Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

Nagyszombat (Trnava, Tyrnau)  is a town in the region called the Upper lands/Horná Zem/Felvidék, it can be found in Slovakia, it is 45 km from Pozsony (Bratislava or Pressburg) to the north-east. The wealthy commercial city, a huge oblong settlement had high walls that encircled 60 hectares, with two gates: one opened to the North and the other to the South. It was one of the largest free royal towns of the Kingdom of Hungary. Now, it is the seventh biggest city in Slovakia. In fact, it was Cardinal Pázmány Péter who made the city famous because he founded its university which was the predecessor of the ELTE (Eötvös Loránd Tudomány Egyetem) University of Budapest.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

The settlement of Nagyszombat was founded by the first Hungarians who arrived there in the 9th century. The name of the place suggests that weekly markets were held on Saturdays. The place was first mentioned in 1211 when its inhabitants were both  Hungarians and Slavs. King Béla IV made Nagyszombat a free royal town in 1238 because it was located on an important trade route between Esztergom and Bohemia. The town was destroyed by the Mongol invasion in 1241 but the king brought in new settlers from abroad. The town’s importance was growing and the Bohemian King Ottokar II took it in 1267.

Later, the town suffered a lot because of the Czech raids until 1278. Ten years later, the Austrians occupied it for a short time but the Hungarian oligarch, Csák Máté posed an even greater threat to the burghers in the 14th century. The oligarch was blocking the town’s development so that could be free again after he died in 1321. Then, King Károly Róbert could seize it and help the town’s revival with new privileges. King Károly Róbert and King Janos of Bohemia met in Nagyszombat in 1327 and allied against the Habsburgs. 

The town was prospering because of the trade but they also produced wine and made broadcloth. The burghers had many vineyards in Bazin, Szentgyörgy, Vöröskő, and in Modor. However, they had many conflicts with the local noble families of Bazini and Szentgyörgyi. The city was an important royal tax-collecting center, too. The town did not have a real market square so the broad street that crossed the city along the Trnavka Stream was functioning as the long center of the settlement. 

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

The 57-year-old King Nagy Lajos, suffering from leprosy, arrived in Nagyszombat in September 1382 to receive the Austrian barons and he died in the town on 10 September. Four years later, Count Zsigmond of Luxembourg, husband of Maria Anjou (later king of Hungary), pledged Nagyszombat to the Moravian counts Jodok and Popov in exchange for their military support. Additionally, the counts took more private castles when they occupied the area.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

When Zsigmond paid them the loan in 1389, Count Prokop didn’t want to leave so the Hungarian king had to drive him out by force. In 1402, the king awarded such a right to the town that enabled them to stop all merchants who were passing through to sell some of their products in the city. Also, the burghers were given the right to trade their goods freely in the entire kingdom. 

 Soon, the Bohemian Hussites began to raid the region. The city is also famous for the Battle of Nagyszombat in 1430 between the Hussites and the Hungarians. The Hussites took the rich town in 1432 and they left only two years later, in exchange for a huge ransom. Finally, peace and prosperity returned only during the reign of King Matthias Corvinus. Matthias was famous for his balanced politics regarding his Jewish subjects but after his death, a pogrom broke out in Nagyszombat where a significant number of Jewish people lived. It was in 1494 and 14 Jewish people were charged with the “blood crime”. Many of them were burned and the Jewish community had to pay a large sum of penalty. 

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

After the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Dual Kingship commenced in Hungary, and Nagyszombat was taken by King Habsburg Ferdinand. The Hungarian high priests of Esztergom fled from the Turks in 1543 to Nagyszombat and from this time on, the town has been nicknamed “the small Rome”. The cardinal’s office remained there until 1822. There are many churches in the town, and not only many clergymen lived there but several Diets were organized in the town, too.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

The walls of the town were reinforced between 1553 and 1556 by an Italian engineer, Pietro Ferrobosco. However, there were no bastions built so the town wouldn’t have been able to stand against the more advanced artillery of the age, unlike the near Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky). Compare the defenses of the two cities:

 The Jesuits appeared there in 1561. The first Catholic Bible translation into Hungarian (based on the Latin Vulgate) was also completed in the town by the Jesuit Káldi György who was born there in 1573. It was Bishop Telegdi Miklós of Pécs who established the first major printing house in 1578 that became important in to fight against the Protestants. As Nagyszombat lay on the road toward the lands of the Habsburgs, the Transylvanian princes occupied it during their anti-Habsburg wars. The town opened its gates before the Hajdú soldiers of Prince Bocskai István in 1605. It was the city where Prince Bethlen Gábor made peace with Emperor Rudolf II in 1615 when Transylvania’s independence was guaranteed.

Photo: Ľuboš Repta

Later, a new war broke out between them, and the Imperial armies of General BoÐuoi and Dampierre withdrew from the area to defend Vienna from Prince Bethlen in 1619. Thus, the city greeted the prince again. However, the Habsburgs regained control two years later but they were beaten at Érsekújvár, and Bethlen’s troops, led by Bornemissza János took Nagyszombat for the third time. Bornemissza János was the one who defeated the army of Colonel István Pálffy who was loyal to the Habsburgs. (Note, I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians.)

