Késmárk (Kezmarok, Käsmark) was the famous city of the Hungarian aristocrat Prince Thököly Imre and it is located in the Upper lands of the old Kingdom of Hungary/Horná Zem/Felvidék, in Slovakia. Here is a tourist video about it:
The place was first mentioned in 1251 when King Béla IV invited here German settlers. It became a town in 1269 and it had walls already in 1368. The Czech Hussites were pillaging the town between 1431-1441, burning and destroying the nearby settlements of Szentmihály and Szenterzsébet.
There was a violent debate between Késmárk and Lőcse (Levoča, Leutschau) during the 16th century: the cities contested over the right who was supposed to hold markets by stopping the incoming trade from Poland. Késmárk was also famous for the cheese they produced there. There is a legend about their famous (or rather funny) cheese battle that they allegedly fought against the German burghers of Lőcse. You can read this story in my book “33 Castles, Battles, Legends” which can be found here:
According to some previous opinions, the castle was built in the 1430s in a Gothic style from the stones of the destroyed nunnery of Szenterzsébet. Others say, that King Matthias Corvinus gave the town to his Treasurer, Lord Szapolyai in 1462 because Szapolyai managed to reconquest the Szepesség area from the Hussites. The burghers were not very happy with the new landlord as they were afraid of losing their privileges. It is said that it was in fact Lord Szapolyai who had the town’s nunnery pulled down in order to use its stones for the construction of his fort. It caused tension between the burghers and him.
Read more about the Szepesség and the northern Germans of Hungary:
It was the Szapolyai family who had the six outer towers built. The walls were decorated in the Renaissance style. Although there was a moat around it, the castle has never had great military significance but the town was an important settlement, surrounded by walls. You can read the Latin script on its strong gate tower: “The Lord’s name is the strongest bastion 1628”
During the Dual Kingship, King Szapolyai János gave Kásmárk to his envoy, the Polish Jeromos Laszky. You can find the tombstones of the Laszky and Thököly families there.
King Ferdinand took over the area after 1527 and it was the time when the conflict between Késmárk and Lőcse took place. Finally, King Ferdinand banned the burghers of Késmárk to make wars against Lőcse in 1558. The fort was rebuilt in 1570 and in 1620 as well as in 1650. The Thököly family got it in 1579. The wealthy Thököly family is responsible for the beautiful Renaissance decoration of the castle.
Késmárk was a rich northern town, the birthplace of Dávid Frölich (1595-1648), a great geographer, calendar-maker, astronomer, and mathematician who had an extended knowledge of physics. It had belonged to the Thököly family between 1583-1656. the last construction was made in the castle in 1658 when Italian architects decorated its chapel with stuccos.
Prince Bocskai’s soldiers took Késmárk in 1605 without a struggle and the troops of Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania were welcome in 1619 as well. The city became a free royal town only in 1656 and Thököly Imre had to take it back by force in 1684 from the Habsburgs. Thököly Imre, Prince of Upper Hungary and Transylvania, was born in Késmárk, on 25 September 1657. We can see the tombs of the Laszki and the Thököly family in the city’s gothic chapel.
When Thököly István was accused of treason by the Habsburg because of the Wesselényi Conspiration in 1671, the Austrians carried away the treasures of the aristocrat from Késmárk on 16 wagons.
Although Prince Thököly Imre regained Késmárk in the 1680s the Austrians got hold of it soon. The last military role of Késmárk castle was in 1709 when the Hungarian “kuruc” rebels were holding the fort for five days against General Heister. When the castle surrendered, Heister had 6 burghers and 6 soldiers executed, going back on his given word. The Chief Judge of the town, Jakab Kray was among them just like Lányi Márton and Toperczer Sebestyén.
Unfortunately, the splendid palace was burned down in the 18th century and most of the buildings were pulled down. Now, you can see a museum in the castle.
The bell tower of Késmárk was built in 1591, it is declared the nicest historical monument of the Szepesség (Zipt) Region. You can find similar bell towers in the area at Poprád, and Őrlak, not to forget many other places in the neighborhood. The oldest bell in it was made in 1525. The tower is connected to the old Latin school that was established in 1536. The buildings are protected by a wall.
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Here are more pictures of the castle of Késmárk and the bell tower: