Deserted Castle-Old Zvolen

Zvolen (Latin: Vetero Solium, German Alt Sohl, Hungarian: Zólyom) belongs to oldest towns in Slovakia. Its oldest preserved historical dominant is Deserted Castle called also Old Zvolen.

Deserted Castle – originally royal gardian castle is the biggest medieval castle in Slovakia spreading area of 4,15 hectares. At the same time it represents the oldest preserved earely medieval secular architecture in Central Slovakia region.

Deserted Castle consists of two castles – Upper Castle (571 m.) and Lower Castle (478 m.) built on the sharp crest over the junction of Slatina and Hron rivers.

The predecessor of the castle was hill-fort Priekopa near Môťová serving as military fort on the important communication. After its decay was in the twelve century established royal gardian castle on the crossroads of trade routes.

It is not possible to find exactly the beginnings of this fortified seat. According to older opinions the Zvolen Castle was built in about 750 year. Pavol Jozef Šafárik supposed Great Moravian knight Mojmír I. set to build it in approx. 830-846 AD.

Unknown notarius of Belo III. Anonymus in the 12 th century in his work Gesta Hungarorum noted that rocky fortification Zvolen existed from the beginning oif the tenth century.

After the foundation of Hungarian Kingdom the Zvolen forest belonged to Arpad royal generation. Up to this time the oldest historical reference about Zvolen was written in deed of donation from 1135 ( Belo II.)

The whole castle complex was built during 12 – 14 centuries gradually in four periods.

The first period is represented by the royal guardian castle built in the middle of the twelfth century. This was predominantly military fortress and its core was rocky square probably four storey residential tower.

Separate external fortification of the castle was created by defensive nuchal ditch.

The second construction stage is represented by rocky enclosure wall – part of the big fortification which served as refuge. It started to be erected with a big probability immediately after the Tartar invasion to Hungary (1241-1242) straight on the stony- ground wall which was erected during late bronze age by the people of Lusatian Culture. The fortification has elongated shape with original royal castle being a part of it.

In the southern part of refuge was situated the gate of the main entrance.

Inside the refuge in its middle was built second stony residential tower.

Apparently in this period in the north-east from the upper castle there was built far more smaller lower castle situated on the rocky edge. It has a shape of almost regular elongated oval with entrance gate on the west side and prismatic tower on the south side. From its hip ridge leads 380 m long palisade wall towards upper castle. The mutual relationship of these two castles is not clear up to these days. According to some sources it is explained as the existence of double castle, others think the lower castle represents extramural settlement belonging to upper castle.

The third construction stage lasted during the reign of Ondrej III. (1290-1301). In this time the roman residential tower was stabilized by peripheral brickwork from outer side. The thickness of the walling was not less than 550 cm. The reason of this construction works was to ensure statics so that it could be prolonged as far as it could bear two or three more floors. At the same time the main entrance gate was rebuilt to four- storey tower with underpass and four floors altogether with defense bastion put to east side of the external wall of the refuge.

During the first part of the 14 th century there was built massive defense and residential building. At that time important water tank for rain water was cut into rock together with brickwork in the inner side ( the so called Donč castle – fourth construction period).

In 1424 Zvolen castle became the part of the dowry of the Ugrian queens. First it was a property of queen Barbora, second wife of Žigmund Luxembourg, then her daughter Elizabeth married to king Albrecht Habsbourg. After Albrecht death the merciless struggle for Ungarian throne commenced. To defense the hereditary rights of her underage son Ladislav Pohrobok queen widow Elizabeth called up to Hungary Moravian nobleman Ján Jiskra from Brandýs. In 1440 he captured the town and castle Zvolen as well, which became for the long time its principal residence.

Jan Jiskra fought with Huňady during the struggle of queen Elizabeth against Vladislav Jagelovsky in the fifteenth century. Huňady engaged big army and after long siege conquered Zvolen and burnt it out.

Zvolen castle has not been renewed to its original appearance. The reason was unfavourable position on rather high and steep hill and big distance from the centre of the town.

It is interesting that Zvolen Castle which was built by Louis D´Anjou in 1370-1382 was not conquered during the siege. Therefore the administrative functions together with the residence of the district administrator were brought to more modern and more comfortable Zvolen Castle.

The last significant role in the history played Old Zvolen ( Deserted Castle) in the times of the immediate threat of the Turks. The well preserved castle buildings served as military barracks where the Valon soldiers and royal cavalry . The evidence is building of wooden guardian tower (vartovka). From the seventeenth century the castle became desolated.

The first archaeological earth works in the castle were realized at the end of the 19 th century big expert and documentator of the medieval castles professor Könyok. The findings are deposited in the National Museum in Budapest. He investigated the oldest part of the castle – residential tower. During the Second World War (1944) was under the rock revealed bronze treasure, historical research was realized in the fifties of the last century , but systematic archaeological research was started in 1992 by archaeologist Dr. Václav Hanuliak, who heard during his studies from professor Novotného heard the sentence:

“ Gentlemen, Deserted Castle – this is Slovak Troi, who will dig there, will find everything”. His words were confirmed. Researchers in this locality revealed the remnants from Bronze Age, Celtic, Roman, German, Great Moravian and Middle Ages, as well. The research which is financed from the beginning by Zvolen town continues up to these times so the visitors can observe the work of the archaeologists by their own eyes.