How could the oldest part of the medieval Devín Castle – the residential tower built on the top of the rock cliff above the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers – look like? The comprehensive construction-historical as well as the archaeological research on the Upper Castle was trying to answer the question. However, it was not easy at all.
This area has surmounted many interventions and devastations so it was really difficult to reconstruct its very early appearance or even its ground plan.
The medieval castle was built at the place of the original Rastislav’s fortress, but some new influences penetrating in the Danube area from Rhineland can be found there. The dungeon – residential tower – was the core of the oldest part of the castle. It was shaped like an irregular polygon and the overall layout was affected by the confined area of the slender rock.
In 1233, the Devín Castle was conquered by Frederick II the Great who burnt the extramural settlement down. It is also the oldest historical report where the Devín Castle is directly mentioned. Dramatic events in this region at the end of the 13th century and in the 14th century caused multiple demolitions and reconstructions of the castle. Devín was not spared even during the siege by Napoleon’s army at the beginning of the 19th century. Nevertheless, the castle has always been reconstructed. Hungarian rulers were aware of the special strategic importance of its position.
Very little was saved from the original Roman, or early Gothic castle. One of the main reasons was construction of the Millennium Monument in the Upper Castle in 1896 at the occasion of the 1,000th anniversary of Hungarians’ arrival in the Carpathian Basin. There were seven such monuments built in Ugria in total. During the construction of this monument in Devín, remains of the Upper Castle were largely destroyed, and a part of the walls was even blasted off by the constructors. When looking at the drawing of Bernhard Werner of the 18th century or the oil painting of Bernard Bellott titled Canaletto, it is obvious that the price paid by Devín for the Millennium Monument was high.
Liquidation of the Monument in 1921 by the members of the Czech Sokol organization represented another drastic intervention. The monument with the height of 22 metres was partially thrown down from the rock.
After removal of all remains of the Millennium Monument, it was found out that a mixture of old and younger construction remains was located here. It was very difficult to identify them or put them into context since often no face was preserved, just fragments of a single row of masonry on the rock basement.
However, a surprising discovery was made during the works. Some premises were uncovered right in the rock massif. Natural cracks and karst caverns that had probably been used by the Devín inhabitants in the ancient times were used both by Roman legionaries and Slavic inhabitants of the Rastislav’s fortress. The newly uncovered premises were directly connected to the interior of the residential tower. The highest cavern is the so-called tunnel cavern with the length of more than 11 metres and the height in its highest point of almost 9 metres. It is running across the whole castle hill. Its southern entrance is bricked and ended with a Gothic portal.
Text author: Andrej Barát