Arheological sources for the history of Pusti Grad (the castle of Waldenberg) above the village of Lipnica (Slovenia)

(Republic of Slovenia, Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, J6-5413-0581)

© Katarina Katja Predovnik, Department of Archaeology, faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana

The subject of the project were the archaeological data and the small finds uncovered at the site of Pusti Grad (the site of the medieval castle of Waldenberg) above the village of Zgornja Lipnica near the town of Radovljica. The finds analysed in this project are kept by the Gorenjski Muzej (the Museum of the Region of Gorenjsko) in Kranj and the National Museum of Slovenia in Ljubljana.

The castle was erected on a promontory on a ridge separating the valleys of the rivers Sava and Lipnica in the middle or the second half of the 12th century on the territory then owned by the Counts of Ortenburg from Carinthia. Until the late 14th century the castle was inhabited by the family of Waldenberg and later by various castellans. On the death of the last of the Ortenburgs in 1418, the castle was inherited by the Counts of Cilli, and when this dynasty also died out in 1456, it fell into the hands of the Hapsburgs. They first let the castle out on lease or put it in pledge, and fiinally in 1616 they sold it to Johann Ambrosius von Thurn.

Pusti Grad aerofoto

The ruins of the castle of Waldenberg (© Gotika v Sloveniji, svet predmetov, Ljubljana, Narodni muzej 1995, str. 317).

The castle of Waldenberg was built in the form of a simetrical double complex with an outlining curtain wall and two pentagonal residential buildings connected by an enclosed square courtyard. In ground plan the core of the castle had an elongated hexagonal form which it retained until it was abandoned, presumably in the 17th century. In the 14th century the outer yards were laid out forming a spiral access to the castle core and comprising several lines of walls and defensive towers. In the 16th century an additional enclosure was erected defending the access into the outer yard.

A lot of the analysed archaeological finds were excavated at the castle of Waldenberg by lay persons. In 1993, a local enthusiast was digging inside a defensive tower adjoining the eastern hall. The finds were then seized from him and the excavation was continued by the Kranj Office of the Slovene Heritage Management Institute and Gorenjski Muzej. All in all, Gorenjski Muzej now holds a collection of more than 2350 objects and the National Museum of Slovenia a collection of 76 objects from this site. A few have been published already.

The studied small finds comprise the ceramic kitchen- and tablewares, glass vessels, various metal tools and fittings, weapons, jewellery and dress accessories, a few textile fragments, devotional objects, candle-holders and oil lamps, and ceramic stove tiles. Since all of the finds lack the information on the stratigraphic contexts in which they have been found, they were studied only according to the typological criteria, both formal and technological. For comparative analyses, published contemporary artefacts from Slovenia and other (middle)European countries were considered. We could establish that the artefacts from the site of Pusti Grad are mostly very similar, often even identical to the finds from other European medieval and post-medieval high-status sites (castles, urban settlements). However, the studied corpus of finds from Pusti Grad seems to stand out somewhat, in view of the large number of diagnostic objects, particularly the luxurious ceramic tablewares and objects made of copper alloys. A large share of the ceramic tablewares, maiolicas and engraved and painted wares, seem to have been produced in the region, but some have been imported from the northern Italy. Finds of unfinished objects, tools and raw materials (eg. bronze wire) and the more or less damaged objects, presumably intended for recycling, can only be understood as remains of the metal-working activities once carried out on the site. A smithy and a workshop for production or repair of the dress accessories and jewellery made of metal (copper alloys) must have existed in the castle. Still, the archaeological evidence does not allow us to establish the exact area of these activities inside the castle complex.

Assuming that all of those objects come from the deposits inside the cellar of the defensive tower, it is safe to suppose that these rooms have been filled in with the refuse secondarily. The refuse itself has quite probably accumulated over a longer period of time at one or several other sites inside the castle and was later used to fill in the cellar and level the area of the abandoned defensive tower.

The objects date from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Only a couple of pottery fragments from the lowest layers are older, possibly dating from the 13th century, which is apparently also the date of the building of the tower. The greater part of the finds can be dated to the 15th century (eg. ceramic figurine of St Catherine of Alexandia, fragments of Spanish maiolica pottery, fragments of the so-called graffita Italian wares, some decorative belt fittings made of copper alloy etc.). This goes to show that in the 15th century, the castle was still inhabited by high ranking individuals. Among the finds, typologically dated to the 16th century, weapons and other objects (eg. engraved wares of local making) prevail which could easily have been owned and used by the members of the castle guard, estate officials and servants, and on the basis of which we cannot surmise a permanent presence of actual members of nobility. As a military outpost, the castle has retained a certain importance even after it had been abandoned by its owners who have moved to a more comfortable manor in the nearby town of Radovljica. In that phase, it was surely still occupied by a company of soldiers and the servants needed for the regular upkeep of the buildings and its function as the centre of the rural estate.

Of the finds dated with some degree of certainty to the 17th century, merely a few pottery fragments are represented in the studied collection. This means that the excavated cellar of the defensive tower had been abandoned and infilled by the 17th century. For how long the rest of the castle complex remained in use, is a question that only further investigations might answer.

The results of the project will be published shortly.

Selection of small finds.