The fortification was built between 1075 and 1078 at the behest of Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg during the Imperial Investiture Controversy, meant as a strategic bulwark atop a 155-metre (509 ft) high rock. 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. The fortress was extended in the 12th century and to a lesser extent again in the 16th century during the German Peasants’ War, when in 1525 and 1526 riotous farmers and miners from the south of Salzburg moved towards the city, laying fire and severely damaging the castle.
Alternatively it was used as a state prison and therefore had a somewhat sinister reputation.
In 1931 the fortress, owned by Archduke Eugen of Austria since 1898, was again damaged by a fire and, though largely restored, finally had to be sold to the Salzburg Reichsgau administration in 1938. In World War II, the castle served as a Gauführerschule , a nazi education camp under Gauleiter administration. After the war it was used as a training camp by the Austrian Gendarmerie (rural police) until 1987.
Currently, the bastion functions as a museum. 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 fortress tavern.