Today, one would say that Tata is but a small town in Komárom-Esztergom County located in northwestern Hungary. However, Tata Castle (mentioned first in 1221) endured 15 sieges during the Hungarian-Ottoman wars between 1526 and 1685. It was an important fortification in the middle of the 1,000-mile Hungarian Borderland that separated the Christian world and the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century.
For three days every year, several hundred historical reenactors from all over Europe assemble within the walls of the Renaissance castle to commemorate the famous siege that took place there on 23 May 1597, reenacting the event to the delight of history-loving visitors.
The remnants of the palace overlook a 700-year-old artificial lake that is sometimes called the Hungarian Lake Garda. Indeed, this medieval 220-hectare lake makes the place unique not only in Hungary but throughout Europe. It is the resting place of tens of thousands of wild geese and other birds that arrive from the steppes of Eurasia in November and stay until March. During the annual Wild Goose Festival, tourists come to see this miracle and enjoy the Old Lake’s shoreline hugged by walking paths with perfect spots with bird watching. The area is part of the Natura 2000, a network of nature protection areas in the European Union.
Tata was first mentioned in a document in 1221. In 1260 it was a village, but by 1305 it had become an agricultural town. The place was owned by the Csák Clan between the 9th century and 1326. The fortification was originally a rectangular stone building with an inner living tower along with a square bastion at each of its corners. The Csák family lived in the four-story-high, three-meter thick living tower. In 1326, King Károly Róbert gained the town by barter and gave it to the Lackfi family who enlarged the castle.
They also built a chapel and other buildings in the second part of the 14th century. When King Sigismund was defeated by the Ottomans in the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, Lackfi rebelled against him. However, Lord Lackfi was snared by a trap in 1397 and was killed by Lords Garai and Cillei. And Tata once again came to be under the king’s rule.
Tata became a market town during King Zsigmond / Sigismund’s reign (1387-1437). Sigismund was the one who turned the castle into a real royal palace following the design of the Castle of Diósgyőr which boasts the largest knightly hall in Central Europe.
By 1409, the castle had been turned into a U-shaped fort. It then became the favorite residence of the king. The Polish King Władysław II Jagiełło and King Eric VII of Denmark visited him there, as did the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and Despot Stefan Lazarevic of Serbia. As Sigismund was also the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, he also received Margrave Frederick IV of Meissen in Tata.
At this time, the castle was protected by moats on the South-Western and North-Western sides, while the other walls overlooked the lake and a swamp. One could enter the fort only through the northern corner which was fortified with a strong gate tower. As King Sigismund was always in need of money, he pledged the castle to the Rozgonyi family in exchange for 8,000 Gold Forints in 1426.
The Hungarian King Albert of Habsburg died near Tata in 1439. His widow, King Sigismund’s daughter Elisabeth, stole the Sacred Crown of Hungary in 1440 and fled staying in Tata castle with the infant King László V. for a night. Later, she owned the splendid castle for a time, but it was soon again in the hands of the Rozgonyi family. Sadly, the castle deteriorated in that period.
Fortunately, things eventually changed for the better and its prime came under King Matthias Corvinus. He bought it in 1465 and had the interior rebuilt in the Renaissance style while he reconstructed the fort according to the fashion of the water castles of the age, between 1470-1480.
After 1472, King Matthias often visited the place. As Tata was located halfway between Buda and Vienna, it was the king’s starting point after 1485 when he wanted to go to Vienna. Here is more about King Matthias:
After the death of Matthias, it was Corvin János, his illegitimate son, who inherited the place. He sold Tata, Pozsony, and Komárom castles to King Ulászló II in 1494 for 40,000 Gold Forints. Just like Matthias, King Ulászló II loved to hunt around Tata. He even held a Diet there in 1510 because there was a plague in the country, and he chose to quarantine there. His son, King Lajos (Louis) II received Bey Berham, the envoy of Sultan Suleiman in Tata in 1520. Allegedly, he had the Bey imprisoned and executed there which act was used as an excuse for Suleiman to attack Hungary.
After 1526, Count Cseszneky György was the castellan of Tata. The Ottoman army pillaged the area, but Cseszneky successfully defended the castle. Soon, it was Lord Ráskay Gáspár who took Tata castle for King Szapolyai, but the usurper King, Habsburg Ferdinand, managed to win it from him.
