Burg Riegersburg

The imposing castle has been owned by the noble Liechtenstein family for the last 200 years. They no longer live in the castle but they take care of it as of an exciting tourist attraction.

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Artiom Ganin is talking to Dr. Emanuel Liechtenstein, the owner of the medieval Riegersburg Castle in Austria's Styria. The castle has been owned by this branch of one of Europe's noble von Liechtenstein family since the early 19th century. Although the owner's family does not reside in the castle Dr. Emanuel Liechtenstein says that he knows the castle's layout from A to Z. To top it all he has been to all of the 108 rooms of the castle and says he knows how to move around this magnificent hilltop castle quite quickly.

THE 108 ROOMS OF THE CASTLE

Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): The medieval Riegersburg Castle has been owned by the family of Liechtenstein since 1822 – why don't you live in the castle and instead reside in the village?
Dr. Emanuel Liechtenstein (EL): You know living in a castle high atop a hill is very uncomfortable in principle. It is even more uncomfortable in wintertime. Even if we would like to spend a night there we don't have any special premises or a private residence for us up there. Actually, neither myself nor my family ever lived in the castle.
CnP: I previously talked with the owner of Seisenegg Castle Maximilian Mautner Markhof who believes that castles are meant for one family. What do you make of such a statement?
EL: I think that back in the days castles were meant to be family residences. So, I would partly agree with the statement. But you know, families grow and what is important times are changing. We have to be capable to adapt to these changes of course.
CnP: You represent the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, one of the oldest and prominent noble families in Europe. Could you please tell me about yourself?
EL: As you said we are quite an old family. We are very closely connected to Austria and Styria. I grew up here and used to go to a school in the town. I am a doctor and I am a Liechtenstein citizen. Prince Hans-Adam II, the reigning prince of Liechtenstein is my second uncle.
CnP: The castle was once considered "impregnable" or "the strongest fortress in Christendom" – why?
EL: It is simple - the castle has never been conquered or seized. During the invasion of the Ottomans the castle was almost on the frontline.

CnP: There are 108 rooms in the castle – have you been to all of them?
EL: Yes, I have been to all of the rooms. I can also navigate through the castle easily, I know how to get from one place to another quickly. I know shortcuts in the castle but I would not call them some secret passages. I just know the castle pretty well.
CnP: What's your favorite part of your castle and why?
EL: I love the castle's White Hall. It is astonishingly beautiful. It is actually a baroque summer dining room built by Italian craftsmen. The construction works cost a fortune back in the 17th century. The works were ordered by the then owner of the castle Katharina Elisabeth von Galler who was an outstanding personality. There's an inscription which sums up everything perfectly: "Building is a beautiful pleasure. I am aware of what it will cost me." A lot of great parties were celebrated up there.
CnP: I can assume that maintaining such a huge and old property is quite expensive – does the state of Austria help your family with maintenance in a way?
EL: Yes, the authorities do help us. We get a little support from the cultural ministry. Last year was quite hard for us – the COVID pandemic affected the business and we lost more than 40 percent of our yearly visitors.
CnP: When did you carry out restoration works for the last time – what was the focus?
EL: We have to do restoration works almost all year round non-stop. The castle is an old building after all. Our biggest challenge was the restoration of the roofing. And we succeeded. The works were completed 2 years ago. The entire roof was repaired and restored – imagine, this is more than 1 hectare alone in the main castle. Now we face a new challenge - the fortification walls are in a pretty bad shape. In the next 10 years we'll be focusing on that.
CnP: The castle was built on a basalt rock and typical limestone deposits can be very good for winemaking. Which kind of wine do you do and what's your best one?
EL: There are vineyards right below the castle if you noticed. We have Sauvignon and Grauburgunder. But to be honest I prefer the last one. Come to us for a wine tasting session to experience it first-hand! You can enjoy our wine and have a nice meal at Riegersburg's beautiful terrace too!

OUTSTANDING WOMEN, ARMOR AND WITCH-HUNT

CnP: You have three museums in the castle, which one is an absolute must?
EL: Well, all of them are great! So, come and visit all of the museum. We have a castle museum which focuses on the 17th century and the castle women. The first one is the castle owner Elisabeth Katharina von Galler, who was a remarkable person. Imagine this – she refused to wear a tight corset – something unheard of back in the 17th century. She also understood what she wanted and led a self-determined life. She was way ahead of her times.
EL: The other woman of significance is her servant Katharina Paldauf – who was accused of being a witch during the notorious Feldbach witch trial. Poor Katharina was executed on suspicion of destroying farmers' crops through hail and bad weather. The trial was one of the darkest chapters in the history of Eastern Styria. All in all, some 300 "witches" and "sorcerers" were tried from the 17th to 18th century. This is exactly what you would learn in full detail in our Witch Museum.
EL: And we also have a great weapons collection. Our arms museum features armor, swords and sabres, a great deal of stabbing and cutting weapons, rifles, pistols and what not. Basically, you will be able to trace how the craftsmanship developed within a span of some 400 years.
CnP: This is really a lot! How much time should I allocate for the tour around the castle and its museums?
EL: The castle is huge, we have three museums and offer a lot of activities to our guests. So, make sure you have a lot of free time – you will need at least half a day to get an overview.
CnP: What kind of activities apart from visiting museums can you offer?
EL: We have a lot to offer. Starting with rock climbing and hiking - there's a stone path up the hill and you'll have to pass the seven gates on your way. Then we have a great and spectacular show featuring our birds of prey – normally we have it twice a day. You can make your own knife – just ask our castle's smith! We also have a special summer full moon night program. So much fun! Imagine knights on horses battling with each other – like at a real medieval tournament, and different bands are playing great music. Our guests can visit castle museums until midnight and there is special full moon rock climbing. We also hold historical re-enactment festivals twice a year.
CnP: It looks like many would like to spending a night at your castle. Is there such an option?
EL: No, not now. We currently do not have any plans to offer accommodation for tourists.
CnP: Is it because your ghost Rudiger doesn't want to be disturbed?
EL: Rudiger is our good ghost. But Riegersburg is such an old castle. And as we know strange things usually happen within such old walls – things which can't be explained easily. I am not joking - just a few weeks ago we received a couple of „Ghost Hunters". They studied the castle and made quite interesting discoveries but I will not tell you what kind of!
CnP: Okay, let's forget about the ghosts - you mentioned falconry? Why is this activity so popular in Austrian and German castles?
EL: This activity is tightly connected with the history. Falconry has always been very popular. Hunting with falcons has been a popular pastime among the nobles here in Austria for hundreds of years.
CnP: My traditional question – there are people who are dreaming about owning a castle. What would you tell those who would like to buy a ruined or a rundown castle and restore it?
EL: Don't do it. It's a never-ending story!
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Dr. Emanuel Liechtenstein, the owner of Burg Riegersburg in Austria's Styria.

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Photo credits: Burg Riegersburg

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