TRAKOŠĆAN, October 7, 2020 — In the northwestern part of Hrvatsko Zagorje lies the Castle of Trakošćan. It is a significant monument of architecture with its own lake and pristine park-forest. Accordingly, the castle is popular among visitors seeking to admire the beauty of nature and human craftmanship.
Our homeland is scattered with a multitude of old castles, partly former fortifications against the Turkish attacks, partly residences of once famous Croatian lords. Alas, most of these ancient monuments have been ravaged by either time, or fiend’s cannon balls, or by neglect and poverty of Croatian gentry.… One praiseworthy exception is the fort of Trakošćan.” – D. Jambrečak (‘Vienac’ 10, 1874)
One of Croatia’s most beautiful and best-preserved castles remains in Varaždin County, at the foot of the Zagorje hills, nearby the Slovenian border. Trakošćan is a cultural legacy, a protected historical and natural monument. Furthermore, the castle, which is a representative noblemen’s residential building, stands within horticultural surroundings and overlooks its own lake, embraced by a park-forest. Its history dates back to the 13th century and is showcased in the Castle’s fabulous museum.
From Defensive Fort to Romanticist Noblemen’s Residence
Although the origin of the castle has not been verified, it is assumed that it served as a small observation fortress. In light of its favorable strategic position, the castle was part of a fortification system of the former County of Zagorje. Legends go that it was either a Roman Thracian fort or a German-built fort in the reign of Bohemian king Otokar II. Thus, for centuries it mostly had defensive purposes.
The Romanesque fortification consisted of a residential building with a small yard and a massive, high tower. Extensions and modifications followed during the centuries, as it changed masters over time. With the fabrication of firearms and the growing threat of Turkish attacks, Trakošćan went through multiple upgrades to address contemporary defense needs. In the 17th century the three-story building had a square base with a watchtower and a round Renaissance defense tower with two low bastions on the eastside. In the next century, a Chapel (of the Holly Cross) was built at the foot of the Castle, along with sheds and a stone bridge over the Bednja river.
At the turn of the 19th century Trakošćan lost its defensive role. It almost fell into ruin, after the owners abandoned and neglected it. Finally, Vice-Marshall Count Juraj VI, member of the Drašković family who ruled over the castle for the most of its existence, repaired and restored the run-down fortress. He remodeled it into a luxurious Neo Gothic castle-summer residence. Furthermore, he built a 6-meter dam and transformed the adjacent swamp into an artificial lake. The surroundings of the castle became a romantic, English park.
The Castle Museum, A Journey Through Historical Periods
The ascending path starting at the foot of Trakošćan swirls completely around the castle and leads towards its main gate. Inside, there’s a museum that keeps historical collections, placed in the preserved original ambience. After all the changes that it has endured, Trakošćan reveals characteristics from various historical styles. The features range from Gothic architecture to Renaissance and Baroque, as well as Neo-Gothic elements. The museum also consists of several original interior units displaying portraits and photography of the Drašković family, along with other treasures.
The rooms on the high ground floor include the Hunting Hall, the Foyer, the Castle Library and the Family Hall. However, the most representative room is the Chivalric Hall. It illustrates the military past of Trakošćan and the Drašković family. It’s located in the western tower and it is equipped with Neo-Renaissance sitting furniture with richly engraved wooden mask bearing coats of arms.
The most beautiful and comfortable rooms are located on the first floor, which the owners used as their residential quarters. Notable rooms here include the Dining Room, Julijana’s Painting Studio, the Master Bedroom and the Music Salon. Also, there’s a Little Drawing Room that served as a place of relaxation and pleasure, with furnishings in Neo-Baroque style. It’s decorated with a small gambling table and country-life paintings done in the 18th century manner.
The second floor contains rooms that used to be reserved for guests. Their furnishing is much simpler. Now they contain items which reflect several stylistic periods, like Rococo, Baroque, Classicism, and Biedermeier. Furthermore, there are rooms displaying painting galleries and hand-painted wallpaper.
Trakošćan’s inner yard gives access to the kitchen and an impressive arms collection with cold weapons, firearms and protective equipment. Courageous visitors can enter the Castle’s Dungeon, situated in the basement of the western tower.
Trakošćan’s Park-Forrest and Lake in Romanticist Scenery
‘Put Vila’ or the “Fairies path” accompanies visitors through the castle’s immediate scenery including the lake and park area, and surrounding forest. This educational trail follows Lake Trakošćan and documents the rich fauna and flora along the 5 km long promenade. Apart from the distinctive scenery, around the lake there are wooden bridges, stairs and benches. As a result, it makes up a large and pleasant walking environment.
The lake itself takes up 17 ha, it is 2 km in length, and 246 m above the sea level. It’s a rare and valuable natural category and part of an English, romantic type of landscape as envisioned by Count Drašković. On the border there is a red cottage, the Fisherman’s House, right beyond the visual line of the castle. Incidentally, this is still a popular place for fishing.
Trakošćan is located in the furthest northwestern part of Hrvatsko Zagorje. More specifically, It belongs to the Bednja Municipality in the County of Varaždin (map). Tickets to the museum are 40 kn for adults and 20 kn for minors. Access to the park-forest and lake is free. In addition, there is a free parking (during the week), a restaurant and a hotel nearby.