Fridrihštajn is not only the highest-lying Slovenian castle, but it is also the scene of our only medieval romance. Who does not know the tragic love story of Frederick of Celje and Veronika of Desenice? The mighty Count Herman ordered to arrest and drown the son’s second wife because her “inappropriate” lineage compromised his ambitious plans, throw Frederick in the dungeon, and demolish the castle which was supposedly named after him. When Herman died, Frederick restored the building. He never married again, however, according to tradition it is claimed that the stone seats, carved into the rock in the middle of the courtyard – one of which was unfortunately damaged a few years ago – is where the lovers used to sit during walks.
Many masters ruled the castle after Frederick and Veronika. The most famous, however not for the good deeds, was lord Jörg von Thurn, who intimidated farmers until they rebelled against him and killed him in 1515. Thus, Thurn became the first nobleman that was murdered in the peasant revolts. The rebel movement spread from Kočevje and other centres over a greater part of Slovenia and Carinthia and was recorded in history as our greatest peasant uprising. The fragments of the song of rebellious peasants “Stara pravda” (“Old Justice”) and “Le vkup. le vkup, uboga gmajna” (“Unite, unite, you wretched folk”) which have been preserved on a flyer from that time, represent the oldest known printed text in the Slovenian language.
According to Ivan Stopar, PhD, the Fridrihštajn castle was actually built two hundred years too late. With its design it was already an architectural anachronism in the 15th century – if it was really built by Frederick and not by the Ortenburgs before him, it was constructed towards the end of the first quarter of the century. An elongated stronghold which is aligned with the field stands on the top of a precipitous hill successfully performed its protective role during the period of Turkish invasions, when Fridrihštajn served as a refuge against the unwelcome raiders who often visited Kočevje. Lighting a bonfire on the castle warned people from the surrounding area of the coming danger. As far as is known, the Turks, however, never found time to try to take it.
In the period of Valvasor Fridrihštajn was already in a deplorable state. The Auerspergs transferred the seat of dominion to a new city mansion. The erudite Carniolan polymath reported that only a castellan resides at the castle, otherwise it is more or less dilapidating. At the turn of the 19th century it was apparently still partially populated, as the famous storytellers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm report in their book Deutsche Sagen that a hunter who still lived in the castle, apparently experienced a close encounter with spectres of the castle. One evening a mysterious old man lead him into the underground, where he saw the ghosts of people who, as it later turned out, were the former lords of the castle from the portraits in the princely hall.
When the painter Carl Postl in mid-19th century painted Fridrihštajn on one of its depiction of the Duchy of Gottschee, the building was already completely in ruins. The equipment from the former Fridrihštajn chapel adorned the town church in the coming decades, however during the construction of the current building it was lost or destroyed. Only the image of Jesus’ baptism remained, the work of the famous Baroque artist Valentin Metzinger.
Nowadays, Fridrihštajn with its past attracts not only dreamy romantics but it is also a popular destination for climbers and travellers because of its position. The maintenance work in the years following the independence of the country partly halted its further deterioration, however, like a Sleeping Beauty it is still waiting on a prince who would bring it back to life and contextualize it to preserve the picturesque ruins for future generations.