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The Long and Bloody History of Čachtice Castle

The Slovakian castle was home to alleged serial killer Elizabeth Báthory.

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  • Photo Credit: Wikipedia

There are some locations in the world with such a dark history it’s a baffling miracle that the walls themselves don’t bleed. But of course, if the walls did bleed, that would hamper the location’s usefulness as a suitable and convenient film set. Such is the case with Čachtice Castle, located in modern-day Slovakia adjacent to the quaint village of Čachtice and elegantly framed by the sloping Little Carpathians. Visited by millions of fascinated tourists, utilized by Hollywood for horror cinema, and perhaps occupied by the ghosts of notorious murderers and their countless victims, the fortress serves as both a money-racking treasure and a curse for Eastern Europe. 

The castle was raised from the ground up in the 13th century by Kazimir from the Hont-Pázmány gens, a distinguished and wealthy Hungarian family, to serve as a seat and a holdfast with easy geographical access to the bustling region of Moravia. Matthew III Csák, a renowned military commander and oligarch, owned it next, and after him Stibor of Stiboricz and his family. 

The castle’s structure is notable for its unique habitable tower, built in the shape of a horseshoe, which many speculate was an aesthetic choice for a Romanesque look. It was, for house-hunting nobility, a much admired and sought-after property, with conveniences for comfort and travel being its main attractions, along with the natural rural beauty of the surrounding landscape. Each owner would make significant updates and renovations, which contributed to its transition into a Gothic-style castle, and later a Renaissance one. 

On May 8th, 1575, two great Hungarian families united in marriage. Count Ferenc Nádasdy wed the much younger Elizabeth Báthory, a family so blue-blooded and so prone to debauchery that only they could have produced a historic figure who would later become known to history as “The Blood Countess”. Čachtice Castle (owned by Count Ferenc’s family at the time) was offered to Elizabeth as a grandiose wedding present, perhaps partially to smooth over the fact that she was a precocious and intellectually gifted teenager being married off to an older, illiterate, and famously crude man. 

At the time, this wasn’t considered an overly generous bride price, but a typical and very practical one for a family like the Nádasdys, who wanted to snag a prestigious bride. It would not be her main residence, as she and her husband ruled over several estates, but it would be one of her most profitable. The income from both the castle and the lands attached to it would help adequately support Báthory’s luxurious lifestyle as a prominent member of the Hungarian nobility, with ties to the throne, while her husband waged war against the Ottoman Turks. 

Čachtice Castle
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  • Photo Credit: Wikipedia

It would also, according to legend, fund her violent endeavours. As the popular story goes, if you were a young woman, and a virgin, who lived anywhere near the countess, your life was forfeit. Báthory, with the help of her equally depraved servants, tortured and slaughtered hundreds of girls to satisfy their sadism and bloodlust. Čachtice Castle and its many assets essentially paid for the world’s most gruesome spa treatments, as it is widely believed that Báthory bathed in the blood of these innocent girls to keep her skin looking young and fresh. 

In late 1609, after years of getting away with the disappearances of enough girls and young women to populate a town, Báthory was finally arrested for her alleged crimes against the people of Hungary. Her high status saved her from a public trial and execution, but she would not escape justice and punishment. Čachtice Castle went from being her wedding present to her final tomb. She was holed up inside a bricked room on house arrest, with only a slot in the wall for food to be passed to her by her guards. She would die inside that room in 1614, at the age of 54, and there are many who believe that her phantom haunts it still, yearning for her (undeserved) freedom. 

After that, Čachtice Castle lost most of its appeal as a home, and instead became a setting of further disaster and tragedy. In 1708, in the midst of an organized revolt against Francis II Rákóczi, the castle was captured by rebels who intended to use it as their headquarters. In 1799, the castle was damaged by fire after years of falling into neglect and disarray. Without a committed noble family to maintain it, it essentially rotted like a corpse. But it was eventually reopened to tourists in 2014, who continue to flock to these ruins to wade through the history and lore, seeking thrills and answers to its many mysteries. 

The castle has appeared in so many Gothic horror flicks, as the residence of some psychotic aristocrat or supernatural entity, that at this point there might as well be a Bingo card issued to both history and film buffs. Viewers will recognize Čachtice Castle in the 1922 silent film Nosferatu as the homebase of bloodthirsty Transylvanian landowner Count Orlok (it shared this honour with Orava Castle, also still standing in Slovakia). Almost a full century later, in 2008, pivotal scenes from the film Bathory were shot there. Loosely based on Báthory’s life, the movie follows her cursed spiral into the dark arts and her eventual solitary confinement.

The Scariest Places on Earth dedicated an episode to exploring the castle and hunting for more clues and information, as did Ghost Hunters International. And here’s another fun fact for film lovers. The opening scene in the 1996 film Dragonheart was filmed at Čachtice Castle too, dressed up for a Saxon fantasy brawl. And, of course, there is always the choose-your-own-adventure option to see this incredible place, which is to buy a plane ticket to Slovakia and travel there to stand where the world’s most terrifying (alleged) female serial killer stood and perished. If you dare.