 Cardinal Pázmány Péter, the hero of the anti-Protestantism of Hungary, established his University in Nagyszombat in 1635. You can read my fictional interview with Cardinal Pázmány Péter here:

The most important buildings of Nagyszombat are the Saint Miklós church and the Palace of the Cardinal. The church used to be a Romanesque building but it was rebuilt in the Gothic style after 1375. The construction was completed by the age of King Zsigmond. The inner side of the church was built in the Renaissance style, though. The Cardinal’s Palace was built by Cardinal Oláh Miklós in 1526. You can read more about him on my page:

The Cardinal’s palace was later enlarged by Cardinal Forgách Ferenc and Lippay György. We have to mention the building of the high school that was built in 1648: it was the place where the famous composer of the 20th century, Kodály Zoltán graduated, he composed his piece “Sabat Mater” there at the age of 15. The church of the Jesuits was built between 1637 and 1640, it was initiated and sponsored by Palatine Esterházy Miklós. This was the first church in Hungary that was built in the Baroque style. We can see the works of Giovanni Rosa and Pietro Antonio inside.

Photo: Ľuboš Repta

As for the University, its construction began in 1678 but it was finished only in 1773. Four years later, Empress Maria Theresa moved the institution to Buda, though. The Tower of the Town was built in 1554 and after its reconstruction in 1674, it has become 70 meters tall. The dome of the Tower burned down during the Thököly-uprising in 1683 so it had to be renovated.

The town wall
Photo: Kiwiew

Let us not forget the Franciscan Church where King Károly Róbert and the Bohemian King János made a treaty against the Habsburg princes in 1327. King Nagy Lajos added a monastery to the church in 1363. It was rebuilt in the Baroque style in 1633 and was owned by the Protestants for a short time. Also, there is the Gothic building of the Saint Ilona hospital church with a beautiful Renaissance inner side. The Saint József church used to belong to the Evangelic church but Emperor Leopold took it away from them and gave it to the Pauline monks in 1672 who built a monastery next to it. However, they had to leave in 1783.

Photo: Kiwiew

The next medieval church is the Poor Clares’ church which was there as early as 1240. It burned down in 1683 like almost all buildings in the town, now there is the Town Museum in it. In Nagyszombat, there was a famous library and a printing house, too. Not to mention the first Botanic Garden, founded by Jakab Winter. No wonder, that the town has become the center of Hungarian cultural life. 

Photo: Ľuboš Repta

The southern and the northern walls were pulled down between 1820 and 1840 but long sections of the defenses can be seen everywhere else, beautifully renovated recently. Nagyszombat was the place where the four Esterházy warriors were buried who fell in the Battle of Vezekény that was fought against the Turks in 1652.

The Battle of Vezekény

The fights around Nagyszombat in 1663

Crimean Tartars in the Highlands (North Hungary) and Moravia… – and the role of the mysterious “Bald Colonel”…

During the Turkish siege of Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky), the Christian army under Montecuccoli, about 15,000 strong, retreated to the Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava) area to defend the imperial city of Vienna. However, they were unable to repel the Tatars’ terror attack:

“Meanwhile, the Tatars and the Wallachians, sent by the Grand Vizier, arrived at Galgóc, slaughtered some troops of Croatian and German soldiers, who were placed there to guard the bridge of the Vág River, and, having taken the bridge, crossed the river and burnt to ashes the villages towards Nagyszombat. Not having finished, they crossed the White Mountains and already penetrated the land of Moravia, they destroyed everything thoroughly (…). Who is there who can describe, or even make us feel, the disgrace that accompanied the slaughter, the slaughter of unfortunate little children, the wailing of women deprived of their husbands, the arson, the raging, and other such atrocities of the destructive tyrant?”

A Crimean Tatar

We can also guess at this terrible devastation from other recollections. A short time later, the Transylvanian nobleman Bethlen Miklós, traveling through the area, sadly stated:

“Between Trencsén (Trencin) and Pozsony (Bratislava), the land was destroyed by the two weapons, there were many thieves, and there was famine. In Trencsén, children lay in heaps on the dung heaps, dead or sick from hunger; it was a sad spectacle.”

A Crimean Tatar archer (by Somogyi Győző)

The research has revealed an interesting fact: this terror attack by the Tatars on the western Highland counties of the Kingdom of Hungary and Moravia was part of a well-prepared military plan. We know that before this action, a Christian in Tatar mercenary service, a Lithuanian – referred to in sources as Paul Kozák (Cossack), who was later captured in the Moravian territory and confessed – had been spying at length on the geographical and economic situation and on military defenses.

German Cuirassiers

We also know well that a German regiment of cavalrymen – still in the service of the Crimean Khan on Polish soil – was part of the Tatar mercenary army and allied with them in the raiding party. Their leader’s nickname, or “code name”, is known only as Colonel  Bald (in Hungarian: Kopasz), but he seems to have enjoyed the Khan’s trust and to have been among his most trusted military advisers. It is not inconceivable that he prepared the whole diversion.

Photo: Maksym Kozlenko

Nagyszombat in the “kuruc” age

Sad days arrived in 1683 when Nagyszombat opened its gates to the anti-Habsburg “kuruc” (rebel) troops of Prince Thököly Imre. While pillaging the town, the soldiers set it on fire which burned almost the whole place. When the Turks were defeated at Vienna, Thököly’s troops had to withdraw from Nagyszombat.

The next dangerous period happened in 1703 when the “kuruc” generals Bercsényi Miklós and Baron Károlyi Sándor were chasing away the Imperial army of General Schlick: the “kuruc” soldiers occupied the town without a fight. Prince Rákóczi Ferenc had his famous “Manifestation” printed in Nagyszombat in January 1704. Unfortunately, Rákóczi’s army was defeated right at the town in December 1704 by General Heister so the town returned to the Habsburgs. There were peace talks in the city the next year but they were not successful. After the bloody fights at Trencsén in August 1708, the “kuruc” forces were driven out from the western part of the Upper Lands, though they were able to hold Érsekújvár castle until September 1710.

The COA of Nagyszombat
Photo: Radek Linner

Source: partly by Szerecz Miklós

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Here are more pictures of Nagyszombat: