Between the 16th and mid-20th centuries, the renowned Pálffy family were fortunate enough to call the castle at Červený Kameň (Red Rock) home. But to anyone born outside an order of Hungarian noblemen, their humble abode will be seen as nothing short of a monumental palace, now one of the most imposing and best preserved castles in Slovakia.
Originally constructed in the 13th century in the foothills of the Small Carpathians, Červený Kameň was later owned by the prosperous mining magnate Anton Fugger, who began its transformation into both an “ultimate fortress” and a luxurious Renaissance residence. Fugger's rebuilding took place under the influence of Albrecht Dürer, arguably the most talented German painter of all time, and also a pioneer of design. Dürer’s finesse, coupled with Fugger’s wealth, produced a quite wonderful structure of style and stolidity, the perfect foundations for further renovations under the Pálffys, who were also hardly timid in their approach to decoration.
The last Pálffy departed the castle in 1945, and its late 20th century refurbishment as a tourist attraction was probably easier than most similar projects. It is now chock-a-block with exceptional, sometimes eccentric, furnishings and art, and is large and grand enough to host conferences and exhibitions, including a meeting of European leaders in the early 21st century.
Among countless notable sights is the “salla terenna”, or concert hall, on the ground floor, which resembles a mystical cave grotto with an underground lake and dripping walls providing a permanent accompaniment to occasional recitals held on the premises. The Pálffy family stage-coach is now on display in the entrance hall, and there is also an on-site apothecary, inlaid with turtleshell, built during the plague epidemic. Parked in a first floor gallery is a fur-lined sledge, covered in solid gold, the kind last seen hauling the White Witch through Narnia. Huge tapestries that line the walls were not only pleasing to the eye, but were also used to keep the warmth in the vast chambers. The inventory of impossible extravagance is endless.
Lest we get carried away in the opulence, however, there is also an exhibition in the castle of savage weaponry, including one especially brutal teardrop-shaped sword favoured by the Ottoman invaders, complete with a nifty device for cutting off the ears of the slain in order to earn a bloody bonus for the slayer. It’s also impressive to see some primitive and recyclable hand grenades, essentially a metal handle attached to a rock.
The knight’s banquet hall, decorative baroque chapel, well-stocked library and a dining hall replete with crystal chandeliers are probably only to be expected. But the enormous cellars are likely to surprise even the most seasoned castle-goer. The largest measures 90 metres in length and is something like a stone aircraft hangar. The lighting is unique: despite being buried in rock, natural light is channeled through vertical vents and the cellars are far from the cramped, dingy places you might expect.
This article was published in the latest edition of Bratislava City Guide , which can be obtained from our online shop.For those who would like to see it online first, you can read it for free here.
14. Mar 2014 at 0:00 | Howard Swains