Szigliget castle is on the northern bank of Lake Balaton. The castle perhaps is one of the most scenic forts in this region. Due to its location, it used to play an important role in defending the Kingdom of Hungary during the Ottoman wars. Szigliget can be found on the southwestern part of this basin, and the magnificent ruins are on the summit of a 230-meter-high vulcanic hill. In the Middle Ages, it used to be an island of Lake Balaton.
When the Hungarian tribes conquered the area in the 9th century, the Káli Basin was occupied by the Kál tribe. Later, it became the land of the famous Bulcsu chieftain who settled his clan there. Those lands that were not taken by any tribes, were automatically possessed by the Chief Prince of the Hungarians towards the end of the 10th century. These domains were owned by the King of Hungary in the 11th century. Szigliget was also one of them because it was mentioned among the estates of the king’s castle, Zala until the beginning of the 12th century.
It was mentioned first in writing in 1121. According to this document, the area was owned by the Atyusz Clan. During the first part of the 13th century, Szigliget was in the hand of Bán (Duke) Ogyz of the Atyusz Clan, then it became the property of a Greek man, Comes Kalian of Zala County. When he died, King Béla IV took back the land and gave it to his son, Prince István in 1259 along with the domains in Zala County. However, a year later it was given to the monks of Pannonhalma Abbey.
The monks were the first known builders in 1261 who began the construction in earnest. Abbot Favus managed to build the stone castle in two years but it was so nice that the king fell in love with it and he wanted it for himself. He made a barter with the monks, and in exchange for the castle, he gave them the lands of Debréte in Nyitra County, the villages of Alma in Somogy County, and the village of Bak in Zala County.
Then, the king appointed the Mórichidai family members of the Pok Clan as his castellans. This family founded the Abbey for Premonstratensians at Mórichida. This family was in charge of guarding the treasures of the Abbey, too. These treasures had to be well guarded because even some high priests wanted to get them. There was a bishop of Veszprém city called Péter from the Héder Clan who took Szigliget castle by force and held it between 1275 and 1289. The bishop carried the relics and the treasures away to Veszprém castle and the Pók Clan could get them back only at the beginning of the 15th century.
Count Móric came from the same Clan and he was one of the soldiers who saved the life of King Béla IV in the battle against the Mongolians near the Sajó River in 1241. For this deed and for his loyalty he received high offices and great estates. The first castellan mentioned in a document in 1300, was Acitus who was looting the estates of the area. The bishop of Veszprém excommunicated Mihály, the vice-castellan of Szigliget because he abused the parish priest and chaplain of Tapolca and even occupied the bishop’s mill by force.
It was the time when a new settlement was born at the castle on the site of today’s village, called Újfalu or Szigliget (Wyfalu sive Zegligeth) at the beginning of the 15th century. In 1348, Simon, the grandson of Miklós, the son of Móric, was the owner of the castle and its accessories in Szigliget. The Móriczhidai family then owned Szigliget for about another hundred years, and presumably during this time, a significant expansion of the castle took place. The Móriczhidai family concluded a mutual inheritance treaty with the Laczk family in 1424. Although the family did not become extinct, King Ulászló I donated Szigliget in 1441 to Némai Kolos Jeromos, a relative of the Laczk family.
Due to the weakened royal power, trespasses, and abuse became frequent at this time. In 1442, Berky Flóris, castellan of Szigliget attacked and looted the Abbey at Almád. Szigliget was listed among the estates of the Újlaky family in 1445, whose tenure included the second major strengthening and expansion of the castle. After the death of Újlaky Lőrinc in 1521, the castle was acquired by the Lengyel family of Tót, presumably, they were related to the Móriczhida family.
In fact, it was King Louis II who gave Szigliget to them. After the Battle of Mohács, in 1526, the Lengyel family supported King Szapolyai János. The Dual Kingship of Hungary tore the kingdom into two parts, King Habsburg Ferdinand and King Szapolyai were fighting for power. It was the reason why King Ferdinand took Szigliget away from them and gave it to Török Bálint of Enying because in 1531 Török was still supporting the Habsburgs.
