Falkenstein Castle (Niederfalkenstein)
||This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia. (July 2009)|
|Obervellach, Carinthia, Austria|
Niederfalkenstein Castle and Falkenstein Bridge
|Condition||Ruin (Oberfalkenstein), preserved (Niederfalkenstein)|
Falkenstein Castle (German: Burg Falkenstein) is a medieval castle complex near Obervellach in Carinthia, Austria. Situated on the southern slope of the Hohe Tauern mountain range, the former fortification of Oberfalkenstein today is a ruin, while the lower barbican of Niederfalkenstein is preserved. Niederfalkenstein is situated at an altitude of 843 meters.
The fortification erected on a rocky promontory overlooks the Pfaffenberg settlement east of Obervellach. The Tauern Railway line, opened in 1909, initially passed under the rock in a 67 metres (220 ft) long tunnel. In the course of the double-tracked expansion in 1973, the rail tunnel was replaced by a wide arch bridge, the present-day Falkenstein Bridge passing between Ober- and Niederfalkenstein, with 396 metres (1,299 ft) the longest of the line.
The ruins of Oberfalkenstein comprise a Bergfried keep with surrounding moats and the foundations of a Romanesque palas. A chapel dedicated to John the Baptist was first mentioned in 1246, significantly enlarged in a Baroque style in 1772 and is still in use.
The fortification was first mentioned as Valchenstain Castle in an 1164 deed. The name may be derived from Proto-Germanic walhaz (Welsh) in terms of a Romance (Italian) settlement, referring to descendants of the former Roman city of Teurnia, who had migrated to the remote valley during the Slavic settlement of the Eastern Alps about 600.
The first documented ministerialis Gumpoldus de Valchenstein was a liensmen of Count Engelbert II of Gorizia (Görz), scion of the Meinhardiner dynasty. The Counts of Gorizia also held the office of a Vogt of Bendictine Millstatt Abbey, and the Lord of Falkenstein established close ties to the monastery.
The Falkenstein dynasty became extinct about 1300, soon after two castles, 'Upper' and 'Lower' Falkenstein were mentioned, enfeoffed by the Counts of Gorizia to several local nobles. On 24 June 1394 Count Henry VI gave the upper castle in pawn to the Habsburg duke Albert III of Austria. It was finally seized by Albert's nephew Emperor Frederick III in 1460, after he had defeated Count John II of Gorizia in the conflict over the heritage of the extinct Counts of Celje. The lower castle was temporarily held by the Carinthian knight Andreas von Graben, who sold it in 1462.
In 1504 Frederick's son and successor Emperor Maximilian I again pawned the castle to Count Julian of Lodron, by his wife Apollonia brother-in-law of the Salzburg archbishop Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg. It was acquired by Apollonia's second husband Christoph Frankopan after Lodron's death in 1510. The countess donated an altarpiece by Jan van Scorel in the Obervellach parish church, depicting Saint Christopher, herself and her castle. At the same time, large funds had to be raised in order to restore the dilapidated premises. Afterwards, several nobles held the castle, among them the descendants of Gabriel von Salamanca-Ortenburg and the Khevenhüller dynasty.
Rebuilt in 1905, the Unterfalkenstein palas burnt down after a burglary in 1969 and had to be restored again. Up to today the castle is a private property, but can be visited in summer.