Orava Castle has all the expected trappings of such a place: a long history, a fire that destroyed most of it, a ghost, a tomb containing the remains of a famous personality, and several intriguing stories that exist somewhere on the border between historical truth and legend.
Among what is known for certain is that the castle is divided into three parts: the upper, middle and lower castles, the former of which is the oldest and dates from the 13th century. It was originally built as a fortress and barracks for the garrison guarding the northern border of the country. In its early years, the castle belonged mainly to local governors, but in the 15th century King Matthias Hunyady-Corvinus bought it from Peter Komorovský for 8,000 golden ducats. Later, he donated it to his son Ján, whose daughter Alžbeta married a nobleman from the Zápoľský (Zápolyai) clan.
In 1556, it fell to hands of one of the richest and most influential noble families in the country, the Thurzos, who continued to construct the castle and built the part called the Thurzo Palace. Maybe the most well-known of them, Juraj Thurzo, a palatine who virtually ruled huge parts of Greater Hungary, is buried in St Michael’s Chapel in the castle, together with his wife and son.
Thurzo is a common character in literature set in the period, and also features in modern works of art, such as the film “Bathory”, in which he is portrayed as a villain.
With his death, and the death of his son, the golden era of Orava Castle ended, but an unusual period of shared ownership began, administered by the rare historical figure known as a compossessor. Juraj (György) Thurzo’s will stated that Orava dominion and Orava Castle must not be divided. So after Juraj’s only son Imrich died childless at the age of 23, Juraj’s seven daughters gathered and picked one administrator of the properties, the so-called compossessor, who was supposed to take care of Orava, visit it at least once a year, and see that the revenues were divided into equal parts.
The husband of Helena Thurzo, Gaspar Illésházy, was picked as the first compossessor, and 13 more followed through the years. In 1800, a fire devastated the castle, consuming the vast majority of its wooden parts and melting even the bells in the chapel. The castle was rendered uninhabitable.
In 1868, the local forest administrator William Rowland founded the Museum of Orava Compossessorate which was supported also by the then-compossessor, Edmund Zichy. Thus, Orava Castle is one of the oldest museums in Slovakia.
The last compossessor of the castle was Jozef Pálffy, who, at the turn of the 20th century, tried to reconstruct it. Hindered by financial restrictions, his efforts only went as far as the middle castle. However more reconstruction work was done between 1953-1968, when new exhibitions were made available for the public to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the museum. The castle contains also the Museum of Ethnography and the Museum of Nature.
Population: 1,325; Driving from Dolný Kubín: 9 km / 6 mins; Public transport from Dolný Kubín (www.cp.sk) Bus: 15 mins
Oravský hrad (Orava Castle)
Tel: +421 (0)43 581-6111
Open: May-Oct: daily
8:30-17:00, Nov-Mar: daily
10:00-15:00, Apr: closed; Ticket price: € 6
Splav rieky Oravy na pltiach (Orava River, sailing wooden rafts); www.plte-orava.sk
Mob: +421 (0)911 358-182
Open: Jul-Aug daily: 9:00-17:00, May, June, Sept, Oct: booking neccessery; Tickets: € 12; From Horná Lehota to Oravský Podzámok, 1 hours’ sail; Rafting was originally used to take the logged wood, pottery, food, espeically salt from Poland, and other items. Currently the trip offers beautiful sights of Orava Castle.