The Old Castle Celje is situated on a narrow rocky overhang above Celje. The original castle was built in the second half of the 12th century by the Counts of Vovberg from Carinthia who had Celje and its surroundings in their possession up to their extinction in 1322. After a decade of battles, the castle came into the hands of their heirs (1333), the Lords of Žovnek, later the Counts of Celje.
G. M. Vischer, grad Celje; bakrorez iz Knjige gradov, okoli leta 1686
In the 13th century, still under the reign of the Counts of Vovberg, Celje began to blossom in all its splendour once again. Moreover in the next two centuries Celje played one of the most important roles in central Europe, thanks to Lords of Žovnek from Savinja valley, who inherited the estate of the extinct Counts of Vovberg in 1322.
Ozemlje Celjskih grofov
The transition of property into the hands of the Lords of Žovnek meant an obvious turning point in the development of Celje. This was felt particularly after 1341 when the Lords of Žovnek were raised to Counts by the German Emperor Louis of Bavaria, and afterwards they could boast with the title the Counts of Celje. The ambitious and successful family imprinted an indelible seal in the short period of its reign and at the same time constantly grew wealth, influence and power with skillful politics and speculative marriages. They ascended like a meteor.
Grad Celje s severa;(iz okoli 1900) avtor neznan;Pokrajinski muzej Celje
With the accumulation of property in slovenian, croatian and hungarian countries, they gained the title of the Princes of Zagorje (1397), civil Governors of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia (1407), hungarian Barons (1430) and finally in 1437 the state Princes. Their daughters were married to descendants of important rulling families in Central Europe and in the Balkans, e.g. bosnian Kotromanići, polish Piast and Jajelon, Serbian Brankovič. The most notorious, slandered and also admired noblewoman of her time Barbara of Celje, the daughter of count Herman II. even married the German Emperor and King of Hungary and Bohemia, Sigismund of Luxembourg.
Johannes Hötzel – J. v. Rainhoffen: Celje z okolico (izrez gradu), 1751 (1830); Pokrajinski muzej Celje
The Counts of Celje did not gain their reputation merely by political competence but also with heroism. Herman II. won the simphaty of the later Emperor of Germany Sigismund of Luxemburg in the battle against Turks at Nikopolje in 1396, where he saved the Emperor from a certain death, out of the deep Danube. It is also known how Herman II. won the famous duel with the hapsburg Duke Friderik, later the emperor of Germany at the tournament in Constance by Lake Constance. The knight tournament in Constance was held in honor of the great church council, and that was when Herman II. also helped Pope John XIII. escape from the city, where he was threatened by a conspiracy. Nowadays it is hard to imagine the splendor that accompanied the counts of Celje at every step of the way and we can only imagine the curiosity and maybe even envy in the eyes of the citizens and noblemen of Constance while observing the arrival of Count Herman, his son Friderik II. and the Celje son and brother-in-law – the german Emperor Sigismund of Luksemburg, accompanied by 300 horses and 400 wagons.
Grad Celje z JV;
avtor neznan,1633;Pokrajinski muzej Celje
In the last period of the counts of Celje, at the time of theFriderik II. and Ulrik, their power was also shown on the battlefield, above all against the mighty family of Hapsburgs. Although the Princes of Celje formally had entirely the same status with their Habsburg competition, they did not want to acknowledge the equality. Friderik III. of Hapsburg wanted to issue an invoice to the social climbers which was the reason for the Celje – Hapsburg wars in 1443, which ended quite feeble for the Hapsburgs. The Princes of Celje remained the state princes and they made a hereditary contract with the Hapsburgs, which played an extremely important role after the dying out of the Princes of Celje
Grb Celjskih grofov
Quite differently and for Celje actually fatally, ended Ulriks interference in Hungary. In the battle for the Hungarian Crown, which the Princes of Celje desired, they incured a lot of enemies, especially amongst the Hungarian magnates, who ploted a great conspiracy against Ulrik. In 1456 when the crusader army defended Belgrade against the Turkish siege, the main enemy of the Counts of Celje, the Hunjadi from Hungary insidiously murdered Ulrik from Celje. Having no heirs, their ascent ended and in Celje, at the funeral of the last Prince of Celje, a heartending call was heard: “Counts of Celje today and never again”. Three yellow stars on the blue surface became only a memory of an era that meant the most for Celje and its history: a small city along the Savinja was not merely a component part of Central Europe, it also helped form the mideival Central Europe.
Kurz v. Goldenstein: Razvaline gradu Celje, 1867;
Štajerski deželni arhiv v Gradcu
Later the castle became Regional princes’ property and different caretakers managed it. During the great peasant revolt in 1515 a rebelious peasants ravaged it, however it was restored in the second half of the 16th century. Later it lost its strategic meaning and started to go to ruin. In 17th century it remained without a roof and in the 18th century the castle roof brick was used to repair the lower resident castle. The remaining usefull construction material was used by Count Gaisruck at the building of Novo Celje Mansion. In the first half of the 19th century the owners used the castle as a quarry and only the Count Wickenburg, who bought the ruins and gave them to the Styrian regional states, rescued it from total destruction.
Püttner – Closs: Razvaline gradu Celje, 1878; Pokrajinski muzej Celje
Castle reconstruction efforts began after the establishment of the Celje Museum Society in 1882 and are still ongoing, as it has been gradually returning to its original state in the last ten years.
In 2010 the operation “Celjski včeraj in jutri: Stari grad” was finished. Within the operation a multipurpose staircase was built in 2008, the midwalls renovation and building (including the information office, souvenir shop, modern toilets and a cafe) was finished in 2009 and the sanitation of the Friderik’s Tower was completed in 2010.