The castle was built over a settlement site that had existed from the Bronze Age through times of Celts and Germanic tribes to the Slavic settlement. In the times of the origins of the Ugrian state a royal castle had developed out of the older Great Moravia hill-fort-roost.
The oldest stone construction of the castle is the pre-Romanesque rotunda, which dates back to Great Moravia period. At the end of 11th century a stone tower was erected (donjon,bergfrid). One story and a ghotic brick coat were added after 1270. By its conic convergence toward the peak, it represents a singular feature of the castle architecture. It is a midpoint of the castle acropolis and the most dominant part of the city skyline. Within a short distance, individual castle palaces were built. The palaces were connected to the extension function of the castle - first as a defense function then as an administrative and residential function. It is thought that Matúš palace is the oldest palace, built at the beginning of the 14th century, from which, however only one wall has been preserved. Today, the wall is a part of the Barbora palace. The castle was the seat of Matúš Čak of Trencin (around 1260-1321), who made it his residential castle and the center of his extensive domain called “Matúš’s land” or Terra Mathei. Matúš Čák of Trencin, at that time, the most powerful Ugrian magnate, ruled over the whole Slovakia and a sizeable part of the Zadunajsko region. More than 50 castles and several districts were in his possession. Not only did he take properties from his weaker noble rivals, he robed the royal dominium as well. He didn’t spare the sacral property either, which brought him, as a result, clerical curse and declaration of interdict over his properties. Supposedly, he also produced his own coins, however none of which have been found. Perhaps it was a rumor created by his numerous enemies. His death on March 18, 1321 meant the collapse of his “kingdom” and the basis of many legends and tales. His grave has never been found and has become a popular quest with various romantics, adventurers, treasure seekers and serious historians. According to a story Matúš Čák of Trenčín was buried in a shell, silver and gold coffin along with vast treasures. There are skeptics however, due to the similarities of this story and those of the death of “the whip of God”, the king Atila. After his death, Trenčín castle became the property of the Ugrian crown and king Karl.
The Gothic Ludovit palace is a reminiscence of the Anju time. Its construction can be credited to the son of Karl Ludovit, also called the Saint or the Great. The museum of Trenčín organized an exhibit of firearms coming from 13th -19th century in the rooms of the castle. Gothic swords and sabers or parts of late gothic armor can be found there. Firearms include flintlock and percussion shotguns, muzzleloaders, hunting shotguns as well as oriental guns, yatagans, and rifles.
The Gothic style with early renaissance elements is represented by the Barbora palace. It is thought to have been built by the emperor Zigmund of Luxembourg for his second wife Barbora Cellska at the time when the Trencin estate belonged to the Barbora’s dowry properties. The third and last palace at the castle is the Palace of Zápolský’s, built during the reign of a powerful Zápolský family. The castle was built in the Late Gothic style with elements of the Early Renaisance by Štefan Zápolský and his wife Hedviga, countess Tesinska. Their son and later the Ugrian king Jan Zápolský lost the castle to Johan Katzianer, whose armies surrounded the castle in May 1528. After the cannonade, which caused the explosion of the castle’s gunpowder storage and after it was obvious that Zápolský couldn’t help the castle, on June 15th the crew exchanged the castle for their personal security and a departure with honors. The Trenčín museum located in the palace a collection of the paintings from the Ileshazy’s collection. The collection belongs to the most complex noble art collections in Slovakia. Its artistic and historic importance crosses the borders of Slovakia and belongs to the cultural wealth of Europe. Over one hundred paintings are on display representing numerous artistic styles and genres, ranging from the Late Renaissance through the Baroque to the Romanism. Beside the important portrait element, it includes landscape motives, still life, hunting motives, battles and sacral paintings. Names such as J.K. Hoffstedtter, Daniel Schmidelli, Jean Luicxs or Daniel Michorn belong to the most important personalities of the painting of its time.
The Zápolskýs solved the problem of the only weak spot of the castle, the saddleback of the Brezina woods knotting to the castle rock from the south side. All attacks against the castle fortification were and could have been led only from there. The New south fortification cut the saddleback by two ditches and three wall strips with crenelles and pitch noses. At that time the aging gothic system was strengthened by two artillery bastions of a new renaissance rondel type, the Jeremias bastion and the Mlynská tower, located in the central ax of the defense. From the architectonic point of view it is a unique fortification system, singular in central Europe. Less than unique construction for this time is the building of barracks to serve for the castle’s crew. It is located next to the Second castle gate. The reign of Štefan Zápolský gave birth to one of the oldest and most beautiful Slovak legends, the legend of the well of love.
