As a fort at the top of the hill, this largest medieval castle in Slovenia controls all traffic routes to the center of Celje from afar.
The first foundations of the Old Castle of Celje date from the second half of the 12th century. Since then, the castle building has witnessed many turning points in history. The Old Castle of Celje is best known as the home of the Counts of Celje, the country’s most influential dynasty. Memories of the past have been retained through exciting legends, exhibitions and interactive experiences. In the warmer part of the year, “Living History” programmes with cultural and historical associations from all over Slovenia take place every weekend. The castle courtyard is full of life when during the summer Medieval weekend and the Celje Castle Festival, when the stage lights up with guest stars’ performances or the Veronica of Desenice musical.
Located at the confluence of three rivers on the Amber Road between the Baltic and the Mediterranean, Celje blossomed and was a meeting point of ancient Europe’s traders even long before it was marked by the three stars. Once they succeeded the Illyrians, the feisty Celts built an urban settlement called Keleia which became rich through the iron trade. Later, the ancient Romans contributed to the flourishing of ancient Celeia, one of the most important cities in the Province of Noricum. The medieval traders’ settlement developed further. On the cliff above the Savinja River, over the centuries, the Old Castle of Celje grew, spreading over the hill and began to inspire awe from near and far. Along with the castle, myths and legends spread as well. Rumour has it that one of the underground tunnels connecting the castle to lower Celje was large enough for a rider on a horse.
The original owners of the Old Castle of Celje were the Counts of Heunburg from Carinthia. In 1333, after prolonged succession struggles, the castle building was inherited by the Lords of Sanneck, who named themselves “of Celje” after the castle and wrote the first chapter of the history of the most influential dynasty in Slovenia. The Counts of Celje began to turn the cold, strategic fortress into a more comfortable residential building. They erected a new residential building that offered more comfort. The upper two floors were even heated! The original architecture was no longer sufficient to defend the entire castle. Therefore, an inside four-storey defence tower (Frederick’s Tower) was added and the enlarged castle walls were complemented with two turrets, battlements and a wooden defence rampart, which even today can be visited. In the 2nd half of the 15th century, when the stars of Celje were shining at their brightest, a mighty pentagonal tower was erected in addition. The trench was deepened, and with a drawbridge the castle bailey gained a new access.
The Counts of Celje are a story of a rapid rise. At their peak of power, they owned more than 120 castles and estates. They became one of the most influential dynasties of medieval Europe. This brought not only more allies but also rivals. The Habsburgs were among the main ones. Cavalries of knights and soldiers were trained by the Counts, while the defence functions of the castle had to run flawlessly as a well-oiled machine. In the event of an ambush, there was a secret passageway connected to the granary so that the castle could not be starved by the opponent. Today’s guides are happy to tell you about what happened when the bridge was raised and the Counts’ archers stood above. It meant nothing good for the visitors at that time – however those times are long gone for today’s visitors.
After the death of Ulrich II, the last Count of Celje, severe inheritance struggles erupted. The walls were furnished with firing apertures and thorax shields through which the gunners, while being protected, could target the attackers. The walls were serrated and featured firing niches for heavy firearms near the ground. Following the pre-signed hereditary contract once the famed Celje dynasty was extinct, everything belonged to the Habsburgs. The Old Castle of Celje began feeling the ravages of time. Today the castle building is a testament to the old glory and remains a symbol of the most powerful aristocratic family that ever lived in Slovenia.
Although no longer echoing around the castle, the steps and spurs of the great Counts have been awakened by their admirers and re-enactors coming from cultural and historical societies, who proudly welcome visitors to the castle as knights and court ladies. Attracting all those wishing to immerse themselves in the history of the Middle Ages, living history, virtual reality, concerts and weddings making you feel like a real Count or Countess for a moment.