The Esterházy palace (Photo: Civertan)

Pápa is located in Hungary, it was a Borderland castle that belonged to the immediate defense belt of forts before Vienna and thus it has been well taken care of. Although it was built on a plain, it was surrounded by swampy terrain and the valley of the Tapolca Stream made it well-defendable. Unfortunately, the castle was mostly pulled down in the 18th century, except for the remains of its southwestern bastion and a few sections of walls. 

Pápa (picture: Civertan)

In fact, stones were only used for building the inner castle and the gates of the outer castle. The main defenses were made of palisade walls. They built two lines of palisades and filled the gap between them with earth. According to the survey made by Palatine Nádasdy Tamás in 1555, the walls were 1575-step-long (about 2,965 meters). However, according to the Italian General Giorgio Basta who led the siege in 1597, the walls were 2,316 meters long. The inner castle used to stand on the current site of the Esterházy Palace.

Photo: PanPeter12

 Pápa used to be an agricultural town in the age of the Árpád Dynasty, a center of the surrounding area. It is assumed that a royal mason was standing in the city at that time. Pápa boasted some kind of a castle in 1401 when it belonged to Garai Miklós. (Please, note that I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians.) Pápa was the home of the conference of the kingdom’s oligarchs who used to hold  King Zsigmond of Luxembourg in custody. Zsigmond agreed to grant them mercy in exchange for his release.  Verily, the king made Lord Garai the Palatine of the country in 1402.

The Garai family must have reinforced the royal manor well because the fortification could beat back the assault of the Czech mercenaries of the nobles who sided with the Habsburgs in 1442, after the death of King Albert. After this time, the documents continuously mention the castellans of Pápa castle. 

Pápa in 1597

The outer palisade walls of the city were built after the first Turkish attack in 1529. This hastily erected, weak palisade wall encircled a bigger area than the walls built in a later period. During this time, so-called “Hussar-castles” were added as outer castles to the forts of the Borderland: the cavalry could easier use it during their endless patrols to and fro the countryside.

As the contemporary saying went, “A castle can be held only on the fields”, meaning that the flexible and mobile semi-light cavalry’s movements were essential to keep the foe out. It was another reason why were two captains appointed in the Hungarian castles: one of them stayed in the fort while the other one was leading the Hussars in the area.

It was a scribe called Martonfalvay Imre, the appointed man of the owner Török family, who had the castle reinforced in earnest after 1543. He wrote:

“When I found the castle in that neglected condition, without buildings, I got very sad. (…) After getting to know the place, I realized that I would be unable to protect the big abandoned town of Pápa, surrounded by that despicable palisade with my few soldiers.

So I left the town’s castle unrepaired and began to build the outer castle at first because it was the place where the castle was defended. I made the range of the palisade walls shorter, erecting new palisades, I had it woven and filled up with mud quickly. Then, I had the moat dag, too. (…) Later, good bastions are going to be added to this weak palisade, within two years,  if God’s willing, with lots of diligence and care.”

But he could complete only a part of his plans.

Pápa castle in a German geometry book

Even this much was quite timely because in the meantime Pápa had to withstand a siege against the Ottomans in 1543 and another one in 1555. The Ottomans were repelled by Martonfalvy and his warriors’ heroic efforts. Pápa was the third biggest castle concerning its garrison next to Győr castle, with 500-1000 soldiers among its walls. Its famous captains were Török János, Majthényi László, Huszár Péter, Török István. Pápa fell to the Turks twice, for a short time. At first, it was occupied in 1594 for three years.

3 October 1594: Pápa Castle was taken by the Crimean Tatar troops

When Győr Castle fell on September 29, 1594, the German-Hungarian guards abandoned Pápa Castle and the Crimean Tatars marched in. How could this happen?
A Crimean Tatar
Captain Huszár Péter of Pápa Castle had heard about the Ottoman attack and made all the preparations for the defense.
He also got two battalions of German mercenaries to help him. They were led by Christoph Priam. Unfortunately, Huszár was called to the army of Prince Matthias, and the newly arrived Priam was not prepared enough for the defense of Pápa. Moreover, he didn’t even know the characteristics of this Borderland castle.
The famous Hungarian Hussar, Berenhidai Huszár Péter
Békásy Márton was the vice-captain, but he could not stop the hostility between the German and Hungarian soldiers.
During the siege of the castle of Győr, the Pápa warriors had been quite effective in harassing the logistic lines of the Ottoman army. Finally, Grand Vizier Sinan sent the Tatars against them. The Tatars lured the Pápa warriors into a trap and killed many of them.
Crimean saber, 17th century
After the fall of Győr, Khan Gázi Giráj and Agha Malkocs sent a letter of surrender to the Pápa garrison, but there were no negotiations after that. The German mercenaries forced the guards to leave the castle, so there was no chance to discuss the terms. This happened at dawn on October 3. As a result, the Tartars were able to take a castle on their own, which was a rare thing for the Tartars during the 15 Years’ War.
a Western mercenary
Pápa became the center of a Begler Bey and was under the control of Pasha Idrisz, the Bey of Szigetvár. The fall of Pápa Castle (my note: both Pápa and Győr were only a stone’s throw from Vienna) caused a great panic, the guards of the surrounding castles abandoned their places. After the loss of Győr and Pápa, the Borderland had to be withdrawn to the west of the Rába River.
The Borderland in 1580
The surrendering soldiers faced punishment, but in the end, nothing was done. They continued their military service in the castle of Sárvár, which became the new center of defense. As for the Tartars, they spent the winter there and they were a big burden for the local people. They also caused a lot of damage to Lord Nádasdy Ferenc, the owner of the castle. He was very interested in the recapture of Pápa, which finally took place in the summer of 1597 when he was the lord of the region.
Lord Nádasdy Ferenc (1555-1604)

During the period of Ottoman occupation, it was Pasha Szemender who had the moat around the inner castle excavated. Read more about this event here:


Photo: Civertan

Pápa in Christian hands again

There was an uprising of the Walloon mercenaries in 1600 when the soldiers rebelled to get their pay; the Austrians could put them down only after a two-month siege. The Walloons had wanted to hand the castle over to the Turks in the hope of better payment and for this, the Imperial armies took brutal revenge on them.


Pápa fell again into the Turks’ hands later in 1683 for just a couple of months. The castle had changed hands eight times between 1704 and 1709 during the War of Independence between the Habsburgs and Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II. It was the rebel “Kuruc” General Károlyi Sándor who took it in January 1704 but General Sigbert Heister took it back in March and then had it burned up. The rebels returned in May, this time even Esterházy Antal, the landlord of the town took their side.

The castle changed hands three more times, then General Bottyán János (The Blind) took Pápa back for Rákóczi in 1705. He was controlling the Trans-Danubian Region from there for the next two years. Each time when Pápa was taken by the Imperial troops, it was looted and burned up. After the combustion of 1707, only two houses remained intact. The city had suffered tremendously and the castle was ruined.

Photo: Nazimek Michal

The Esterházy family built a great palace above the castle in the 18th century (1740). It was lord Esterházy Ferenc in 1752 who received approval from Empress Maria Theresia to demolish the rest of the walls of the fort. It has been done by 1783. The last bastion disappeared in 1808. However, the Esterházy Palace is a nice building to visit, it has been recently renovated.

Photo: Nazimek Michal

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Photo: Nazimek Michal

Here are a few more pictures of Pápa: