The first written mention of a castle at Hukvaldy dates back to 1285, but it was probably built in the mid-13th century. The founders of the castle were the German counts of Hückeswagen. The first count, the knight Arnold von Hückeswagen, was invited to the Czech lands by the Přemysl King Otakar I to arrange the marriage of the Otakar’s daughter Anežka (Agnes) to the English King Henry III. The wedding never took place, but Arnold remained in the diplomatic service of the Czech king, and received lands in the north-east of Moravia. It was there that one of Arnold’s heirs built the castle at Hukvaldy, sometime after 1250.
The castle first came into the ownership of the Bishops of Olomouc in the mid-14th century; the Bishops remained the owners for most of the castle’s history. In 1355 a Papal Bull confirmed that Hukvaldy was their property, and forbade them to sell it or grant it in lien. However, when the Bishopric ran into financial problems, it was forced to relinquish the castle. It changed hands frequently in the following decades, with its owners including Sigismund, the King of Hungary (later to become Emperor), and the Hussite governor Jan Čapek of Sány, notorious for his alleged treachery at the Battle of Lipany. In 1465 the castle passed into the ownership of the Czech King Jiří of Poděbrady, who sold it back to the Olomouc Bishopric. The Bishop at the time, Taso of Boskovice, was given funds by his brothers Dobeš and Beneš Černohorský of Boskovice, who eventually received the castle when Taso died of the plague. The site underwent frequent reconstructions and additions while under the ownership of the Černohorskýs, and the changes continued after their death in the early 16th century, when Hukvaldy returned to the Olomouc Bishopric once again, this time permanently. The castle remained in the ownership of the Church (first the Bishopric of Olomouc, which then became an Archbishopric in the 18th century) almost without interruption until the communist takeover of 1948, when it was confiscated by the state.
By the 20th century, the castle had long lain derelict, falling into ruin. Sources state that it was destroyed by a fire on 5 October 1762. The blaze apparently started during a thunderstorm when lightning struck one of the wooden buildings in the main courtyard. The fire spread, and eventually destroyed the castle in its entirety. According to an alternative (unofficial) version of events, the castle was actually set on fire by clerks who disliked having to walk up the hill to work there every day. However, in reality it had been neglected for many years, and most clerks had already moved out two years before the fateful blaze, when the majority of offices were relocated to the chateau in the lower part of the village. After the fire the castle continued to fall into disrepair, as the villagers dismantled it for building materials. It was not until the 19th century that some basic repairs were carried out. By that time, Hukvaldy had become known as an atmospheric Romantic ruin and was a popular destination for tourists – a situation that continues to this day.
The best-preserved structure at the castle is the Chapel of St Andrew, built sometime towards the end of the 17th century. The chapel was the only building at the castle that was restored and maintained in the 19th century. It is dedicated to St Andrew, the patron of the local region, who is depicted on the altar. The chapel also contains statues of St John of Nepomuk and St Francis Xavier. Blessed with excellent acoustics, it is a popular venue for concerts and other performances – sometimes held in the ‘motta’, a circular fortress-type annex which was built at some point during the 15th century. The motta served as a military garrison and a prison; in the 1960s archeologists discovered shackles that were used to chain prisoners’ hands and feet to the wall. The motta, though originally a separate structure, was connected to the castle by means of long perimeter walls built during the second half of the 16th century, under the ownership of Bishop Stanislav Pavlovský. It was around the same time that Bishop Vilém Prusinovský founded the game park beneath the castle. It was originally used to breed fallow deer, which supplied the kitchens of the Bishopric and Chapter in Olomouc and Kroměříž. In the mid-18th century the game park was relocated to its present site on the hill under the castle. From 1900 onwards mouflons were bred in the park, which is now home to around 150 fallow deer and 150 mouflons, as well as some wild boar. The entire castle hill is a place of outstanding natural interest, with old beech groves providing a habitat for rare plant and animal species.
A third important structure at the castle is the main gateway, though only the side walls have survived. The gateway was built at some time after 1645 by the Bishop of Olomouc Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, the youngest son of Emperor Ferdinand II. Leopold also built the first and second gateways, which are currently the main entrances to the site. The coats-of-arms of the Bishop can still be seen on both gates.
