Slovakia’s historic Devin Castle has long captured the imagination. It’s crumbling walls and strategic perch overlooking the Danube inspired generations of poets and artists. Though its recent history is fascinating – destroyed by Napoleon’s retreating forces in 1809, purchased for next to nothing by the Czechoslovakian government in 1939, and slowly restored during the second half of the twentieth century – the castle’s beginnings are even more fascinating.
The earliest settlement at the site dates from the 5th century B.C. It was later fortified by the Celts and then the Romans, with the original stone castle built during the 13th century to protect the western edge of the Hungarian Kingdom. As the castle complex expanded, adding a palace, then a church, it passed from hand to hand, from the Dukes of Austria to the King of Hungary to Jobst of Morovia, King of the Romans. It stood against the Ottoman Empire and watched over the Amber Road.
Now a collection of stone walls, spindly watchtowers, and grassy courtyards, the remnants of Devin Castle lie largely undisturbed. On the day of our visit, cold and clear, the castle complex was deserted, save a handful of other explorers and a few friendly sheep. We wandered through old archways and climbed shored-up stairs. We looked out over the ramparts and imagined boats on the water below. Our son tossed pebbles into the well, and I thought about how many little boys have stood in that exact spot, listened for the same splash, made the same wish, in the last thousand years.