Kreuzenstein Castle

To the northeast of Vienna, between the cities of Korneuburg and Stockerau, the Kreuzenstein Castle is situated. From both of these sities you take the road to Leobendorf and directly pass the castle a little later. The large conception of the parking place lets you guess that there could be many visitors. The last part of the way, up to the top of the hill one has to walk though.

The castle thrones defiantly on the hill, its thick walls facing bravely any attacker, its towers watching far into the countryside. Of course, today there is almost no defence against modern weapons and attacks from the air - which not at least was shown during the two World Wars. But in its own time, as the defenders still fought against enemies, who at the most sat on horses, only the moat was quite some obstacle. Above the closed drawbridge you can still see the jutty over the archway, from where they poured pitch and hot oil onto the enemies, in the hope to make them abstain from their goal.
If the attackers succeeded, in spite of this, to force the huge, iron-studded port of the entrance, they saw themselves facing the next obstacle: a long, but narrow passage between the outer and inner wall, which could be covered with weapons from the battlement above on either side. In times of peace this was used as stopover for foreigners and help-seeking.
The most frequent theory is that the name of the castle derives from "Grizanstein" - Dietrich von Grizanstaine is mentioned in a document of the year 1115, which probably coincides with the foundation of the castle. In the centuries to come, there were many different owners of the castle, as Rudolf I. von Habsburg (1278) or Niklas Graf von Salm (1525), who played a large part in the defence of Vienna at the first siege through the Turks. Twice the castle was owned by Bohemians and in April 1645, in the Thirty Years' War, it was abandonded to the Swedes under the lead of field marshal Lennart Torstensson. But in October the same year the Swedes were beaten and blew up the castle on their retreat.
At the end of the 17th century the ruin of Kreuzenstein was inherited by the Wilczek family. The new owners had the castle rebuilt and keep the maintainance until today.
Especially mentionable is here Count Johann Nepomuk Wilczek, born in 1837 in Vienna, after the migration of his family from Silesia to the south. Through his own notes we know, that his main intentions was to build a burial place for his family. He started by letting rebuild the crypt and the chapel in 1874, which later was to be followed by the restauration of the rest of the castle. This was necessary in order to prepare space for the count's many treasures.
In doing this he was very keen om keeping the original character of the castle, even if he tried to merge to styles of different eras, as is was common at the end of the 19th century. It is understandable that he thereby was forced to make deductions concerning the castle's defence abilities, like when he added the souther loggia.

Thanks to the collections of the count the visitors of Kreuzenstein today can be led back into the Middle Ages and with help of authentic artefacts can understand what the world was like for the inhabitants of those times. No matter if this are the many suits of armour for the knights or the collection of weapons in the armoury or maybe the 7.5 meter long kitchentable with an oak board, made of one single piece. But also the noodlepress (in the foreground of the picture), a "spaghetti machine" from the 16th century, is worth having a look at.

Through the outer yard you can come into the inner one, the yards are connected through a pointed arch, on top of which there is the so called "aisle of Kaschau". It has got its name from the cathedral in Kaschau. The gothic ambulatories once were part of that church. The inner yard is without any doubt the center of the castle, not only referring to where it is situated, but also from an architectural view.
The cover of the draw well, which has a depth of 60 m, and parts of the lifting wheel are from Venice. The linden tree at the well was planted by Count Johann Nepomuk himself. The count was not only interested in history and art, but he was also a sponsor of science. In 1872 he supported an expedition to the north pole, on which he himself took part until Svalbard. This expedition was to discover the Wilczek Islands and the Francis Joseph Land among other things...
From this journey originates the tooth of the narwhale, which was put into the hunting chamber and claimed as a horn from the fabulous unicorn. The inner parts of the castle are crammed with rarities, which the count had collected during his lifespan of 85 years - he died in 1922. Those are partly components of the architecture, like the capital of the middle column in the western loggia, which is from a cathedral in Padua, or the stone relief behind the baptismal font in the chapel, which propably originates from the 8th century! But even the statue of St. Roland from the 11th century, is already 1000 years old! The middle column in the southern loggia is from Murano and dates back into the 14th century.
Of course the many glasspaintings in the windows, which are to be found everywhere in the castle, must be mentioned, as well as the copies of medieval artefacts, like the organ from the 15th century.
Apart from a fire in 1915, which consumed a quarter of the building and about 5000 etchings, handwritings and musical instruments, it were mainly the two World Wars, which battered Keuzenstein the most. Historical documents from the time of Emperor Friedrich III and Maximilian I were lost in the war. And the organ was badly damaged. At the end of World War II, the castle was in the shooting line of adversary troops. More than 250 pieces of artillery hit the roofs and walls of the castle, many precious pieces were stolen... In cases like this I can't resist to underline that war not only costs the lives of men, but also steals a part of history for all mankind, and thus for all coming generations!

But let us go back to humanism and the collected pieces of furniture. There are so many, that it is absolutely impossible to mention even a fraction of them. I give you just some examples, of what will be awaiting you, should you come to visit the place: the archive holds among other documents the decisions of the Court at Leobendorf. You can study a certificate of debt from 1281, a donation for a requiem from the year 1384 and a letter of fiefdom from 1579, which is shown behind glass. The library is as well a treasure trove for people with interest.
One looks at all those old cultural messengers from the past almost with reverence, but don't forget to take a look at the reading pulpet. Because books were such valuable treasures in the Middle Ages, they were fastened to chains, so that they would not be stolen. These chains were then fastened onto the iron bar on top of the pulpet. But you should even notice the carvings of the pultpet as well as the background.
In the Room of the Ruler, the bedroom, you can study the wide, but very short bed, in which people slept almost sitting, as well as the large tapestry from Burgundy from the 15th century. The tiled stoves should be worth a second look, like the one in the saloon, which is painted with histories from the Bible. In the antechamber you can find the jutty of Wilhelm - as a recollection of the fact that the German Emperor Wilhelm also has been a guest here. His coat of arms is to be seen in the window. The saloon was the central room for social life during the Middle Ages. A credenza and the curule chairs from the era of the renaissance bear witness that meals also were served here.
But the main attraction in the saloon is the "Brixner Schrank", which was built about 1500 and which today is one of the most valuables in the country. There is only one known workshop, near Tamsweg in Salzburg, that at that time knew the technique of incrustation. Decoration of tendrils border the body of the cabinet, in the door panels there are graven pictures of Saints. All over the house there are impressive details like decorations on ceilings, statues, ceramics and thousands of other "trifles", which contribute to the total impression.
Regrettably the time for a guiding tour - about one hour - is much to short, to give you the chance to have a closer look to any of the collections. In spite of that Kreuzenstein Castle is a real treasure vault and gives a marvellous insight into the life of passed centuries, so that every visitor will be satisfied.

Bernhard Kauntz, Västerås 2008

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8.3.2008 by