A cave castle (German: Höhlenburg) or grotto castle (German: Grottenburg) is a residential or refuge castle that has been built into a natural cave. It falls within the category of hill castles. Unlike other types of castle (such as water castles), a cave castle can only be assaulted from the front. The castle gateway is usually located in the middle of a rock face, which makes it much more difficult to penetrate. Archaeological discoveries have revealed that caves were used as places of refuge as early as the Stone Age. The first medieval cave castles emerged in the 11th and 12th centuries. In the 14th and 15th centuries this type of castle became more widespread, especially in certain parts of France and Switzerland.
Location and layout
The actual cave castle was generally built at the foot of a high rock face and at the level of one or more steep scree slopes. Cave castles are, however, quite rare in mountainous regions, for example in North Tyrol only four sites are known to date: Altfinstermünz in the Upper Inn valley, Loch near Unter-Pinswang, Lueg am Brenner and a cave castle in the Herrenhauswand near Schwendt/Kössen. In several regions in Switzerland and France, however, soft rock material provides a good basis for the construction of cave and grotto castles. There are considerably more castles of this type in Graubünden, Ticino, Valais or the Dordogne than, for example, in Bavaria or the Tyrol.
The domestic buildings and stables were generally sited in the valley bottom beneath the castle, because the cave was often only accessible over steep and narrow paths. Archaeological excavations have revealed the relatively high standard of living in several cave castles, other sites may only have been inhabited part of the time and guarded mountain passes or important road links.
In many cases, the cave or grotto was simply sealed by a frontal wall and divided internally by stone or wooden partition walls. Several castles were, however, later turned into representative seats and expanded accordingly, for example Stein Castle and Predjama Castle.
From an engineering perspective the cave castle is closely related to the rock castle; here, too, natural or artificially widened rock openings were incorporated into the structure. In Central Europe, many such rock castles have been preserved in the sandstone regions of south and central Germany or Bohemia, including those in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, the Palatinate Forest and in the Haßberge Hills.
Cave castles and grotto castles
In the technical literature a distinction is made between cave and grotto castles. In the case of the latter, an entire castle was built in front of or within a natural grotto (e.g. Predjama), whilst in the case of a cave castle, the cave was only closed off with a front wall and divided internally by wooden or stone walls. In popular usage, both terms are used more or less interchangeably.
- Wolkenstein Castle in Gröden, South Tyrol, Italy
- Stein Castle in Stein an der Traun, Bavaria, Germany
- Puxerloch (Höhlenburgen Luegg und Schallaun) near Frojach in the Styria, Austria
- Kronmetz Castle, Italy
- Luegstein Castle near Oberaudorf, Bavaria, Germany
- Wichenstein Castle near Oberriet, St Gallen, Switzerland
- Otto Piper: Burgenkunde. Nachdruck der Ausgabe von 1912. Weltbild, Augsburg 1994, ISBN 3-89350-554-7, p. 554–559.
- Maxi Zier: Mittelalterliche Höhlenburgen. In: Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde. No. 65, 1965, ISSN 0067-4550, p. 53–62.
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