Spišské Podhradie is a town of 3,800 people (2021) famous for its castle. The Spiš Castle (in Slovak, Spišsky hrad) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Spiš region of Slovakia. Founded in the 12th century, it guarded the borders of the former Szepes (Spiš) county of the former Kingdom of Hungary. It is one of the largest castle complexes in Europe, with an area of over 40,000 m², and was for many centuries the major centre of power in the region. Today it is one of Slovakia's most visited tourist attractions. You might recognise the castle from your cinema outings: it has been used in many films, including Dragonheart, Phoenix, Kull the Conqueror, The Lion in Winter, and The Last Legion.
Spiš Castle was built in the 12th century on the site of an earlier castle. It was the political, administrative, economic and cultural centre of Szepes (Spiš) County of the Kingdom of Hungary. Before 1464, it was owned by the kings of Hungary, afterwards (until 1528) by the Zápolya family, the Thurzó family (1531–1635), the Csáky family (1638–1945), and (since 1945) by the state of Slovakia.
Originally there was just a Romanesque stone castle with fortifications. A two-story Romanesque palace and a three nave Romanesque-Gothic basilica were constructed by the second half of the 13th century. A second settlement was built beyond the castle walls in the 14th century, by which the castle area was doubled. The castle was completely rebuilt in the 15th century; the castle walls were heightened and a third extramural settlement was constructed. A late Gothic chapel was added around 1470. The Zápolya clan carried out late Gothic transformations, which made the upper castle into a comfortable family residence, typical of late Renaissance residences of the region of the 16th and 17th centuries. The last owners of the Spiš Castle, the Csáky family, abandoned the castle in the early 18th century because they considered it too uncomfortable to live in. They moved to the newly built nearby village castles and palaces near Žehra and Spišský Hrhov. In 1780, the castle burned down, and has been in ruins ever since. The castle was partly reconstructed in the second half of the 20th century, and extensive archaeological research was carried out on the site. The reconstructed sections house displays of the Spiš Museum.
The castle is built on a commanding eminence overlooking the town of Spišské Podhradie (which means, literally 'under Spiš castle') and the E50 highway; it is almost the first thing visible for traffic emerging from the 5 km. Branisko Tunnel. It also looks across to the tiny mediaeval walled town of Spišská Kapitula (also a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site) on a hill the other side of the town. The castle's powerful domination of the skyline makes this one of the most dramatic landscapes in Slovakia.
Get in Edit
Spišské Podhradie has bus connections from Poprad. The rail service has stopped.
Get around Edit
- 1 Spiš Castle.
- 2 Spišská Kapitula. Ecclesiastical town containing a former monastery and St. Martin's Cathedral, which dates back to 1245.
- 3 Kostol Narodenia Panny Márie (Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary). Church built in 1825 on the site of a 13th-century church which was damaged by the 1813 earthquake.
The souvenirs on sale in the little shop in the castle are unfortunately pretty naff.
There is a very basic cafe in the castle grounds, just beyond the entrance.