The lands of Salzburg are located in the center of a large valley. From the south, the valley is surrounded by two massive mountain ranges that create a natural barrier for any traveler or a conqueror. The mountain pass "Lueg" is the only possibility to cross the mountains. Therefore, it was a strategic stronghold of Salzburg for many centuries. Between 1075 and 1078, to fortify the Pass Lueg, Prince Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg built a castle ("Burg") near the town of Werfen atop a 155m high rock. The castle was built during Imperial Investiture Controversy which was the most significant conflict in medieval Europe between Church and state for the right of appointments, or investitures, of church officials such as bishops and abbots. Gebhard, an ally of Pope Gregory VII and antiking Rudolf of Rheinfelden, had three major castles extended to secure the Salzburg archbishopric against the forces of King Henry IV: Hohenwerfen, Hohensalzburg and Petersberg Castle at Friesach in Carinthia. Nevertheless Gebhard was expelled in 1077 and could not return to Salzburg until 1086, only to die at Hohenwerfen two years later on June 15, 1088.
In the following centuries Hohenwerfen served Salzburg's rulers, the prince-archbishops, not only as a military base but also as a residence and hunting retreat.
Alternatively it was used as a state prison and therefore had a somewhat sinister reputation. Its prison walls have witnessed the tragic fate of many 'criminals' who spent their days there. Various highly ranked noblemen had been imprisoned in the castle including rulers such as Archbishop Adalbert III (arrested by his own ministeriales in 1198), Count Albert of Friesach (in 1253), the Styrian governor Siegmund von Dietrichstein (captured by insurgent peasants in 1525), and Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau, who died here in 1617 after six years of imprisonment.
In the 12th century (between 1127 and 1142) during the reign of Archbishop Conrad I the castle was strengthened and expanded.
In 1278, the Archbishopric of Salzburg was recognized sovereign principality of the Holy Roman Empire and gradually turned into a relatively independent clerical state.
In the 14th century was recognized the final independence of the Archbishopric of Salzburg from Bavaria.In the 15th century, Archbishop Eberhard III of Neuhaus (was Archbishop of Salzburg from 1403 until 1427) rebuilt the castle, taking into account the development of artillery.
In 1535 began another period of construction of Hohenwerfen castle. In the castle, were constructed new towers, and the outer walls were rebuilt.
In 1560, in the castle were constructed additional towers, including Tower of Fallturm. The inner courtyard took a modern look.
Importing state-of-the-art know-how from Italy in building fortifications and bastions that should stand firearms and cannons, Prince Archbishop Johann Kuen-Belasy ordered a massive re-modelling of Hohenwerfen in 1563.
In 1565-1566, in the castle, St.Sigismund Chapel rebuilt in the Gothic style. However, the Romanesque parts of the walls can be discerned even today.
In 1568, was built Arsenal, in which is now a museum of weapons.
Prince Archbishop Johann Jakob ordered the construction of a large, central keep (donjon) for the castle in 1573.More adaptations followed during the 30-years-war between 1608 and 1638. This included the erection of a gunpowder tower during the reign of Prince Archbishop Paris Lodron in 1623. During that period, in the castle were also built several towers and a water tank. After that, in the architecture of Hohenwerfen castle were no any significant changes up to the present days.
Following the secularisation of Salzburg, from 1803 the castle changed over to Bavarian rule and was allowed to fall into disrepair and ruin.
Emperor Franz I of Austria prevented Hohenwerfen from being destroyed, but the Bavarians, who temporarily held Salzburg as part of their territory, neglected the building and left it to decay.
In 1816, Salzburg became the part of Austria by the decision of the Vienna Congress. The first renovation was done under Austrian rule between 1824 and 1833. At that time, Archduke Johann, the emperor’s brother, had the medieval castle repaired and restored for romantic and nostalgic reasons. The castle was then mostly used as a hunting base.
In 1876, Hohenwerfen fortress was sold to the Count Oswald von Thun und Hohenstein.
In 1898 Archduke Archduke Eugen of Austria purchased the castle and expanded the complex into a stately home and added a large collection of art and weaponry.
In 1931 the main building in the castle was damaged by a fire. A lot of the exhibits and artifacts was destroyed. In one year, the castle was restored, and in 1938, it was sold to Salzburg Reichsgau administration.
After World War II it was used as a training camp by the Austrian Gendarmerie (rural police) until 1987.
In 1987, Hohenwerfen castle was opened to the public. Nowadays the bastion, enlarged and renovated several times over the centuries, functions as an adventure castle for its visitors. Among the numerous attractions offered by the fortress are guided tours showing its extensive weapons collection, the historical Salzburg Falconry with the falconry museum as well as a stylish fortress tavern. The historic Falconry Centre is a special attraction, offering daily flight demonstrations by various birds of prey.