Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Luxarazzi 101: Riegersburg

All photos: Burg Riegersburg Tourismusdienstleistungs GmbH
A few days ago, just before Christmas, we branched out a little in our coverage of the Princely Family to include a TV show featuring Prince Emanuel, his wife Princess Sonja and their three children, who live in Austria. Due to the continued great interest in said post, we thought it would be a good time to have a closer look at their home, the Riegersburg. Situated on top of a 482 metre high dormant volcano in the Austrian state of Styria, the Riegersburg was once considered to be the "strongest fortress of Christianity".

The gardens of the Riegersburg
Firstly mentioned in 1122, the Riegersburg has been owned by the Princely Family since 1822, when it was purchased by Prince Johann I. And while the known history of the castle goes back almost 900 years, it is believed that people have been living on the same site for more than 6000 years. Already since the 7th century, a refuge was situated in the same place though the first parts of today's fortress were likely built around the year 1100. The Riegersburg takes its name from Rüdiger of Hohenberg and was first known as Ruotkerspurch, Burg (castle) of Rüdiger.

Over the following centuries the castle had a lot of different owners, but only few of them played an important role. It was not until Baroness Katharina Elisabeth of Galler, born Baroness of Wechsler, took control of the estate in the 17th century that the castle gained its current identity. When her uncle Baron Sigismund died in 1648, and with him the male line of the Wechsler family, Baroness Katharina Elisabeth, known as "the Gallerin", inherited the Riegersburg. In the following years, she had great extentions made to the castle's fortifications, making it one of the biggest and strongest castles in all of Austria.

White Hall
The Gallerin, also known as "das schlimme Liesl" (wicked Liz) was one of the best known personalities of 17th century Styria. She was married three times and kept her first husband away from her inheritance by paying him 15,000 guilder. While her second husband died in battle, she divorced her third one, something highly unusual at the time. She was in constant conflict with many of her neighbours and especially the clergy. Once, she even held a sermon citing her right of patronage. These days, you would probably simply call her an emancipated woman - back then, she was feared by many for her strong opinions.

Via her only daughter Regina, who was married to Baron Johann Ernst Count of Purgstall, the Riegersburg then passed to the countly Purgstall family. It was Regina's husband who had the castle's fortifications finished. The Riegersburg is surrounded by three kilometres of walls with six gates and two trenches and it contains 108 rooms, the most beautiful of them probably the Baroque-style White Hall, already built by the Gallerin. During the 17th century, the Riegersburg lay in a troubled area, at times only 20 to 25 kilometres away from the border to the Ottoman Empire. As it was never taken by the Turks, General Count Raimondo Montecuccoli felt inclined to call it the "strongest fortress of Christianity". In time of war, the castle was a safe haven for the population of the surrounding areas as well as their livestock.

The museum
After the Purgstalls of Riegersburg died out in male line in 1817, the inheritance was split between 17 people. As dividing an inherited castle between 17 people probably isn't the easiest of things, the Riegersburg was sold in public auction five years later. And so, in 1822, Prince Johann I acquired the castle. Fast forward over 100 years: During the last weeks of the Second World War, the Riegersburg was badly damaged when the population of the nearby village of the same name and surrounding areas were brought to the castle. They were accompanied by the SS armoured division "Wiking" who was supposed to defend the Riegersburg from the Red Army. What followed was a tale of capture and recapture bringing heavy damage with them.

After the end of the Second World War, the Princely Family returned to the Riegersburg and saved the castle from falling into ruins. These days, the castle is owned by Prince Emanuel, a second cousin once removed of Prince Hans-Adam II. The Riegersburg houses not one but three museums: a castle museum about its history, a arms museums, and a museum about witch persecution. In addition, there is a raptor centre. And to get there, you can literally climb the volcanic mountain, the Riegersburg is situation on, via two ferratas named for the two eldest children of Prince Emanuel, Leopold and Heinrich.

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