An Eagle Approaches

A Castle? OK… I’ll Take Two!

I did it!  I saw my first castle.  It was wonderful – so tender and caring.  And it lasted all morning!  A first I’ll never forget!
Hohenwerfen Fortress

When we drove into Austria, the hardest part after visiting Innsbruck (read about it HERE) was choosing which castle to visit.  We had already planned on visiting Salzburg next, so I carefully chose among the four major castles near the city.  I settled on Hohenwerfen Fortress about 40 km southeast of Salzburg.  The plan was simple – leave Innsbruck early and drive straight to the castle.  We would spend an hour or so at Hohenwerfen Fortress and then head to our hotel in Salzburg.  My plan was solid – but I underestimated how much fun we’d have at the castle, and we ended up staying nearly four hours.

The original fortification was started nearly 1,000 years ago and has withstood an interesting history full of war, civil unrest, fire and constant expansion and re-construction.  The castle sits high atop a 155m rock in the town of Werfen, Austria.

The castle commands a view of the entire valley *stock photo
A watch guard’s view from one of the towers

The original fortress was commissioned in 1075 by Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg (along with it’s “sister” castle Fortress Hohensalzburg, which we saw two days later).  It was built as a stronghold during the Investiture Controversy, a beef between Kings and Popes that somehow lasted nearly 50 years.  What were they were fighting over, you ask?  The right to appoint church officials, such as Bishops and Abbots.  I didn’t understand why this was such an important issue for the monarchies, but after reading a bit on the battle – I was not surprised to learn it boiled down to one of the three major “fighting follies” (as defined by me… term is patent pending).  It always boils down to money (to include lands), ego (to include power and legacy) or a woman (self explanatory).  Back then, the title of Bishop came with a substantial amount of wealth and land.  And since a title was simply a commodity that could be appointed by a king… the monarchy could sell the title and make a tidy little profit.  So, in this case – it was about money (although, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a woman in there somewhere).

In one corner, we had King Henry IV – a German King since the age of 6.  And in the other corner, we had Pope Gregory VII (I’m pulling for him… his name makes him seem trustworthy.  And probably good looking).  The Pope essentially claimed that since the Roman church was founded by none other than God, it’s power to appoint Bishops lay solely with the Pope himself.  King Henry (now a man) disagreed and vocalized it in a public letter to the Pope, essentially starting a 50 year battle-royale, beginning in 1075.  And so the Archbishop of Salzburg (an ally of my man, Gregory) built three major castles as protection against the German king.  The ending you ask?  Well… everyone should know, you don’t mess with a Gregory!  The Papacy gained the right of appointment.

Lower courtyard *stock photo

Even though this castle had a long and bloody past, our visit was rather tranquil and quite pleasant.  At the base of the great rock (upon which the castle is perched) we had the option of riding a funicular (cable car) or walking up a path.  Since it was early in the day and the weather was perfect, we opted to walk.  Julia also enjoyed stretching her legs after being in the car for two hours.

“Look mom, I’m a hiker!”
Julia was definitely happier walking…
…and exploring!
View of the valley from the path
Entering through the gates
The castle’s main fortification walls
There was a house inside the gates that was inhabited – groundskeeper?

Admission to the castle (€11 per person) included quite a bit.  A walking tour with audio guide, an impressive falconry display of flight, an illuminating exhibition on the construction of the castle, an interactive history of weaponry and a museum on the history of falconry.  You can see why we were there for four hours!

Julia particularly enjoyed the audio guide
The falconry show was about to begin

Our timing through the castle gates was perfect.  Just minutes after we bought our tickets, the flight show commenced, featuring many different types of falcons and other birds of prey.  It was purely breathtaking.

The Falconer explains the presentation
She shows us the first Falcon
One of the falcons in flight
Naturally, the birds loved taking to the air
The Falcons got right in the crowd

My favorite part was the majestical eagle.  The falconer had some fun with the crowds.  He would prompt these great birds to fly just a few feet over our heads. It was a great way to start the castle tour.

The eagle – our favorite
He’s headed right for us

Next, we moved on to the guided castle tour, which was in German.  Fortunately, we got electronic audio guides that we used.  The tour guide herself was trilingual so she was able to field all our questions.  It took some time to navigate through the chapel, prisons, torture chambers, royal quarters, bell tower and more.

We’re about to go in!
Love the turrets
View of the monarchies chambers and courtyard
Birds in flight – another demonstration had commenced
The castle’s chapel, reconstructed in the 16th century
Bob here, simulates an archer at his post
This stone weighed 1/2 ton – no problem for me!
A device in the torture chamber
Our group crammed into the torture chamber
A scene along the tour
The loo – it opened straight down the side of the outer wall
400 year old wood floors in the bell tower
Jen and Julia climbing to the top of the bell tower
The bell would sound to wake everyone up
Julia tried to ring it

We spent some additional time walking around the various parts of the castle, including the main courtyard, and museums of weaponry and falconry.  We also grabbed a light lunch at the restaurant in the original dining hall of the castle.

Julia in the courtyard
Playing on one of the unicorns (FYI – I nailed 4/5 rings from 12′ out)
Bell tower (reconstructed in 1826 after a fire)
Julia in the dining hall before her lunch

I was more than happy that my first real castle didn’t disappoint!  Next, we headed off to Salzburg… a lot more on that wonderful trip to come!

One thought on “A Castle? OK… I’ll Take Two!”

  1. Very cool! Lot’s of castle ruins near us but nothing in tact like you saw there in Austria. To see those type of castles in France, you have to go to the Loire Valley southeast of Paris where the Kings built many magnificent castles.

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