An Austrian Fortress

06 Sep

As I uploaded and organized the photos of our last trip to Austria, I traced old ones that I didn’t post….well, not properly at least. As I remember this place and the time spent there so fondly, I decided to give it a second and detailed chance…

Hohenwerfen Castle (in German Burg Hohenwerfen) stands high above the Austrian town of Werfen in the Salzach valley, approximately 25 miles south of Salzburg. The castle is surrounded by the Berchtesgaden Alps and the adjacent Tennengebirge mountain range. The fortification is a “sister” of Hohensalzburg Castle in Salzburg, both dated from the 11th century. Hohenwerfen Castle is situated at an height of 623 meters.

After passing the first gate you go up to the second door with a shutter as a second defense. On the right there’s the Waller Tower, from here a dark staircase, the sheltered passage leading to the fort. Further on is the tower Salzach, the powder magazine. Past the towers of Straw and Mary you can enter the third defense and then in the fortress. Immediately you see the arsenal and then, up the “ladder of wine” leading to the inner courtyard.

The former fortification was built between 1075 and 1078 during the Imperial Investiture Controversy by the order of Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg as a strategic bulwark atop a 155 m (509 ft) high rock. Gebhard, an ally of Pope Gregory VII and the anti-king Rudolf of Rheinfelden, had three major castles extended to secure the Salzburg archbishopric against the forces of King Henry IV: Hohenwerfen, Hohensalzburg and Petersberg Castle at Friesach in Carinthia. Nevertheless, Gebhard was expelled in 1077 and could not return to Salzburg until 1086, only to die at Hohenwerfen two years later.

In the following centuries Hohenwerfen served Salzburg’s rulers, the prince-archbishops, not only as a military base but also as a residence and hunting retreat. The fortress was extended in the 12th century and to a lesser extent again in the 16th century during the German Peasants’ War, when in 1525 and 1526 riotous farmers and miners from the south of Salzburg moved towards the city, laying fire and severely damaging the castle. Alternatively it was used as a state prison and therefore had a somewhat sinister reputation. Its prison walls have witnessed the tragic fate of many ‘criminals’ who spent their days there – maybe their last – under inhumane conditions, and, periodically, various highly ranked noblemen have also been imprisoned there including rulers such as Archbishop Adalbert III, arrested by his own ministeriales in 1198, Count Albert of Friesach (in 1253), the Styrian governor Siegmund von Dietrichstein, captured by insurgent peasants in 1525, and Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau, who died here in 1617 after six years of imprisonment.

In 1931 the fortress, since 1898 owned by Archduke Eugen of Austria was again damaged by a fire and, though largely restored, finally had to be sold to the Salzburg Reichsgau administration in 1938. After World War II it was used as a training camp by the Austrian Gendarmerie (rural police) until 1987.

The chapel of Hohenwerfen is among the oldest parts of the building and includes remains in Romanesque style. Originally, the chapel was standing on its own, but in 1565 the “Kapellenbastei” was added as an antechapel. The altar was built by Konrad Schwarz in 1650. In the centre of the altar, you will find the statue “Mary with child” from around 1480. The altar is framed by statues of a bishop, St. Catherine and St. Sigismund. The side altars were made between 1550 and 1560.

The interior of the fortress (the “working” and defensive parts) are well preserved, giving a vivid impression of what living there looked like…

From the upper floors you have a stunning view of the fortress and the surrounding….not bad I have to say!

The master rooms are renovated but they’ve been very careful as to use local materials and to follow the old documents stating how the interiors were at the time of the fortress major splendor…

Today, Hohenwerfen is mostly known for its hunting displays of bird of prey. Hunting with birds was a noble passion for centuries since the early Middle Ages. Today, this tradition is preserved in places like Hohenwerfen. The display shows with freely flying birds like eagles, falcons and hawks are held daily between May and October.

Falconry is the hunting of wild quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained bird of prey. There are two traditional terms used to describe a person involved in falconry: a falconer flies a falcon; an austringer (German origin) flies a hawk or an eagle. In modern falconry the red-tailed hawk and the Harris’s hawk are often used. In early English falconry literature, the word “falcon” referred to a female falcon only, while the word “hawk” or “hawke” referred to a female hawk. A male hawk or falcon was referred to as a “tiercel” (sometimes spelled “tercel”) as it was roughly one third less than the female in size. Many contemporary practitioners still use these words in their original meaning. The practice of hunting with a conditioned falconry bird is also called “hawking” or “gamehawking”.

For cinema’s lovers the fortress is also a well known movies location…Hohenwerfen served as the main backdrop for the song “Do-Re-Mi” in The Sound of Music, and used as the castle ‘Schloss Adler’ in the 1968 film Where Eagles Dare, although the cable car scenes were filmed using the Feuerkogel-Drahtseilbahn in Ebensee as Hohenwerfen Castle has no cable car. Exterior shots of the castle were used as a French hotel in the movie Just Marriedand also in the TV mini series The 10th Kingdom (it represented the Snow White Memorial Prison)

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Posted by on September 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


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