The castle Burg Hochosterwitz is considered the nicest castle in all of Austria, possible all of Europe for its uniqueness. As you can see from the pictures it is perched on top of a tall, skinny mountain over looking miles of valley and rolling hills.
We decided to spend a day wandering around the castle. The castle is unique for several reasons. It was originally built in the 800s, with just the main castle at the very top of the mountain. Centuries later in the 1500s 14 different gates were added so the invading Turks would have to fight through as they wound their way up the mountain.
Another unique thing about the castle is it is still owned by the original family from the 1500s! The castle governor's will from 500 years ago stated the castle must remain within the family and it can not be sold by subsequent generations. This picture shows the family tree of the castle owners. We don't know if it is current as the artwork is pretty old. Wouldn't it be nice if your ancestors were so forward thinking as to leave you a castle? (hint hint - parents!)
We decided to spend some time driving around the valley to see the castle from different angles. We took a ton of pictures, but here are just a few.
Karen, the lioness, quickly crept through the tall grass, risking snakes, ticks, chiggers, thorns, and rabid gophers to capture an amazing photo.
We listened closely but didn't hear these hills singing, maybe it's just the hills around Salzburg that have the sound of music in them.
The walk up the castle wasn't as difficult as it seemed it would be. Maybe that's because we stopped often to take pictures though. Here is one of the 14 gate towers you have to pass through on the way up.
Family photo time! Courtesy a nearby rock we used to prop up the camera.
The towers were all arranged in different locations on the mountain and each covered various sections of the valley. It would have been extremely difficult for an invading army to conquer the castle, and in fact this castle was never taken over, even though the Turks made it all the way to Vienna. At one point the castle was almost taken over in the 1300s, but the army inside the castle slaughtered their last cow, filled it with corn and catapulted it over the walls. The attacking army mistook this sign to mean the people in the castle had so much food that they could use it as projectiles, and outlast the seige and they gave up their assault. Good bluff!
At the top of the castle there is a lovely flower garden. Ollie has taken notice of Elora's fondness for flowers and now he loves them too. Elora walked in the garden and was very excited. She said, "ooooh it's a fancy garden!"
Another view from the top.
The kids sure do love them some artillery.
There is a little chapel at the top next to the garden. It's interesting the only things the people could count on to save them in an invasion was God and their fortifications. So it's fitting there is always a chapel inside the castle walls.
This suit of armor was made for the gatekeeper. He was about 7.4 feet tall! His sword was taller than Karen. We wondered if his name was Fezzik, as Morgenstern's book says the city of Florin isn't very far from Hochosterwitz. Maybe we'll visit the cliffs of insanity later this week, but we hear it's crawling with tourists!
Usually we come across squirrels in areas like this, so it was exciting to find (and catch!) some lizards. It took a few tries as the old lizard catching skills were a bit rusty. Elora was very excited to hold, pet, and kiss the lizard.
Look how pleased she is to have this scaley little reptile crawling on her head. What a great girl.
Ollie on the other hand was not raised catching lizards in the canyons of southern Utah. He was a little bit more concerned and disgusted -- city boy! He took one look at the lizard and went back to his dandelions. We'll have to work on that...
Another gate! Some gates were narrow, others were on cliff faces, one had a wooden bridge in between two towers that could be knocked out to prevent invaders from making it further up the mountain. They really didn't want this castle to be taken over!
If you look closely you can see Ollie is tearing apart a dandelion. At least that's a bit more manly. Rarrr, rip crush, destroy! You can also see the camera in Karen's sunglasses.
The kids enjoyed playing around at the top of the castle and peering out the windows of the various towers.
Ollie found a nice rock that he was excited to share with Elora. It was possible to take a funicular train up to the top, but we decided to walk both ways. By the time we got back down, both the kids were pretty exhausted and were fighting over who got to sit in the stroller (we couldn't fit the double seater in our tiny Euro-car rental!)