Nyitra (Nitra, Neutra) is 92 km East of Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava), laying on the northern fringe of the Hungarian Small Plain, in the Valley of the Nyitra River. It can be found in Slovakia. You can see the Northwestern Carpathian Mountains towering above the city and its castle, which was built in the 11th century, on a 60-meter-high hill at the ford of the Nyitra River.
It belonged to the Hungarian kings who often stayed there. As Nyitra was also the Hungarian prince’s place, the unfortunate Prince Vazul was blinded there in 1037 by the order of the German Queen Gizella (beatified in 1911 by the Pope), wife of Saint King István (Stephen) I. It was Queen Gizella who had a chapel built in the castle that she devoted to Saint Emmeram, the Patron Saint of Regensburg.
Emperor Henrik besieged Nyitra in 1074 but could not take it. King Könyves (Bookish) Kálmán established the Bishopric of Nyitra in 1113 and gave the place to its bishop. The Castle’s church was finished in 1158. The gothic cathedral of the Bishop was built in the 13th century and you can see the sculptures of two Hungarian kings, Saint István and Saint László, on the main altar. Nyitra Castle was among the 160 forts in Hungary which were able to withstand the siege of the Mongolians in 1241-42.
Nyitra was given a new privilege in 1248. It became a Free Royal Town. The Czech King Ottokár II took the castle between 1271 and 1272 and it was heavily damaged. The Czech raids also damaged the Bishop’s property and therefore, as compensation, Nyitra was put under his administration in 1288. In the conflict between the king and the oligarchy of Csák Máté, the bishop of Nyitra remained loyal to the king. In 1313, the king confirmed bishopric privileges and extended them to include the right to administer not only Nyitra but the whole of Nyitra County. Yet, the powerful Csák Máté of Trencsén took it in 1317. (Please, note that I use the Eastern name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.)
It was taken and sacked by the Bohemian Hussites in 1440. In this period, the members of the Stibor family tried to defend Nyitra against them. The Polish King Kázmér IV got the castle in 1471 but King Matthias Corvinus took it back a year later. After the defeat at the Battle of Mohács in 1526, Nyitra was under threat of Ottoman attacks. It became part of the 1,000-mile-long Borderland that separated the Ottoman Empire from the rest of western Europe. You can read more about this extraordinary system of forts:
In 1563, the town became the seat of the Captaincy of Lower Hungary. The Turks failed to take it three times but Prince Bocskai’s man Rhédey was able to take it in 1605, with Turkish help. Prince Bethlen also took it in 1620 and held it for a while. The Franciscan monastery and church date back to 1630. The Battle of Vezekény took place not far from Nyitra in 1652 where 1,200 Hussars of Chief Captain Forgách Ádám defeated a three times larger Ottoman army in an open battle. Among other things, this battle was famous because four members of the high aristocratic Esterházy family died in the fight. This battle is described in my book “33 Castles, Battles, Legends”:
The castle fell into the Turk’s hands without a fight in 1663 because Terjén János, the tax-collector of Zala County and the Castellan of Nyitra, surrendered it. The city became a center of the Nyitra Sanjak, an Ottoman administration center. It was retaken by the army led by Jean-Louis Raduit de Souches and Koháry István in 1664 when the Ottomans surrendered after a two-week-long siege. When the Hungarian rebels were gone in 1683, the garrison of Nyitra and Léva castles opened their gates for the army of General Rabatta and the Palatine.
According to the 1702 Act of Emperor Leopold I, in which most of the Hungarian castles were doomed, Nyitra Castle was ordered to be pulled down as well. It was due to the efforts of the Bishop of Nyitra, Mattyasovszky László, that the castle remained finally intact. Nyitra Castle fell to Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II of Transylvania in 1704 but in 1708 the town burned down during the fight against the Habsburgs. Today, the outer fortifications are gone but you can find most of the old buildings of the city in nice condition. In case you are permitted to enter the old library you can see 80 books from the 15th century and about 1,500 from the 16th century.
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