The Trenčín castle, experienced not only war and terror, but also hosted kings and queens from almost all over Europe. Its advantageous location within a short distance to the borders of the three kingdoms predestined it to be the place of diplomatic meetings. On August 24, 1335 the polish king Kazimir, the Ugrian king Karol Robert along with his son Ludovit and the Czech king Jan of Luxembourg accompanied by his son Karl, met at the castle to conduct peace talks. The Czech king gave up his title of Polish king in exchange for the Piast duchy located in the Sliesko region. In 1362 peace talks between Ludovit the Great and the roman emperor Karol IVrd took place at the castle. Both rulers resolved their disputes about Aquilea. Peace was reached two years later. Both rulers, as customary at that time, exchanged splendid gifts at this occasion. King Ludovit was given a gold-coated gothic monstrance, which is until today a part of the treasure of the Parish church in Trenčín. He gave the emperor a crystal kettle, currently held at St. Vit cathedral temple in Prague. Emperor Zigmund of Luxembourg and later the king Matej Korvin also used the Trenčín castle in a similar manner.
The walls of the castle, also welcomed guests that visited it on a more joyful purpose. Previously mentioned king Matej along with his mother Alžbeta were awaiting his fiancée, the daughter of Juraj of Poděbrady and the Czech princess Katarína (Kunhutu), at the castle in 1461. In 1512, engagement feasts of the daughter of Štefan Zápolský and the Polish king Zigmund were carried out at the castle.
Diplomatic traditions of the Trenčín castle didn’t remain forgotten. In May 24-25, 2002 the summit of the prime ministers and ministers of foreign affairs of the states of the Visegrad group and Benelux took place at the castle, and in 2004 the visit of the participants in the NATO Parliamentary session were carried out at the castle as well.
In the 15th century, the castle ended in the hands of the nobility, either through the right of lien or sale. Among the most important owners were the Thurzos, the Forgáčs, the Tirol grof Pirrhus of Arc, the royal taverner Juraj Zrínsky, Ladislav Popel of Lobkovic younger, partially owned was by the Rakocis and by many others.
In the first half of 15th century, the Renaissance Delová bastion was built in the north corner of the castle yard by the Ugrian palatin Alexius Thurzo. The bastion protected the Upper “Water” town gate and a bridge. Today it serves as an exhibition hall of the Trenčín museum.
From 1548 repair works from damages by the Katzianer’s troops were undertaken on the castle. Grof Imrich Forgáč invited Italian and German stone foremen and builders to repair and develop the castle. The works were carried out from 1583-92 and the construction of the barbakan, the First gate with two cylindrical bastions or the visual unification of the castle palaces by the renaissance arc attics for example, were some of the outcomes.
In 1594 Stefan Ileshazi acquired the right of lien to the Trenčín castle, and in 1600 he bought it. Thus the foundations of power and fame of one of the most powerful magnate dynasties of Ugria, the hereditary lords of the Trenčín and Liptov districts were laid. Though no further important objects were built at the castle, they completed the reconstruction began by Forgáč. In 17th and 18th century design updates conducted in line with the baroque fortification system weren’t in a greater part realized.
The invasion of Turks to Považie in 1663 initiated the last strengthening of the castle defense. The south fortification was strengthened by the baroque star bastion element, completed in 1673, unfortunately not preserved until recently. Consequently, a crew of approximately 400 men was located at the castle by the emperor. As a consequence of this the Ileshazis definitely moved to their new castle in Dubnica nad Váhom. At this occasion a detailed inventory of the castle mobilar and stocks was carried out. This document, written in Slovak, provides information about not only the furnishing of the castle, the accessories of the castle kitchen and workshops but also about the size of stocks, foodstuffs, armor and armature. It also provides the first historic information about the Ileshazi’s painting collection and archives.
By the end of the 18th century, the Trenčín castle definitely lost its military significance. The imperial military crew left the castle in 1783 as well. The huge fire that broke out in June 11, 1790, and almost destroyed the city, devastated the castle. The last member of the famous family, Stephen II Ileszhazi, sold the Trenčín dominion along with the castle to an ennobled banker, earl George Sin in 1834. The last owner, Iphigenia De Castris D’Harcourt gave the castle to the city of Trenčín in 1905.
First repairs of the castle’s ruins began in 1912, however, a systematic reconstruction has been carried out since 1956 up to this day.
The Trenčín castle had seen below its walls hostile armies of Czech and Polish kings, Tatar hordes, Bočkay and Bethlen hayducks, imperial landsknechts, soldiers of the Turkish sultan, Tatars of the Khan of Krym, companies of the Duke of Sesia, and Kurucs and Labanec armies. However, it has never been conquered by a direct attack.