can take an elevator up to the top and walk down. The crowds of tourists that come to see Hochosterwitz in excessive numbers (especially during the summer season peak) clearly come for the architecture and scenery and not so much for the fortress itself.
Hochosterwitz behind its Gates
The castle holds the obligatory museum with Khevenhüller family memorabilia (including kind of a travel diary that King James I of England has signed), some portraits, armour and other things or local interest. Otherwise, there is a café and a bit of scenery around the fortress, but the building itself is the key to enjoying the site. There are claims that Hochosterwitz inspired Walt Disney to the castle shown in "Snow White", but there are several castles in Europe with similar claims.
Apart from the mentioned former abbey and cathedral of Gurk, there are a few other attractions nearby. Friesach with its medieval core, Klagenfurt and several of Carinthia′s pretty lakes are within reach. Note the village of St Donat (pronounced like "doughnut"), not so much for any attractions, but rather for the funny name. The villages of Rottenegg and Fucking in Upper Austria are funnier, though.
The Magdalensberg Mountain nearby was the site of a
Celto-Roman town later became the centre of the Slavonic Kingdom of Carantania. It is still perceived as the spiritual centre of the province, despite of anti-Slavonic sentiments of the predominantly Germanic population.
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