Over the course of my life, I have been to Slovakia dozens of times, recently as many as 2-3 times a year to visit family which includes among all my cousins, aunts and uncles, my 99 year-old Grandmother. For the majority of my trips I arrive and shift into ‘local’ mode. I tuck the English language into my carry on and proceed to blend in among the locals. I do this so well, that one shopkeeper who was helping my wife and I purchase something during one of our visits took me aside and congratulated me for marrying an American girl, saying how hard it is for a Slovak to find a good American woman.
Because of my desire to not be a tourist or even show signs of being a foreigner, I tend to never ever do ‘touristy’ things in Slovakia. I normally spend time with my cousins and their families or grab a rifle and go for long hikes in the woods behind my Grandmother’s farm hoping to run into a Wild Boar or better yet a Bear or Wolf. However one time, just one time, with my wife on one of these trips she convinced me to leave the village enclave and go see something that tourists go see.
My wife is a fan of paranormal history and ‘strange stuff’ like True Blood, The Walking Dead etc. so it should not have come as a surprise that she wanted to visit the ruins of Čachticky Hrad, the home of perhaps the world’s most ‘successful’ female serial murderer whose legend states that she would abduct young girls from surrounding villages and bathe in their blood in hopes of eternal beauty. In some circles, due to her links to Transylvania, she was referred to as a Vampire.
This is the legend that surrounds Elizabeth Bathory. Born in 1560 and passing away in 1614, she was accused of abducting and murdering 100’s of young girls in her quest for beauty. Witnesses corroborated these claims of torture, sadism and murder but thanks to wealth and an influential family, she was never held accountable for her alleged actions. Being from the same noble family who ruled Transylvania allowed her to avoid prosecution and execution.
However, her family did place her under house, or in this case ‘Castle Arrest’ in 1611 and forbade her to ever leave the compound. She was actually sealed by bricks into a series of rooms inside part of the castle thus making it a prison. The only access to her was were small openings to allow ventilation and to pass her food.
This castle, Čachticky Hrad (Hrad meaning Castle) was actually a gift to her from her Husband, Ferenc Nadasdy whom she married in 1575 when she was 14 years old. Ferenc succumbed to wounds suffered in war and died in 1604. The irony in all of this is that her husband had asked Gyrogy Thurzo to look after his wife and children after his death. Thurzo would wind up being asked by King Matthias II to investigate the crimes against her, which eventually led to the indictments against her. It’s quite a fascinating story and has become a popular fairy-tale throughout Eastern Europe.
History lesson not withstanding, when my wife learned that we would be near Čachticky Hrad while in Slovakia, she made it a high priority for us to visit. I stubbornly agreed but ultimately I was glad that she pulled me out of ‘local Slovak guy’ mode. This meant I had to put down my 16%/alcohol beer and smoked bacon/horseradish sandwich and be a tourist for an afternoon.
When we arrived at Čachticky , an angry mule would not have been able to kick the smile off of my wife’s face. She lit up like a little kid and raced down the path through the forest that would lead us to the castle. I was just hoping that a boar would not come out and spoil her fun…..
Once at the Castle grounds even this wannabe ‘local’ was impressed with what we saw. The castle is in deep ruin yet there is a certain beauty and sadness to her. What was once a prominent and imposing structure had been reduced to a few walls and remnants of ancient towers that allowed castle inhabitants to survey lands for miles and miles around. Sad really.
In the following photos, I hope that I captured this beauty and sadness. Since Slovakia is peppered with Castles, thanks to countless rulers over the centuries, there are many of them that are in fantastic shape and could even be lived in today. It is these Castles that most guide books and locals would suggest you go visit and tell you to avoid ruins like Čachticky because there is nothing there to see. I love this kind of advice because when we arrived to Čachticky it virtually empty and we basically had the place to ourselves which made it that much more memorable for us.
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