Perilous times came: the castle was burned by the Turks in 1529 and handed over to King Szapolyai who would keep it until his death in 1540. The new owner then became Lord Perényi Péter until 1542. The castle was guarded by Captain Hannibal Tasso and his 600 foreign mercenaries, however, they surrendered the fort to the Turks in 1543. Fortunately, the Turks stayed there for only three days. They burned both the castle and the town pulling down as many walls as they could during their visit.
During the Ottoman wars, the castle of Tata was an important fortress of the Hungarian Borderland system. It was administered from Komárom Castle. By 1546, we can again find Hungarian defenders again in the severely damaged fort. Then, Pasha Kászim of Buda besieged Tata with his 10,000-man army in 1551 although he failed to take it. At this time, Tata was owned by King Ferdinand who had had some of the castle walls hastily repaired.
Bey Hamza of Székesfehérvár Castle ambushed Tata castle one night in May 1558, killing everybody in it. However, the legendary Captain Thury György of Palota Castle took the fort back in 1566, during the campaign of General Salm. (Note, that I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians where family names come first.) It was Orban Suess, a famous Renaissance military engineer, who designed the new defense system for the castle in 1568 adding bastions in the so-called old-Italian fashion. These are the Ferrando, Rosenberg, and Goat bastions. It was during this time that the wall overlooking the lake was built. The constructions were completed by Giulio Turco and Niccolo Angelini before 1577.
The fall of Tata on 24 July 1594
Tata changed hands several times during the 15-Year War of 1591-1606. In 1594, the advancing Ottoman army wanted to take Győr and Vienna. They set out from Belgrade (Nándorfehérvár) and they moved toward their targets but they had to take Tata castle which stood in a strategic place. At the same time, the siege of Esztergom castle was going on and the Grand Vizier needed to take Tata because it blocked the road toward Esztergom. Without seizing Tata, he could not have brought reinforcement to the Ottomans in Esztergom. Tata, situated in a marshland, was defending the only passage between the Gerecse and the Vértes hills.
It was General Pálffy Miklós, chief Captain of Komárom Castle, who liberated Tata with a surprise attack in 1597. He was the first to apply the small bomb known as the petard in Hungary. The Ottomans struck back and took Tata in the same year, yet Pálffy would regain it in 1598 for his Habsburg king.
Prince Bocskai István rebelled against the Habsburgs and took control of the area for a short time between 1605-1606. In a similar fashion, the castles of Veszprém, Palota, and Pápa, along with Tata, gladly opened their gates for the 3,000 soldiers of Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania in 1620. Tata was in Bethlen’s hand until 1622.
The fort was repaired by 1624 and the Habsburg king pledged it to Balogh István for a tidy sum. Then in 1646, King Ferdinand III gave it to Count Csáky László whose family owned it until 1697. In the 1660s, Evliya Celebi, the Turkish traveler, was amazed by the beauty of the once-royal palace.
As for the Turks, they took the place with the help of Prince Thököly Imre of Transylvania in 1683. Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa did not hesitate to blow up the castle on his way through to Vienna. Although two years later it again returned to the Christians.
Tata lay in ruins after the devastating wars. Only 223 families lived in the town in 1695. Habsburg Emperor Leopold ordered the total destruction of Tata castle in 1702. However, the order was not able to be carried out as the rebel troops of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II took it in 1704. In 1707 the Habsburg army led by General Rabutin regained and burned it.
The place was bought by the Esterházy family in 1727 who owned it until 1945. Despite plans, major renovations took place only in 1755, then again after 1815. It was also rebuilt in 1896, and finally in the 1960s. Unfortunately, these reconstructions were not always historically correct.
Tata is less than 70 km from Budapest and can be easily reached both by train and car. As mentioned earlier, the castle is famous for its historical festival, the „Tatai Patara” and for the lake and its „Tata Wild Goose Festival”. Parts of the Polish film „The Witcher” were shot at the castle, too. Presently, you can visit the Kuny Domonkos Museum in Tata Castle.
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Here are many pictures of Tata castle: