Sümeg Castle is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval fortresses in the country. It makes Sümeg one of the most spectacular castles in the Trans-Danubian Region, north of Lake Balaton. It offers an impressive sight as it dominates its surroundings from a high hilltop.
Every summer we can take delight in castle games where the former splendor and the life of the heroes are being immortalized. The Historical Equestrian Games are famous all over Europe. The ongoing developments and exhibitions of the well-maintained castle are attracting more and more visitors and tourists to Sümeg Castle. No wonder, that the castle has become one of the most popular excursion destinations in Hungary.
Sümeg and its surroundings were already inhabited in prehistoric times, then it became part of a Roman province. A Roman settlement and a square-shaped castrum, as well as the remains of a three-aisled early Christian basilica, were excavated not far away from the town, in the Marcal Valley.
During the Home Taking of the Magyar tribes in the 9th century, the area was occupied by the Lád Clan. The last member of this clan, Bulcsú, died losing the battle at Augsburg in 955, so his property was taken over by the princely Clan of Árpád. As our first Christian king, István (Stephen) belonged to the Árpád dynasty, the estate was owned by him. Around 1000, he donated this land to the bishop of Veszprém.
According to tradition, a castle-like fortress stood here already in the time of Chief Koppány who rebelled against the Christian king. The Knights Templar settled in Sümeg and they lay down the foundations of today’s castle on the southern side of Castle Hill around 1210. According to others, it was the Bishop of Veszprém, Zlandus of the Kaplony Clan who built the core of the castle around 1260-70. However, some historians claim that it was built in the time of Bishop Széchy Pál of the Balogh Clan, between 1263-75. One thing is for sure, it was first mentioned in 1292 when the castle was occupied by Palatine Miklós.
Then, King Endre III returned the castle to the bishop of Veszprém in exchange for some money. At that time, Sümeg could have had just a fortified residential tower. We know his first castellan from 1318, Péter, the son of Comes Bedur, who bought a section of the estate called Veszprémváralja from Pál, son of Omodé in exchange for 20 Marks.
The village already had a church in 1340 with a priest called Gergely. The construction of the castle began during the time of Castellan Unyomi Miklós in the middle of the 15th century. It was when the outer and inner gate towers were built, along with the castle wall between the two of them, and it was at this time that the coat of arms of Bishop Vetési Albert was also placed over the gate. The Gothic chapel behind the gate was also completed, including the two-story palace on the cliff edge overlooking the lower castle.
At the end of the 15th century, Bishop Vitéz János continued the construction of the chapel. The first siege of the castle took place in 1440, when the castle of Sümeg, owned by Bishop Rozgonyi Simon of Veszprém, the supporter of King Ulászló, successfully resisted the attack of the Szécsi-Kanizsai-Garai-Czillei League who were on the side of King Albert’s widow, Elizabeth. This siege was mentioned in a charter of King Ulászló dated 1442.
At that time Unyomi Miklós was the castellan of Sümeg. Perhaps it was the experience learned of this attack that made Unyomi Miklós surround the entire plateau of the castle hill with a defensive wall until 1471. Here is a nice video of Sümeg castle:
After the death of King Matthias, the army of Maximilian Habsburg occupied the Trans-Danubian Region, and Bishop Vitéz János handed over the castle of Sümeg to him. However, it was the old general of late king Matthias who recaptured it, together with Nagyvázsony castle in 1491.
The first known census of the castle is from 1524. It accurately described the economic and tenure situation of the castle area, the details of the castle’s guards and equipment. At that time the garrison of the castle consisted of a castle lieutenant, a vice-lieutenant, four armed guards, seven gatekeepers, a baker, and a gardener. The military equipment included 4 cannons, 27 hook-guns, half a barrel of gunpowder, spears, and arrows. The low number of guards and equipment shows that it could have been an economic center rather than an important castle.