However, Kulcsár István, the warder of Szigliget did not want to hand over the castle to Török Bálint’s agent, Scribe Martonfalvy Imre. Török had to threaten the guards with some siege cannons. Soon, the guards ceded the castle over without a fight to Scribe Matronfalvy. After the siege, Török appointed the scribe as his castellan who had the castle reinforced: we can learn about it in detail from the diary he had kept between 1531-40.
He set about transforming the medieval castle to meet the military requirements of the age. First, Martonfalvy built the outer castle, then he also dug a well. Soon, a circular well-like cistern was excavated in the inner castle, the bottom of which was sealed by lead plates, it was how Martonfalvy wanted to prevent water from escaping. During these constructions, the floor plan of the castle has been formed as can be seen in the drawings of the Italian architect, Giulio Turco made in 1569.
Török Bálint and Scribe Imre were captured by the Turks in 1541 but the latter managed to free himself. The castle returned to the possession of the Lengyel family around 1547, its captain became Magyar Bálint, the husband of Lengyel Brigitta. He was renowned for his martial virtue, being one of the most famous warriors of the Military Borderland. Here is more about his life:
Magyar Bálint was already sick in the castle of Szigliget in 1571 but still repulsed the Turkish attacks. When Magyar died in 1573, Szigliget was doomed. When the Turks took Fonyód castle in 1575, Szigliget castle got in a more perilous situation. It had to be reinforced in 1580 because, in the second part of the 16th century, the castle didn’t count as a modern fort.
Having regained the castle, the Lengyel family carried out these constructions. For the second time, the Royal Treasury has issued the money for the expenses. However, this amount could only be enough for the most necessary repairs, because in 1588 Lengyel István was begging the king to replace Szigliget for the estate of Rajka because the condition of the castle was bad, the military equipment was inadequate, and it was too close to the Turks. The Turks have often rowed their boats across lake Balaton to pillage the villages near the castle. The “Óvár” (the old fort) of Szigliget was built against these boaters. They also established a small harbor for the Hungarian boaters who opposed the Turk attacks.
The soldiers of the castle, similarly to other neglected forts of the Borderland also demanded their missing pay from Lord Lengyel, in spite of the fact that the king owed it to them. According to the Diet’s Article 16 of the Act in 1613, the guards of Szigliget together with other castles were to be paid and supplemented with more mercenaries. Then, the verdicts of the Diet in 1618 and 1622 repeated the same. Nevertheless, the situation of the castle did not improve. Its captain was Lengyel János in 1606. The next captain was Lengyel Boldizsár around 1630. He had 12 Hussars and 25 infantrymen plus one artilleryman who were altogether supposed to receive 125 gold Forints a month.
Lengyel Gáspár, the next captain, made further fortifications on Szigliget. He had also boats built at his own expense to counter the Ottoman Turkish attacks on the lake. He had asked for 400-500 peasants to build the new harbor in 1647. He was given 200 men by Lord Zrínyi Miklós aka Nikola Zrinski to be able to complete its construction.
At the end of the Turkish occupation, the castle was still owned by the Lengyel family but it lost its military significance. No one cared about its repairs, so it slowly started to perish. Finally, the destruction of the castle was caused by a thunder strike that exploded the gunpowder in its tower at the end of the 17th century. All documents have burned in the fire. Emperor Habsburg Leopold had the rest of the castle’s buildings destroyed in 1702 likewise he did away with so many other castles in fear of the rebellious Hungarians.
During the War of Independence of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc, the Kuruc (rebel) armies no longer used the castle, it gradually collapsed, and its stones were scattered to the constructions of the local population. The remaining walls were reinforced in 1931, 1953, and 1965-66, then in 2020.
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Here are more pictures of Szigliget: