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Burgen und Schlösser#

Castles and Palaces: Early forms of fortifications built on Austrian territory date back to the Neolithic Period (fortification of Schanzboden near Falkenstein, Lower Austria, 4500 B.C.). The fortified sites of the Celts were known as "oppida", or hill forts (Leopoldsberg near Vienna; Braunsberg near Hainburg). The Slavs erected their fortifications in Carinthia (Karnburg), Styria (Graz) and in the northern part of Lower Austria (Thunau near Gars). Many castles were erected under the Carolingians (Ennsburg castle). Frequently, "motte-and-bailey" castles were built on artificially piled-up hills next to larger complexes. In the Babenberg period (from 976), settlements usually developed around fortified castles. One example is the reconstructed Kirchenberg (mound) of Wieselburg (Lower Austria) dating from the 10th century. Over the years, castles became the natural centres of marches (Hengistburg castle in Styria). In the 11th century, large and small castles were built on high ground, their names mostly ending on -burg, -stein, -berg, -fels or -egg. The ideal 11th -century castle would include a tower-like ´fortified residence´ and a chapel, both surrounded by an outer wall. Castles of this type are Schallaburg, Raabs and Gars. With the rise of feudalism from the 12th century onwards, castles served as the residence of the lord of the manor, whose responsibility it was to administer the lands around the castle and to provide protection for his tenants. Accordingly, castles were the central point of local administration and the economic base of the lord of the territory (feoffee). This system was maintained up to 1848. Usually located in borderland areas, medieval castles were enlarged and refined according to status and position of the lord of the manor. Villages in borderland areas were defended by walled or moated citadels. In order to control mountain passes and prevent attackers from invading a valley, castles were often built in such places. In the 11th century mighty fortresses were also built by the prince-archbishops of Salzburg (Hohensalzburg, Hohenwerfen, Friesach, Leibnitz). In low-lying areas, castles were either built on precipitous hills or surrounded by a ditch and wall (Orth, Ebenfurth, Pottendorf). These moated castles later on mostly consisted of three or four wings, an outer wall and corner towers.

Medieval castles basically served as strongholds for the king or lord of the territory; sometimes they were integrated into fortified towns (Vienna, Wiener Neustadt). Frequently erected along the Styrian and Lower Austrian borders, castles of this type held out stoutly against attacks and are among the best preserved castles in Europe. From the 13th century onwards, citadels usually stood at one corner of a fortified town.

Fresco painting in castle chapels became popular in the Romanesque period (Ottenstein am Kamp, Petersberg in Friesach).

In fact, most castles were built in the 13th century when feudalism and the ministeriales (administrative household officers) emerged. From that time onwards, a single large tower, the keep, or donjon, constituted the focal point of the castle and at the same time was a means to demonstrate power. In fact, medieval princes demonstrated their power through their castles. They tried to get control of as many castles as possible, which they then had administered by a burgrave; castles that defended themselves effectively, however, were destroyed and reduced to ruins. In the Gothic period, more comfortable housing was sought and castles were enlarged and refined for representative purposes (Friedrichstor in Linz); at the same time advance fortifications, wards and bastions provided for better defences.

From 1500 onwards the former military strongholds were gradually converted into a residence of princes or noble families, which resulted in the decline of castles that had become obsolete. The advent of firearms, too, required a change in military architecture (siege of Kufstein, 1503). A free space around the castle, for example, provided for better defence. Furthermore, additional buildings were needed for economic reasons. Frequently, Italian architects were called in to refine medieval castles and provide them with representative gates, arcaded courtyards, improved heating facilities, libraries, festival and banquet halls. This is how the medieval castle became a palace. Italian influence was evident up to the late Baroque period. Between 1500 and 1620 palaces were built in the Renaissance style; between 1620 and 1680 early Baroque design prevailed; features of late Baroque predominated between 1680 and 1740. The main purpose, however, was to construct more comfortable and refined complexes and at the same time provide improved defensive structures; this goal was achieved through additional buildings (Hochosterwitz, Riegersburg, Herberstein). In fact, most castles were adapted to the new requirements during the 16th and 17th centuries and some of them were completely remodelled (Schallaburg Castle and Rosenburg Castle). For example, a 6-storey residential tower was added to Clam Castle in 1636; in Weitra, the castle was demolished and a rectangular building with an arcaded courtyard was erected in 1590.

By that time tournaments had become an integral part of life in medieval castles; often the places where these tournaments were held also served as a glacis, a gradually sloping terrace which added to the strength of the counterscarp and absorbed many of the projectiles fired from artillery pieces of limited range and elevation. In the course of the 16th century, castles increasingly served as a siege-proof haven for the local population against invaders, especially in those areas threatened by the Osmans.

In the Baroque period the castle finally became a palace. Mostly unfortified, the new palaces were sumptuously laid out with parks and gardens attached to them; however, they often merely served as summer residences, like Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna, Eggenberg Palace in Graz, Mirabell Palace in Salzburg, the Hofburg Palace in Innsbruck, Laxenburg Palace, Schlosshof Palace and Belvedere Palace in Vienna. The Austrian court nobility had their town houses frequently converted into mansions at this time. Additional buildings such as the dairy-farm gained in importance. Structures not suitable for residence were mostly abandoned and finally fell into disrepair; sometimes more comfortable buildings were erected right next to them. The introduction of the building tax at the close of the 18th century, however, led to a general decline of castles, many of which were reduced to ruins. Some of them served as barracks in the 19th century.

The age of Biedermeier saw the development of historicist castles (Franzensburg, Grafenegg); quite often they were built in the English Tudor style (Kreuzenstein Palace is a typical example). Hunting lodges built by upper-class citizens such as factory owners and owners of mines predominated in rural areas.

By the second half of the 19th century castles and palaces had largely lost their economic value; and especially in the 20th century some of them were expropriated and finally passed into public ownership. A large number of castles and palaces were demolished after the end of World War II during the period of Austria´s occupation.

Since 1950 many castles and palaces have been revitalized, often with the help of public financing; at present they usually house museums (Salzburg, Innsbruck, Linz, Graz-Eggenberg, Schallaburg), serve as seats of government (Graz and Vienna), as town halls (Salzburg), or cultural centres (Eisenstadt), etc.

Scientific study of castles originated in the 19th century (A. Piper, Oesterr. Burgen-Kunde, 8 vols., 1902-10) and was continued in the period between World War I and World War II (R. Baravalle and W. Knapp, Steir. Burgen, 3 vols., 1936-1941; G. Binder, Burgen und Schloesser in Niederoesterreich, 2 vols., 1925; Burgen-Archiv und Karte der Wehr- und Schlossbauten in Niederoesterreich von F. Halmer, Planaufnahmen durch A. Klaar, W. Goetting and W. Knapp); in 1950, the scientific study of castles was further stimulated by a committee set up by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Verzeichnis oesterreichischer Burgen und Schloesser 1955). Many experts have been active on a regional and local scale ever since (R. Buettner); reconstructions have been made to produce miniature models of castles (O. Chmelik, K. Schemper), and a large number of books about castles are available in Austria.


E. Berger, in: Adel im Wandel, exhibition catalogue, 1990; M. Mitterauer, Burg und Adel in den oesterreichischen Laendern, in: H. Patze, Die Burgen im deutschen Sprachraum 2, 1976; volume published by the Birken-Verlag; G. Stenzel, Oesterreichs Burgen, 1989; G. Clam-Martinic, Oesterr. Burgen-Lexikon, 1992.