These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.


Romantic castle

 photo: Chris Togneri

Designated after romantic French chateaux, Bojnice zámok is the prettiest castle in Slovakia.

The grand fortress’s baby-blue spires and beautiful castle grounds attract nearly half a million visitors from around the world each year. Many come for its various festivals, including the annual Ghosts and Spirits Festival held each May. In the summer months, a series of classical music concerts are held in Hunadyho Hall. Christmas at the Castle is a month-long celebration with re-enactments of the birth of Jesus and live musical performances.

But Bojnice needs no festivals to make it worth a visit. Simply walking around the castle grounds, tossing bread crumbs to the swans in the moat, touring the vast and intricate interior, or visiting the nearby zoo makes for a wonderful trip. In short, Bojnice is breath-taking.

The romantic castle was originally a wooden structure with a moat that was recast into a stone fortification in the 13th century. At the beginning of the 16th century, the castle was expanded when it became the renaissance seat of local nobility, and in 1644 it was given a baroque make-over by the Pálffy family, one of the richest and most influential Hungarian noble families in the Hungarian Kingdom from the 17th to 19th century. Pavol Pálffy bought the castle in 1637 from Emperor Ferdinand III for 200,000 gold pieces.

The Pálffys enjoyed almost uninterrupted ownership until the 20th century. They lost the castle once, in 1703, when Turkish troops attacked. The battle lasted eight months before the Pálffys surrendered. Four years later, however, they returned and reclaimed Bojnice.

In 1852, Count Ján Pálffy (1829 -1909), the last noble owner of the castle and the man most responsible for its current beauty, inherited the castle. He took over Bojnice from his father, František, who had left the estate deeply in debt. Ján immediately installed a rigid, well-organised financial administration and eventually paid off the debts. Once financially secure (he also owned palaces in Vienna and Budapest and several estates throughout Slovakia, including Smolenice Castle), Pálffy dedicated himself to his ultimate passion: collecting antiques.

“The motive and aim of my journeys were not just so I could satisfy my own artistic appetite,” Pálffy once said, explaining the infatuation that led him to exotic destinations around the world. “They were so I could acquire from foreign treasures as much as possible under the circumstances and according to my financial means. So that I could bring back works of art to my country and thereby contribute to enriching artistic taste at home, while also arousing greater interest in art.”

By the time Pálffy died in 1909, his enormous collection was valued at 90 million Slovak crowns. From his deathbed in Vienna, he ordered in his will that the castle be opened to the public, so he could share his accumulated treasures with other art enthusiasts.

However, because he had no direct heirs, several relatives laid claim to the treasures. The heirs, who wanted to sell off the property, ignored much of Pálffy’s will. After a bitter legal battle, the relatives and the state finally reached an agreement in 1923. It was decided that much of the collection could be auctioned off, which it was from 1924 to 1926, while the state retained possession of the remaining antiques.

Then in 1938, the heirs sold the castle to Ján Baťa. But he was stripped of the ownership after World War II by the Communist regime - the state has since owned the castle and estate, with the interior now a part of the Slovak National Museum.

The celebrated exterior is also largely Pálffy-influenced. Although he hired a team of Austrian architects for an extensive renovation in 1888, Pálffy himself designed, drew and revised most of the final plans, inspired by French gothic castles in the Loire Valley. Sadly, Pálffy died before the castle reconstruction was finished in 1910. His remains lie inside the castle in a red marble sarcophagus (one of the last stops on a museum tour).

Credit for the enduring beauty of the castle must also be given to the Communists. According to Bojnice festival organiser, Jozef Mikuláš Pálffy, while the regime neglected many Slovak monuments and historical sites as a matter of doctrine, Bojnice was actually used by top leaders as a weekend getaway and private conference centre. So when a fire destroyed the castle towers in 1950, finances for its reconstruction were immediately granted. “As a result,” he said, “Bojnice glittered while other castles crumbled.”

- Chris Togneri

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2002.

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