Near the third gateway there used to be a cemetery for serfs. Opposite, under a massive gun emplacement, were kennels. It appears that Hukvaldy Castle was never conquered – primarily thanks to its excellent strategic position and strong fortifications. The steep slopes below the castle were kept clear of trees so that they could be defended more easily; enemies approaching the castle were left very exposed and vulnerable to attack from the ramparts. During the Thirty Years’ War, Hukvaldy managed to repel attacks by the Wallachians, Danes and possibly also the Swedes. In 1626 the Danish forces besieged the castle for nine months, but without success.
Past the third gateway is a fourth gateway, which was built in the early 16th century – though it was given its current shape in the 19th century. Walking through this gateway, visitors can see a former guard house, now housing a ‘lapidarium’ – an exhibition of various stone and metal items, including plaques giving brief details on their history. From the fourth gateway, a path leads to a bridge. Though it looks old, the bridge was actually not built until 1970. Originally it was a wooden structure with a drawbridge. Under the bridge was a deep moat created when stone was quarried to build the castle. Another quarry site was the nearby hill of Kazničov – where, according to local legend, the bandit Ondráš and his gang buried their stolen treasure. The fortifications around the bridge were built in the early 16th century by the Bishop of Olomouc Stanislav Thurzo. He was also responsible for the fourth and fifth gateways, where a former guard room has been preserved. Today it houses a shop, and above the doorway visitors can see Thurzo’s coat-of-arms. The Bishop also created a second courtyard at the castle, accessed through the fifth gateway.
The most striking feature of the second courtyard is the ‘White Tower’, built in the late 15th century by the brothers Dobeš and Beneš Černohorský of Boskovice. In the lower part of the tower was the castle’s kitchen; at the top of the outer walls were turrets upon which there were wooden cabins used as privies (basic medieval toilets). From this courtyard, a 13th century Gothic portal leads through to the original castle. According to legend, a famous local pretzel-maker called Světlík was walled up here by the cruel governor Harasovský for refusing to let the governor marry his beautiful daughter. The pretzel-maker’s ghost is said to haunt the ramparts at midnight under a full moon, when his white hands can be seen slowly reaching out of the wall.
The oldest part of Hukvaldy is the core of the castle, partly dating back to the 13th century, when a palace was constructed – the original residence of the castle’s founders. This knights’ palace also contained the first chapel to be built at Hukvaldy.
Changes were made to the inner core of the castle during the 15th century, when the Lords of Boskovice added an extra storey above the south-western perimeter wall. The coats-of-arms of Dobeš Černohorský and his wife Hedvika can still be seen in this part of the castle. The most recent part of the inner core is a Renaissance palace dating back to around 1500, whose window surrounds are still visible. In the mid-16th century a prison for clergymen was established in this part of the castle. Its most famous inmate was Canon Philopon Dambrovský, imprisoned here in 1585-87 on suspicion of having poisoned four Bishops of Olomouc. The prison was also the site of the unfortunate death of a certain monk, whose ghost is said to wander the castle. Known as the Black Monk, he appears as a faceless figure wearing a black cape and hood. The inner core of the castle also has stone reservoirs for collecting rainwater; the water was used by the castle kitchen before a well was eventually dug.
For many years, a lack of a reliable water source was the castle’s main weakness. It was not until 1581 that a well was dug. The work was very costly, and it swallowed up almost all of the Hukvaldy estates’ funds. The well was originally around 150 metres deep, and water was drawn by a huge treadmill worked by prisoners. In 1738 the treadmill was destroyed by fire (apparently due to negligence by servants), and from that time on, the castle remained without water; this marked the beginning of its decline. Today the well – located in the rear courtyard – is mostly filled in, reaching only 40 metres in depth. Behind the well there were originally Renaissance-era fortifications, which were demolished in 1653 and replaced by two Baroque bastions. Today these are used as viewing points; one of them (with a roof) was a favourite place of Hukvaldy’s most famous son, the composer Leoš Janáček. It is said that he even wrote some of his compositions here.
Another viewing point can be found in the core of the castle, giving wonderful panoramas of the Beskydy Mountains, Kopřivnice, Příbor and Ostrava. All of these cities used to be controlled by Hukvaldy Castle – today the third largest castle in the Czech Republic.
Since 1994, the castle and its game park have been the venues for the Janáček Hukvaldy international music festival, held every year in the early summer. The event has grown in popularity and renown far beyond the borders of the region and the Czech Republic, and attracts many music- and theatre-lovers to Hukvaldy every year.