Date updated: 03/06/2023
Nitra Castle (Nitriansky hrad) is a cultural national treasure in Slovakia. Situated in the Old (Upper) Town of Nitra on a massif of mountains 220 metres high. Currently, it is the seat of Nitra Diocese. The castle is an entire architectural complex. The most important structure is the Basilica of St. Emmeram (Bazilika svätého Emeráma) and the Bishop's Palace.
The Nitra castle is a mighty defensive structure. Its layout is in the shape of an irregular rectangle. There's a lovely English-style park with very rare exotic trees and equally interesting structures. This castle was a favourite residence of the Habsburg dynasty and later presidents. In the southern part of the complex is the Bazilika svätého Emeráma (St. Emmeram's Room), an exhibition of furniture and porcelain. There is a huge library with 14,000 books.
The rest of the chateau is used as a hotel. The chateau church is formed by interconnected sacral buildings. Its patrons are St. Benedikt and Svorad. Their ashes are in the Romanesque part of the structure. There are massive enclosure walls around the complex.
On the way to the castle the Pribin Square is a must. There is a symbol of the town - the statue of Atlanta supporting the Kluch Palace that is dedicated to the mythical local athlete Korgon, a blacksmith who is said to have such power that the whole of Nitra would shake when he hit the anvil with his hammer. His image is now often used in advertisements and even for drink labels. There are legends associated with this type of sculpture. For instance, it is believed that touching his toe is sure to bring good luck in any sphere.
Another attraction of the castle complex is the Plague Column (Morový stĺp). It looks more like a group of sculptures. Bishop Esterházy took the initiative to build this column. It is a sophisticated work of art, amazingly beautiful, intricate reliefs, patterns and other sculptures, some of which are covered with gold. The column is the rarest in Slovakia. The column is situated at the very entrance to the chateau. It commemorates the sad events of 1710 and 1739, when a plague outbreak took many lives. At the very top is the Virgin Mary, and below her are scenes from her life, sculptures of local saints and angels. In their hands are models of the projects of the city's buildings. A little further away, by the wall, is a monument in honor of Methodius and Cyril, who visited Nitra in the middle of the 9th century. One of the men is holding a Gospel book with an unusual avant-garde image of Christ.
History of Nitra Castle
Nitra, József Farkas, Josef Wiesner, 1835
The history of the development of the Principality of Nitra dates back to the beginning of the 8th century. It is perfectly situated on the Tribeca hill, which is protected on three sides. Such protection was the reason for the construction of the fortification.
The town became an administrative centre after Nitra was incorporated into Great Moravia, which had a positive impact on the castle itself. It was enlarged and several improvements were made. The earliest written records can be found in the 9th century. They describe the Basilica of Emmeram (Bazilika svätého Emeráma).
In 1241 and 1242 the Nitra castle withstood Tatar invasion, but in 1273 the castle together with the town was burnt down. Many valuables, parchment documents and codices perished in the cathedral. At the beginning of the 14th century the castle was burnt and destroyed by the troops of Matúš Čák, who ordered all the remnants of buildings and fortifications to be pulled down. The site was gradually rebuilt and the original 12th century fortifications were expanded with new masonry, which has been visibly preserved to this day.
Three centuries later, when the Turks invaded, the building was further strengthened in terms of protection. The complex was completed with a Renaissance-style palace and a gate inside the building. The defence system was of a high standard. Despite such thorough preparations, the Turkish troops still captured the castle for a short period of time.
Pohľad na Nitru, Julius Umbach, Ludwig Rohbock, 1860–1870
Later, in the first half of the 18th century, an upper church and a bishop's palace were built. The castle was gradually completed and improved. These changes and reconstructions changed both the appearance of the castle complex and the appearance of the place where it is situated to this day.
At the end of World War II, the Nitra castle was bombed on March 26, 1945. The cathedral tower was destroyed and a fire broke out in the castle grounds.
Structure of the castle
There are several of the most important structures in the overall castle complex:
- The Cathedral;
- The Bishops' palace (a classic variant of a Baroque monument);
- The tower (remains from the Middle Ages fortifications).
Access to the tower is forbidden. However, it is possible to see and document the beautiful panorama of the city from the walls. In addition to the tower, you can see fragments of the walls, parts of the fortification walls and the gate. The last one is particularly striking. The gate is four centuries old. It's the oldest gate in all of Europe, and it serves its intended purpose. However, over 400 years they have become very worn out.
When climbing up to the castle, you should pay special attention to the bridge - the transition to the legendary gate. It is decorated with astonishingly fine sculptural work. At the furthest end of the castle is the Bishops' Garden. It looks like a small patch entirely covered in flowers and trees. The view from here is also wonderful. In the summertime there is a café for visitors.
St Emmeram's Cathedral
The famous cathedral is complex in its structure and reflects all the events that took place in Nitra during the Middle Ages. The first church, a rotunda, was built in the 11th century. It is distinguished by its rounded walls. And if you approach the construction from the East, you can see it.
The main part of the building was added between 1333 and 1355 and is called the Upper Church. It is one of the highest parts of the castle. It is clearly visible when looking at the complex from a distance. But from a short distance it is not visible at all. It is obscured by the Lower Church's tower and the early Baroque building.
The exterior of the cathedral is imposing and massive. The inside, on the other hand, is not as grotesque. The Baroque interior nicely balances the room inside, making it more modest. The fresco of the Virgin Mary depicting her Assumption and Coronation is worth mentioning. The fresco is located behind the altar.
A visit to the tower of the cathedral will be interesting. It was inaugurated in 2015 and holds many secrets. Be sure to visit the library and the observation deck, from which you can also admire the beautiful scenery.
Bishops' Palace (Diocesan Museum)
The Diocesan Museum of the Bishopric of Nitra is located in the middle of the courtyard of the Nitra Castle. It is the first diocesan museum in Slovakia. On July 5, 2007 on Cyril and Methodius Day, after a difficult preparatory period, the first part of it was opened - a long-term exhibition of literary monuments closely related to the birth of Christianity on the territory of the country, called When Scripture Speaks. In 2008, the museum was expanded into two parts. The second part of the exhibition is called Treasures of the Cathedral - St. Emmeram's Basilica. It mainly contains items from the cathedral's liturgical tools, ancient chalices and monstrance.
The archaeological exhibition is housed in the castle wall, a corridor and room that originally guarded the entrance gate and bridge. At the exhibition you can see remnants of prehistoric and early medieval life, and parts of Renaissance and Baroque fortifications.
Originally it was an important strategic point of the castle. Over the years, however, the moat has become an impenetrable thicket overgrown with trees. In 2011, the moat was rebuilt and transformed into an open-air amphitheatre. During the summer months the castle hosts cultural events, film screenings, concerts and exhibitions.
Nitra castle attracts a huge number of visitors. That is why everything is made for the convenience of the place. Immediately after entering the castle grounds, visitors are greeted by panels with all the necessary information about the history of the castle complex and its individual parts. There is a ticket office and a shop after the entrance, where you can buy souvenirs as a memento of your visit.
A tour of the old castle will be an unforgettable experience. You might want to come back again.