Why is there a giant castle in Helen, Georgia?

How Uhuburg came to be

Uhuburg Helen Georgia
The castle will have 30 murals that depict world philosophies and religions.

Photograph courtesy of Naomi Marthai

In a place where gaps in mountaintop treelines get noticed, the residents of Northeast Georgia watched with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation as the horizon changed its silhouette. Bit by bit, a sprawling, fantastical storybook castle emerged above Helen—complete with a turret and 12 towers, one of which is eight stories high.

Who on earth was building this thing? Rumors swirled that this looming edifice was a monument to the occult, or that it was the latest incarnation of the Guidestones in Elberton. Whatever it was, it was imposing and led to much head-scratching . . . which was the point.

The elliptical explanation given by the visionaries behind the castle, Bob and Janine Marthai, only stoked the intrigue. Bob Marthai, its architect, said that it was a “citadel of epistemology,” eliciting a collective “huh?” from passersby. He added, with understatement, that the castle was just his elaborate way of “keeping deer out of my garden.”

In fact, Uhuburg, or the Eagle Owl Castle—a one-of-a-kind place in structure and mission—is his magnificent obsession. When it is complete (construction continues, but the castle is open to the public), the picturesque grounds will boast 30 murals illustrating the world’s religions, philosophies, and thought systems.

You can stroll around and muse, lodge here, or even book your events—the great hall’s floor is reinforced with swimming pool noodles, for a springy step.

The overall design is intended to reflect the castle’s natural surroundings. “I wanted to design the castle around the mountain, not the mountain around the castle,” Marthai says.
He grew up mostly in California, but attended the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School. He was a professor of psychology at Charleston Southern University, a builder of ships, and a “lifelong learner” interested in philosophy.

“The Renaissance castle reflects the Scientific Age and Enlightenment periods of Western history,” Marthai says. His objective is as ambitious as his lofty towers: to portray “every thought system since the beginning of history”—in painstaking detail. Not only do the Abrahamic religions get their due (Christianity is still in the research phase), but so do Eastern religions, New Agers, and others. Muralist Hoke Johnson created works to reflect Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese folk cosmology. “I just want people to come and contemplate wisdom,” Marthai says.

His daughter, Naomi Marthai, a former schoolteacher who handles administrative duties, is quick to note that her family is not “affiliated [with] or endorsing one belief system over any other.”

She points toward the Zoroastrian mural, with a figure that resembles the late lead singer of Queen. “You can think of that tiny figure as Freddie Mercury, whose family was Zoroastrian. That’s just one of the things you’ll learn here.”

This article appears in our March 2024 issue.