Houska Castle is an early gothic castle, located on the slopes of mount Zámecký vrch that overlooks the village of Houska in the Česká Lípa district of the Czech Republic.
The castle was first built around the mid-13th century, with some historians attributing the construction to Přemysl Ottokar II of Bohemia, also called the “Iron” and “Golden King” of the Přemyslid dynasty, to administer his royal estates in the region before the founding of nearby Bezděz Castle.
Other written sources credit the construction to Hynek Berka of Dubá, as the castle is first mentioned in AD 1316 as the property of Hynek of Dubá (a son by the same name), who was later called Hynek Berka of Houska. The castle then passed hands to the Smiřič family of Smiřice, and then the Hrzánová family of Harasov.
With the development of artillery and cannon, the castle fortifications were strengthened with an outer wall, and the interior remodelled into a Renaissance chateau by Hrzány z Harasova between 1584-1590.
The most notable features of the castle’s interior include a polygonal closed rectangular chapel with preserved murals from the early 14th century, as well as the so-called green room, which is vaulted with a Gothic cross rib vault and decorated with Renaissance murals from around 1520.
After the Thirty Years’ War (fought between 1618 and 1648), the Habsburgs ordered the slighting of various castles and fortifications across the region, including Houska Castle. The outer walls of the castle and a gothic tower were demolished, with the building rubble used to fill the castle moat.
In the 18th century, the castle stopped serving as a noble residence and fell into a state of disrepair, until Vincenc Karel Kounic had it renovated in the Renaissance style in 1823.
With the outbreak of WW2, Houska Castle was confiscated by the German army and the regional staff of the SS, to be used as a repository for housing archives and documents (mainly Jewish and Masonic books from Europe) of the Reich Main Security Office, an organisation subordinate to Heinrich Himmler in his dual capacity as Chef der Deutschen Polizei (Chief of German Police) and Reichsführer-SS, the head of the Nazi Party’s Schutzstaffel (SS).
Gateway to Hell
Another side to the history of Houska Castle revolves around folklore and the occult. According to legend, the castle was situated on a chasm or bottomless pit to stand guard over a gateway to hell where animal-human hybrids, and dark-winged creators crawled out from.
Unconfirmed accounts have sensationalised the myth of the supposed pit, where various modern sources claim that during the castle’s construction, prisoners sentenced to death were offered a pardon if they consented to be lowered into the chasm. Legend suggests that the first prisoner to be lowered was heard screaming, upon being hoisted back up appeared to look as though he aged 30 years, grown wrinkles and his hair had turned white from fear.
Other legends revolve around an alleged sorcerer searching for immortality who now haunts the castle, and a figure in a black monk’s hood with no face who appears in and around the vicinity of the castle.
Some sources even claim that the castle was used by the SS for occult practices and experimentation during WW2, although there’s no surviving documentary evidence to corroborate.
Header Image Credit : ladabar – CC BY-NC 2.0 (Adapted)