Since ancient times there has existed an important trade route heading from the south of Europe, through the Tatras along the River Orava, and on into Poland. Even today the road following this course is clogged with heavily loaded trucks. On a steep, rocky promontory above the Orava River, providing control over this important trading corridor, sits Orava Castle. This castle (Oravský zámok, sometimes Oravský hrad) is one of the best preserved, most often visited, and most picturesque castles in Slovakia. Countless school excursions go there—I well remember going myself while I attended school in Liptovský Mikuláš in 1948. My best friend from those long-ago school years took me there again in 2005.
The site on which the castle is situated probably saw its first fortifications around the beginning of the Common Era. The first written documentation dates from the mid 13th century when the already-existing castle became the property of the king of Hungary. Later it passed into the possession of a series of noble families. As was the case for so many other Slovak castles, it was repeatedly damaged and rebuilt, resulting in a mix of architectural styles. In 1800 Orava Castle suffered a devastating fire, following which the Pálffy family undertook extensive, rather romantic restorations. Further restorations were conducted in the period 1953 – 1968 during the Communist era. This is the form in which we see the castle today.