This year, the Bishop of Várad appointed Csoron András of Devecser as castellan of Sümeg, who further strengthened the castle by building the northern wall and its buttresses. When Kecseti Márton became the bishop of Veszprém in 1528, he reclaimed the property of the bishopric, namely the castle of Sümeg. However, Castellan Csoron was only willing to cede the castle if he got back the several thousand gold Forints he had spent on fortifying the castle. King Ferdinand also called on the castellan to hand over the castle, which finally took place in 1537, but Csoron took away the castle’s equipment, armament, and food to get at least some of his money back.
When the Turks occupied Székesfehérvár castle in 1543, the Ottoman expansion reached the Balaton region. It was why the treasures of Veszprém Cathedral were placed in the castle of Sümeg. However, Bishop Kecseti fled to Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg) with all the treasures and he got converted to the Protestant faith a few years later. The castle of Sümeg was first occupied by the Turks in 1544 but was soon liberated.
When Veszprém fell to the Turks in 1552, Sümeg became the seat of the bishopric for about two hundred years, therefore Bishop Köves András began to rebuild it. Internal walls were erected on the northern side of the castle, and the so-called Köves Bastion was built to protect the northern wall. Cannon platforms were built behind the northern and eastern castle walls, and the strengthening of the palace and the citadel have also been completed.
After eight years of construction, a fire caused by lightning destroyed the roof of the castle in 1562. Archduke Maximilian allocated 200 gold Forints for the repairs. In 1569, Giulio Turco, an Italian military engineer, also surveyed Sümeg castle. His drawings give us a precious look into the contemporary conditions of many Borderland castles of Hungary.
Németi Gergely, the general of Prince Bocskai István of Transylvania crossed the Danube and occupied the Marcal Region with his 2,000 Hajdú soldiers and Turk-Tatar troops in 1605, during the Fifteen Years’ War. It was the time of anti-Habsburg wars and Bishop Újlaki happened to be loyal to the Habsburg king. A nobleman called Hagymási Kristóf and the aristocrat called Jr. Nádasdy Tamás served the bishop unwillingly. Soon, they took action and their men got into the castle by trick, and the bishop “was beaten to death and his head was laid on the castle wall, his servants were made to swear to be loyal to Hagymási. The soldiers immediately sent envoys to their lord to hastily come to occupy the castle.”
Meanwhile, General Németi arrived, placed his guards in the occupied castle, and then marched on. However, Batthyány Ferenc recaptured the castle with imperial troops during the same year, and in 1608 it was handed over to Bishop Ergelics Ferenc.
In 1620, the defenders of Sümeg Castle opened the gates before the armies of Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania. In the middle of the 17th century, new constructions took place in the castle and the town during the bishopric of Széchenyi György. The palace was built and the Köves Bastion was raised by another floor. The city was surrounded by a wall with five corner towers adorned by ornate gates. This was the time when the so-called Tarisznyavár (Haversack-castle) was built. In the 16th-17th century, the “Tarisznyavár” was usually a stand-alone tower, an outpost where there was no kitchen and the guards carried their food there every week in a haversack.
The Turkish army retreating from the lost battle of Szentgotthárd (St. Gotthárd) besieged the city in 1664, then they occupied and burned it. The castle also caught fire during the siege. The restoration of the castle is connected to Bishop Sennyei István, who built the Sennyei Bastion at the gate tower. The city was also quickly rebuilt. The County assemblies were held here again in the second half of the 1660s.
During the War of Independence of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II, the garrison of the castle ceded the castle to Balogh Ádám and Sándor László, the generals of Vak (Blind) Bottyán. Sümeg became an important supplying place for the Trans-Danubian rebel “Kuruc” soldiers. It was recaptured by the Imperial troops of General Heister in 1709. The castle was set on fire in 1713 and then it was rendered unusable. From then on, the roofless walls began to decay. The first archaeological excavations of the castle took place between 1957-64.
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Here are more pictures of Sümeg castle: