Nov 18, 2013

Magnificent Veliki Kalnik (Big Kalnik)

On southern slopes of Kalničko gorje (Kalnik hills), north from village Kalnik and app. 20 km north from the town of Križevci, at 640 m high rocky slope, sits the castle Veliki Kalnik (Big Kalnik). It holds excellent strategic point overlooking the passage over Kalnik hills.

view of castle Veliki Kalnik from the south

This magnificent structure, with the oldest part at the top of the cliff and newer parts that seem to emerge from the rock, was practicaly unconquerable. I mean, who would be able to seize something built at a place like this? The castle looks like a natural extension of the rock, like it coalesced with it or like it's growing from the cliff. Kalnik is really something special. It is one of those things that make one think: how the hell did they managed to built that back then? Nowadays… I can't even imagine how much would such a project cost. I'm sure our county would go bancrupt (but well, it might happen to it even without castle building :-P).  

view of Veliki Kalnik from the parking lot

So, to make it short, Kalnik is a must see. Especially as it is easily accessible. Narrow but paved road leads right to the foot of cliff where you will find Kalnik mountain house. It is open every day and offers lodging and meals in the restaurant – the food is very good, at least what we ate was very tasty and portions were big.

Kalnik mountain house

From the parking lot you can reach the castle practically with your eyes closed. You just need to make a few steps and you reach the entrance into the lower, new part of the castle. 

the entrance

If you want to climb the old part, just follow the narrow parth, that goes through two palaces in a shape of towers, to the top of cliff. At this very moment, some restauration work is in progress so some parts of the castle are a bit difficult to reach. But the way to the top can still be easily found :-) . 

two Gothic palaces built in a shape of towers 

The view from the top is wonderful, but if you're scared of heights, be prepared – to reach the oldest part you have to cross the ridge by narrow passage – there is a wire to make you feel secured but there is a looooong way down and legs sometimes do not listen to what the head is saying (trust me, I know).

view, from the highest (oldest) part, of narrow passage and upper palace

And while we're hopping around, we should learn something 'bout this place, right? So:
-it's one of the oldest castles in north Croatia and it was built in 3 phases
-the oldest part was built at the time of Mongol invasion (the 1st half of 13. ct.), it is situated at the highest point and only foundation part of it is still visible

the oldest part of castle at the top of the cliff

-narrow passage leads from the oldest part to Gothic palace in the shape of tower whose angles are strenghtened with hewn stones while south facade has two Gothic counterforts. Inside you will find the door with Gothic jamb that leads to circular stone stairway between the ground floor and the first floor

the door with Gothic jamb
circular stone stairway

-at the foot of this tower, there is "lower palace", also shaped as a 2-storey tower and built at the same period
-at the foot of the cliff you can find ruins of many different structures, among which are remains of st. Catherine chapel that might have been built at the Romanesque period

remains of st. Catherine chapel and surrounding structures

-south from the lower castle, remains of the renaissance fort have been found

And now, the short history of the castle :-)
-the site of the castle, as well as its surrounding area, was already populated at the prehistory and antiquity
-in historical sources, the castle is mentioned as Maiori Kemluk, Superiori Kemluk, Nagy Kemluk
-it is not known for sure when the oldest part was built. There are theories that say that it was already built at the time of Croatian national rulers (monarchs) in the 9th – 11th ct. In historical documents, it was mentioned for the first time in 1243. as king's property and its role in battles against Mongols is also mentioned

view of the entrance part from the top of cliff 

-the legend has it that, in 1241, king Bela, while fleeing the Mongols, hid in the castle. The Mongols had the castle under siege and tried to exhaust defenders with hunger but villagers were secretly supplying them (and the king) with plums so the Mongols, dissatisfied with failure, left the area. Later, the king has bestowed nobility on villagers which made citizens of Križevci to call them, out of envy and malice, Šljivari (I guess translation would be something like Plumers)
-in the mid 13th ct., king bestowed the castle to ban (kind of vice-roy) Dioniz Ochuz
-in 1270 king Stephan bestowed Kalnik to ban Roland from Ratold clan and later, after the last member of the family died, it became king's property again while in 1427 king Sigismund of Luxemburg sold it to Zagreb's Bishop John
-later on, the castle has been changing owners rather often (family Celjski, Matthias and John Corvinus, noble families Orehoczy, Drašković, Keglević, Patačić…) and the last was family Ožegović
-in the mid. 15th ct. Križevci county was established which resulted with abolition of Veliki Kalnik parish so the castle started to lose its significance while, at the same time, the village-marketplace south of the castle has started to develop (today village Kalnik)
-the renaissance fort (castello), built by Orehoczy family, has been mentioned in 1685
-in 1731. documents state 3 castles in Kalnik out of which 2 have been demolished while the third one is in ruins

View Kalnik in a larger map