On the top of a narrow ridge high above the Danube River in the beautiful Wachau valley, the ruins of Aggstein Castle, known as the home of the Pirates of the Danube, boldly dominate the landscape. These ruins originate from the medieval castle which was built in the 12th century and destroyed at least three times in history.
These 150-meter long castle ruins are located about 300 meters above the right bank of the Danube, on a rocky spur in the east-west direction. It is a typical medieval fortification, a spur castle type, that uses its location as the main defensive feature. Aggstein Castle could be defended very easily because it is surrounded on three sides by the steep hillsides, with only one side that is vulnerable.
The main role of Aggstein Castle throughout history was to secure the Danube navigation. However, it was often used by its lords as a secure location for the raids on the ships on the Danube. Legend has it that one of the first lords of the castle Hadmar III von Kuenring used the iron chain stretched across the river to capture the ships traveling downriver. Hadmar was captured by the Duke himself, who was tired of him raiding the passing ships. Duke Friedrich equipped a sturdy ship with a valuable cargo above and with heavily armed soldiers below, and he managed to lure Hadmar into an ambush. Because of its ability to resist any direct assault, more devious methods were needed.
Since the 12th century, the castle has changed its owner several times. In the 15th century, Scheck von Wald was given the right to rebuild the dilapidated castle and to charge upriver ships. Over the time, he became a robber baron and started robbing the ships on the Danube. Hence, his name "Schreckenwald" (wordplay meaning “Terror Forest"), which he got because of his cruelty towards the local population. After two decades of raids by Schreckenwald, the castle was besieged by another robber baron, Georg von Stain. In order to stop the raids, Austria’s Duke Leopold III took over the castle and occupied it with the tenants. Since then, Aggstein castle has changed the owners many times. It was even destroyed by the Turks during the first Turkish siege of Vienna.
Today, Aggstein castle is easily accessible by the state highway number 33 from Vienna or Melk. Since 2003, the extensive restoration works have been done in order to assure a smooth visit to the castle. With its hidden stairways, courtyards and towers, a dungeon and a chapel, plus a knight’s hall and a tavern, this medieval fortification with the long history of piracy is a great place to explore. There is no better place to relive the history of the pirates of the Danube then to visit the ruins of Aggstein Castle.
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