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The castle legends of Považie

Castles, those stone guardians of history, line western Slovakia's Váh River and loom large in the nation's folklore.
Slovakia's longest river, the Váh winds through the Považie district like a blue ribbon, giving the countryside its typical deep-valley look and character. Považie is part of the larger Žilina region, which has a higher concentration of castles than any other part of Slovakia.
Many of these castles have suffered the merciless advance of time. Standing like ragged teeth on many a hilltop, they sleep in ruin and rubble. But the legends inspired by their owners and their busy garrisons are still very much alive.


Žofia Bosniak's body lies in the church in Teplička nad Váhom.
Ľubica Sokolíková

Castles, those stone guardians of history, line western Slovakia's Váh River and loom large in the nation's folklore.

Slovakia's longest river, the Váh winds through the Považie district like a blue ribbon, giving the countryside its typical deep-valley look and character. Považie is part of the larger Žilina region, which has a higher concentration of castles than any other part of Slovakia.

Many of these castles have suffered the merciless advance of time. Standing like ragged teeth on many a hilltop, they sleep in ruin and rubble. But the legends inspired by their owners and their busy garrisons are still very much alive.

In the mist of a dawn long ago, the horns and bells of Považský Castle called its inhabitants to a robbery expedition. It was to be a strange expedition this time, one that would be talked of for years throughout Považie. Count Rafael Podmanický, with thirty carts and almost a hundred men, ventured as far as lower Považie. But his robber-knights carried no weapons this time, just receptacles for water.

The bandits were not looking for gold, and ignored the fat herds and bursting corn-lofts of the countryside they travelled. Wherever they found a rosegarden, however, they dismounted and plucked the flowers, piling them on the rough wagons. Count Podmanický himself periodically dipped his hat in the Váh River and poured water over the scented petals.

The rough cavalcade wandered through the afternoon into the evening and night, and at dawn finally reached the castle of Silesian knight George Lasinkovice, father of the beautiful Hedviga, the girl that Rafael Podmanický had come to court. The hundred men worked in silence.

In the morning, the powerful smell of roses woke the inhabitants of the castle. A mighty carpet of roses surrounded the castle. Hedviga came to her window, and in the early silence stood looking down at Podmanický's earnest face. "I have come to ask your hand in marriage, and I have sprinkled the road with roses so that your passage to my side may be soft." "I don't want you, for I'm betrothed to Ján Szunyog of Budatín Castle" was the answer of the beautiful Hedviga.

Budatín Castle sits in the town of Žilina, at the centre of middle Považie on the confluence of the Váh and Kysuca Rivers. A chalk-white fortress, Budatín nowadays houses a Tinker's Museum. But in days of yore, it was controlled by a cruel nobleman - the knight Gašpar. Legend says that he had his daughter bricked in alive, after she became engaged to Count František Forgács against her father's will. Her lover managed to save her, but died during their escape. The sorrowing daughter's room in the castle is still preserved with its original furnishings.

In the Strečno meander of the Váh River, Starhrad Castle guards a rocky hill. Starhrad was once the gloomy seat of the robber-knight Pongrác and his ruffians, who collected a toll from travellers on the river under the castle. Rafters who attempted to pass without paying were seized by Pongrác's men, who snagged the river craft with long hooks and pulled the raft towards the bank.

Just a stone's throw from Starhrad, the Váh doubles back on itself at the bottom of a deep valley, above which perch the partially restored ruins of gorgeous Strečno castle. Žofia Bosniak, wife of Count František Wesselenyi, walked the halls of Strečno long, long ago. But when the castle was conquered by Ján Jakub Lowensburg, his soldiers were surprised to find a coffin with the intact body of Žofia Bosniak under the destroyed chapel. She died in 1644, and her body, though not embalmed, lies perfectly silent and well preserved in the chapel of the village church in Teplička nad Váhom.

"Žofia Bosniak is dressed the same way she used to be hundreds of years ago," said the sexton of the church, who has many interesting stories to tell about Žofia's life. "The body still contains some moisture, so her dress tends to deteriorate quickly. The last time the nuns changed her was ten years ago."

Behind another bow in the Váh lies Hričovský Castle. The lonely sharp rock in front of the fortress is called "the monk tuned to stone." When alive, this monk used to scold the wicked and sinful František Thurzo, who married the much older owner of the castle. Pretending to love her, Thurzo managed to take possession of the castle and then imprison his naive bride for life.

And as the Váh winds its way out of Považie, the famous Renaissance Bytčiansky Castle deserves mantion too. Built on the foundations of an original Gothic castle, Bytčiansky is famous as a "Wedding Palace." In 1601, Palatine Juraj Thurzo erected it for the weddings of his seven daughters, and as a "museum of love," it still serves couples wanting to tie the knot today.

Topic: Tourism and travel in Slovakia


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