History of the castle
It has been over a thousand years since on 10 April 1004 the German king Henry II signed a donation deed in Trento, Tyrol, ceding the ownership of the Bled estate in Carniola to Albuin, Bishop of Brixen, and the Bishopric of Brixen as a sign of gratitude for the assistance the church offered to the Emperor in his attempts to strengthen the German rule in this part of Northern Italy. The charter makes no mention of the castle. Most likely, only a Romanesque tower stood on a steep white rock at the time. In 1011 Henry II signed another deed of donation to include the castle and the land in the size of thirty king's farms (i.e. the area between the Sava Bohinjka and the Sava Dolinka).
Upon the first subsequent mention of Bled made in 1011 in another Henry II's donation deed, the name was explicitly used to refer to the castle on the rock – castellum Veldes. This 1011 charter is proof to the fact that at that time the castle building had already been erected. After the year 1000, the Bishops of Sabien moved the seat of their South Tyrolean bishopric between Brenner and Bolzano to Brixen. The deed of donation referring to the Bled estate was kept in the bishopric archives in Brixen.
The source of the name Bled
Medieval documents refer to Bled with its German name exonym Veldes.
According to Fran Ramovš, the Slovenian autonym Bled, first documented in the modern times, was coined in 800 AD from an older word beld or pelt, which was also the root of the German Veldes. On the other hand, Valvazor believed that the word Veldes was derived from Felsen (German for rock), denoting the cliff on which the castle was built. In terms of written documents, Bled Castle is the oldest castle in Slovenia.
Castle owners and managers through time
The Bishops of Brixen never lived in Bled and would only rarely venture here from Brixen 300 kilometres away as one would have to ride for six days, using four horses, through valleys where countless dangers lurked. The Bled estate was managed by ministerials, castellans and castle staff according to the feudal order. Later, the Bishops of Brixen decided to lease the property. The first leaseholder was Konrad von Kreigh and the Kreigh family stayed in the castle for nearly two hundred years. The Kreighs and their relatives, the Turns, were succeeded as castle owners by baron Herbard Auersperg of Turjak, who had to leave Bled to fight the Turks. He attempted to buy off the castle for his family, and undertook the renovations works after the 1511 earthquake. Under Auersperg, the castle was a Protestant stronghold and in June 1561 it was even visited by the leader of Slovenian Protestant movement Primož Trubar. Other castle administrators included Ivan Josip Lenkovič and Count Žiga Turn. When the leasehold perioed came to an end, the bishops appointed governors to manage the Bled estate. Up until the 18th century, the castle was administered by the nobles, and later also by the adherents of the middle class. Some of them stayed in Bled, while others managed the estate through caretakers.
It was due to the frequent change of its managers that Bled Castle had little valuable equipment and furniture bearing high historical value. In 1803 the Bled estate was nationalized. The French occupation of Carniola temporarily transferred the title of the Bled estate to Napoleon, making it a part of the Illyrian Provinces. In 1838 the Bishops of Brixen were returned their property. After the feudal order came to an end in 1848, the Brixen lords were no longer able to sustain the rising costs of the estate and eventually sold it to an industrialist, the owner of the Jesenice ironworks, Mr Viktor Ruard. From Ruard, the castle and the entire castle estate passed on to merchant Adolf Muhr in 1882. The restless history of the castle continued and in 1918 the hotelier Ivan Kenda from Bled bought the castle, the lake and the island with an ambitious plan to turn the castle into a hotel. Unfortunately, his investments failed and in 1937 his entire property was confiscated by Zadružna gospodarska banka, which passed it on to Drava Banovina. On 18 August 1947 a fire erupted on the castle, destroying a considerable part of the castle roof. Looking back, we can only conclude that Bled Castle has had an eventful and lively history.
Renovations of Bled Castle
1952 marked the beginning of extensive renovations of the castle led by architect Tone Bitenc, a disciple of Jože Plečnik. Castle remake took ten years and was completed in 1961. The renovation works gave the castle a slightly more modern appearance better suited to tourist visits.
In 2008 the Bled Culture Institute renovated the museum part of the castle.