Sziszak / Sisak castle had a very important role in triggering the 15-Year-War between the Habsburgs / Hungarians / Croatians and the Ottoman Empire after its sieges of 1591, 1592 and 1593. However, the place inherited its name(s) from the ancient Celts: it derived from the word seg-sga (= bulrush, reed) and later it was mentioned as Segestica in Latin, Siscia. In the early Middle Ages, it was referred to as „Siscium”.
Early Slavic roots
The castle of Sziszek (Sisak, Sisseg) can be found in the south, in Croatia. The Slavic people arrived in the area in the 7th century and Sisak / Sziszek became the headquarter of the first Slavonian prince, Ljudevit Posavski („Liudewit”) in 810 AD. He was fighting against the Frank Empire between 819 and 822. Soon, it was taken by the Franks who conquered the lands between the Dráva and the Száva rivers as well. However, we know that Braslav of Lower Pannonia reigned from Sisak until he was killed by the invading Hungarians in 893 or in 898. According to a document from Split, Sisak / Sziszek belonged to the Croatian Kingdom at the beginning of the 10th century.
The Medieval Hungarian lords
As King Könyves Kálmán of Hungary defeated King Peter Svacic in the Battle of Petrova Gora in 1097, Sziszek went under the rule of the Hungarian-Croatian personal union and became the part of the Kingdom of Hungary.
We don’t know for sure when was the Bishopry of Sziszek re-established but according to Croatian historians, it had been done in the 10th century already. However, according to a document, Sziszek became the property of the Bishop of Zagreb in 1094 but it was given to the Chapter of Zagreb in 1215. By the age of King Béla IV, Sziszek was a town with self-administration and a city court. It was already the economical and social center of the County. The leader of the city was appointed by the Chapter each year in Lovrijenčevo. The settlement was mentioned as “Zitech” in 1332.
The Chapter lost their Castle of Ustilonija that was owned by the Keglevich family so they had to build a new fortification. The present castle, the Stari Grad was built by the Chapter between 1544-1550 at the confluence of the River Száva and Kupa. Its triangular foundation was quite uncommon in the kingdom, with three towers at the junctions of the walls. As far as we know, this design was adapted after Italian forts by Italian military engineers. These triangular forts were built to answer the challenge of the more developed artillery of the age. Later, this fort was improved with an outer palisade castle which had a pentangular gate tower.
It was Mindszenty Gergely, the Prefect of the Chapter of Zagreb, a leader of infantrymen who gave us the precise description of the castle from 1552. We know from his report that the Renaissance castle was supplied with 10 cannons in different sizes as well as 40 bigger hooked-guns, and 4 smaller guns. They were positioned in the three-story-high towers.
The Ottoman onslaught
This part of the Hungarian (and Croatian) Borderland was a very frequented area where the Turkish Akindjies (irregular troops) were raiding all the time, despite all kinds of truce or treaty. When a bigger raiding army was defeated in 1588 at Sziszek, it has nearly triggered a war between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs. Let us not forget that Croatia and Hungary had been a playground and a battlefield between these two empires for 300 years. The castle withstood the siege of Deli Hassan, the Pasha of Bosnia, in 1591 and 1592. The Pasha tried to take it in 1593, too and laid siege on the castle again with his 20,000 men.
The castle was defended by a couple of hundred German soldiers and some untrained men. They were heroically led by Balázs Jurák and Mátyás Fintics and had withstood the cannons of the Turks for ten days. In the meantime, the combined Croatian-Slovenian-Austrian forces, 8,000 soldiers, surprised and defeated the Turks, led by the Croatian Duke Thomas Erdődy and Andreas Auersperg and Rupprecht Eggenberg. The Pasha got stuck with his army into a peninsula and his only way out was a wooden bridge. The 80-year-old Pasha died himself there, along with most of his army on 22 June 1593. It could not decrease the shame that Pasha Sinan attacked and took the castle on 24, August.
Verily, the Battle of Sziszek in 1593 was one of the early significant defeats of the up-to-then quite invincible Ottoman army on European territory. Duke (Ban) Thomas Erdődy became famous throughout Europe: both Croatians and Hungarians are proud of this family for their military deeds. The defeat was so bad that it made Sultan Murad III attack Emperor Rudolf, thus starting the 15-Year-War that was only finished by Prince Bocskai in 1605.
It was the army of the French General De Souches that took control over Sziszek in 1672. Sziszek Castle remained the fort of the Borderland system. General De Souche had new earthen walls built. You can read more about the 1,000-mile-long Croatian-Hungarian-Transylvanian Borderland that separated the West from the East between the 1400s and 1699:
After the Ottoman peril
After the liberation of Hungary and Croatia, the town remained an important port and trade center but the settlement on the right bank of the river was still under military command. The town was an important center of Croatian cultural life as well. The first Croatian play called “Juraj and Sofija, the Turks at Sziszek” (by Ivan Kukuljevic Sakcinski) was published in Sziszek / Sisak in 1839. According to the data from 1910, there were 7,881 inhabitants in the town, more precisely 6,008 Croatians, 567 Hungarians, 545 Serbians, 296 Slovenians, 261 Germans, and 123 Czech people.
Due to the major renovation that took place in 1960, the castle is in a fairly good condition in our days. As it is a very popular tourist destination, the area is very nicely maintained and clean. It is only for a two-kilometer-walk from the city center.
The castle has much to do with the 15-Year-War. you can read more about it here:
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Here are some more pictures of Sziszek / Sisak Castle: