Győr is a city in Hungary but this place is located not very far away from Vienna so all advancing armies had to face its atrong walls. Germans called it Raab (Celtic: Arabona) and it was the “Town of Rivers”. Being near to Vienna, it has always been an important fort on Hungary’s western Borderland and thus it had been frequently attacked by the Austrians in the medieval times, as well as by the Ottomans in the 16th-17th centuries.
After the Celts, the Romans, the Franks, the Avars, and the Slavic people also used the place as a fort, assumedly because of the confluence of the rivers. When the Magyar tribes arrived, the area became part of the Hungarian Borderland towards the West. We know that King Saint István had a Castle-Comes appointed in Győr’s area but the fort was not particularly mentioned at that time.
However, a few years later, Emperor Henry II of Germany led his large army against King Aba Sámuel in 1043 A.D. He defeated the Hungarian king at Ménfő and took the Castle of Győr by siege at the same time. The fort must have been a palisade castle, reinforced by clay and earth, in the fashion of the age. When the Mongols attacked Hungary from the East, the Austrian Prince Frederick assaulted Győr in 1241. Then, the Mongols arrived there a year later and also destroyed the settlement and the fort.
It was King Béla IV who had the castle of Győr rebuilt, this time using stones: his stone castles grew up from the earth as they were the only answer to the Mongols’ warfare. When Győr was mentioned in 1273, it was owned by Bishop Jób, from the Felician line of the Zách Clan who took the settlement by arms from another bishop called Dénes. However, the new bishop could not enjoy his property for a long time because the Austrian Hacking Marward and Konrad Heiligenstadt approached the walls on boats with their 100 men and took the city away from him. Then. the German guards were soon chased away by King László IV. The king could keep it only for a short time, though: it was King Ottokar of Bohemia who occupied it.
King László IV could manage to retake it only three years later with the aid of Emperor Rudolf of Germany. The castle opened its gate in 1403 to László, son of Kis Károly but King Sigismund was able to take it with the help of his lords, Garai and Voivode Stibor.
The town was always able to resist successfully all attackers, including the famous General Hunyadi János and Lord Rozgonyi Simon in 1440. Then, Győr became the property of Queen Elisabeth, the widow of King Sigismund. After Sigismund’s death, she stole the Hungarian Sacred Crown and fled to Győr with her baby who later became King László V of Hungary. The Queen made her kinsman, Ulrik Czillei reinforce the castle. A short time later, the unpaid guards of the fort rebelled and ceased the Castle of Győr to Emperor Frederick III of the Holy Roman Empire. The place was returned to Hungary only in 1447, as part of the Peace Treaty of Radkersburg.
After the Battle of Mohács (1526), the city first opened its gates to the national King Szapolyai, then became loyal to the usurper king Habsburg Ferdinand because of its captain, Nádasdy Tamás. It was in 1529 when the Turks reached it and the castle’s commander, Christopher Lamberg thought it would be futile to defend the town so he burned it down: so the arriving Turks could see nothing at the castle’s walls just the smoking blackened ruins, hence the Turkish name for Győr, “Yanık Kale” (burned castle).
Due to the Ottoman wars, Győr became the center of the Trans-Danubian region’s captaincy. King Ferdinand appointed Fels Lánárd in 1537 to carry out the reinforcement of the castle. During this period, the town was surrounded by new fortifications and a new 10-meter-high city wall that was made of brick, designed by the leading Italian builders of the era. One of them was Pietro Farabosco who made the new plans in 1562 and was helped by Francesco Benigno and Bernando Gabelli.
The town changed in character during these years, with many new buildings built in the Renaissance style, but the main square and the grid of streets remained. As for Renaissance forts in general, it is not commonly known that the castles of the 1,000-mile-long Hungarian / Transylvania / Croatian Borderland were rapidly constructed by the best Italian engineers of the age, giving us plenty of examples of Renaissance fort architecture. Here you can read more about this magnificent Borderland:
Győr Castle is an important fort in blocking the road to Vienna, and has always been a frequented target of Ottoman raids, in particular by the men of the Sanjak Bey of Kara Ali of Székesfehérvár. Ali was a renowned warrior and he had been fighting against the Hungarians for a while but the hostilities have reached their summit by August of 1577 when the Christian army suffered a serious defeat at Győr. Here is more about this event:
1 May 1584 The warriors of Győr laid a trap for the Ottomans
In 1594, after the death of Count Cseszneky János, the captain, the Ottoman army led by Pasha Sinan occupied the castle and the town because, after 60 days of heavy siege, the Italian and German troops surrendered it in exchange for free passage. Their captain, Ferdinand Hardegg, was beheaded for it later. In 1598 the Hungarian and Austrian armies, led by Pálffy Miklós and Adolf Schwarzenberg, took control of it again. They were able to take the stronghold with the help of a new explosive called “petard”: the fort’s gate was blown up with this revolutionary bomb by French Vice-Colonel Vaubcourt. This petard had been first used successfully in Hungary at the siege of Tata Castle in 1597.
Further constructions were built until 1660 so as to make the town an even more formidable barrier against the Ottomans. In 1683, the Turks returned but Pasha Mustapha could not take the fort, soon they had to leave after being defeated in the Battle of Vienna. During the War of Independence of Prince Rákóczi, the rebels didn’t even try to besiege Győr.
The next general who took it was Bonaparte Napoleon in 1809 who stayed a night in the town. When the French troops left the town, they exploded the fortifications. The military role of Győr ceased to exist in 1820 when its walls were mostly pulled down. Now, we can see only the bastion of the palace and half of the Sforza-Bastion, and a few sections of the walls.
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Here are more pictures of Győr and its fortifications: