The castle of Gesztes or Várgesztes is part of a chain of medieval fortresses crossing the Vértes Mountains, which consisted of the castles of Csókakő, Bátorkő, Vitány, and Csesznek until the end of the Middle Ages. Hidden among the dense forests, the castle used to be a popular hunting lodge of Hungarian kings before the Ottoman wars. In fact, the small Gesztes castle became important when it was functioning as a Borderland castle against the Turks. It was a perfect resting place for the heroes of the Trans-Danubian castles before they set out to raid the Ottomans’ lands around Buda or Székesfehérvár, and it was also a safe point on the way home.
After the Home-Taking of the Hungarians in the 9th century, the Csák clan settled in this region. It is thought that one of them built the first castle in Gesztes after the Mongolian invasion of 1241-42. The powerful Csák clan built several stone castles in the 13th century, their estates were protected by a chain of castles listed in the introduction. Although the Csák clan supported King Károly Róbert in gaining his throne, the king was busily breaking up the Csák estates so that they would not be too strong. Therefore, in 1326, he exchanged Gesztes, Bátorkő, Csesznek, and Csókakő from them. As a result of the barter, the sons of Csák István, Péter, and István, became the lords of the castles of Dombó and Nyék. (Note, I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians so family names come first.)
It was Tamás, the son of Nagy Péter of Chóri who was the castellan of Gesztes in 1331. He was still there in 1360 when he was able to host our King Louis the Great. Presumably, Tamás was witnessing how the original castle of the Csák clan was demolished by King Louis in 1342 so that a more comfortable hunting castle could be built in its place.
In 1387 the castle became the property of King Sigismund. He gave it to Queen Mary during the following year. At that time, another floor was built on the top of the one-story building. Around 1410, Gesztes was pledged by King Sigismund, along with other castle estates, to Frederick Hohenzollern, Count of Brandenburg. According to a document from 1417, a man called Silstrang was the castellan both Gesztes and Vitány castles. Later, King Albert pledged it to the Rozgonyi family in 1438. The Rozgonyi family’s claim for the property was recognized by King Matthias in 1458, but we know that the castle was actually in the hands of Újlaki Miklós, at least between 1444 and 1446.
There was a great dispute between the Rozgonyi and the Újlaki families for the ownership of the castle. In 1460, Rozgonyi János, royal steward and his son János, and his brothers transferred all their inheritances and pledges acquired in Gesztes castle and its accessories to Rajnáld Miklós and to Újlaki Ozsváth. Varsányi Jósa was the castellan of Gesztes in 1463. He was assumedly the trusted man of the Újlaki clan. However, the Rozgonyi family still claimed the castle even in 1464. In vain, because we know that the Újlaki family held the place in 1492.
King Ulászló II was a guest of Gesztes castle in 1495, who took part in a hunt in the Vértes Mountain. Eventually, the castle was taken over by Bán (Duke) Török Imre of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) but he could take the castle into his possession only in 1517. After the battle of Mohács, the Ottoman threat increased in the central part of the Trans-Danubian Region, as the chain of small castles in the Vértes Mountain were blocking the roads to Vienna.
The Turks besieged Gesztes in 1529 for the first time but the Ottoman light cavalry was still easily repelled. However, after the fall of Tata castle in 1543, the Turks also occupied Gesztes and Vitány castles because the Hungarian guards fled when they saw the huge Ottoman army of Pasha Achmed approaching. Then, Pasha Achmed burned the castle, as he had done with Tata before.
The Turks considered the castle important enough to fortify it well between 1543 and 1558. The drawbridge of the inner castle gate was remodeled, pillars were added and they dug a moat below it where they placed sharpened stakes. Then, a loophole was cut in the stone wall that stood between the two sections. A one-story building was erected in front of the current entrance, and there was an inner moat, covered presumably by planks. Two small guard booths were built above the gate, they opened to the ramparts. The Turks also built dungeons. At this time, several furnaces were added to the outer facade. Behind the dungeons, a vaulted room was also created. They also built a tower that was connected to the south façade.
These works were quite necessary, as the castle stood in the middle of the Trans-Danubian Borderland. It is no wonder that it has changed owners several times. Gesztes was taken over by a Christian army in 1558, but later that year the Turks regained it. At that time, the Turks kept 35 guards in the castle.
Hearing the news of Tata’s fall to the Christians in 1566, the Ottoman guards fled from Gesztes and Vitány, so that the armies of General Salm occupied the empty castles. It was recaptured by the Turks in 1567 and it remained in their hands according to the Peace Treaty of 1568. At that time, there were 49 Turkish guards serving in it. Later, the Turks increased the number of the garrison to 134 soldiers as we can read it in the mercenary list of 1577. Like in other fortifications occupied by the Turks, mostly Serbian and other South Slavic mercenaries were in Gesztes.
There were lots of fights going on in the Borderland even when there was officially peace between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs. It was the so-called “small war” in which the parties tacitly agreed not to deploy larger armies and not use cannons for sieges. It was not uncommon to hear the news about smaller or bigger assaults and raids that were launched either by the Turks or the Hungarians. It was such an event in 1588 when the castellans of Győr and Pápa, allied with Voivode Radics decided to take back Gesztes. Radics knew the castle very well and he also learned that only 60 Turks guarded its walls.
They arrived at the castle on 9 November and broke its gate at night. The Turkish guards were surprised. They were forced to surrender, and the cannons in the castle were seized. The castle and its entire equipment remained in the hand of Voivode Radics. This was already too much for the Ottomans, the taking of Gesztes was considered a violation of the ceasefire. Pasha Ferhát wrote an angry letter to Prince Ernő in Vienna who ordered the castle to be returned to the Turks. Then, Voivode Radics withdrew his infantry from the castle. The Turks immediately began to strengthen the castle’s walls.
Tata castle was recaptured during the 15-Year-War in 1597. Additionally, the troops of Pálffy Miklós occupied Vitány and Gesztes, but all three castles were taken back by the enemy during the same year. A year later, Tata was recaptured again by Pálffy and Schwarzenberg’s army, who sent spies after this to Gesztes. It turned out, that the Turkish garrison of the castle consisted of only three people. As soon as they saw the Hungarian riders, they all fled to the forest, but before that they tried to blow up the gunpowder in the castle. Fortunately, the castle was only slightly damaged. You can read more about the 15-Year-War here:
In Gesztes, the Christians found 7 large and 7 other metal cannons, as well as 28 hook-guns and 18 long-barreled rifles, with an adequate amount of gunpowder. Schwarzenberg left behind 75 Hajdú soldiers as guards. Nevertheless, the castle fell into Turkish hands again between 1599 and 1600. Gesztes was occupied in 1605 by the Hajdú warriors of Prince Bocskai István. Later, there were no more Turkish owners. It was recorded that in 1629 the Hungarians sent every week 10 infantrymen from Tata to guard Gesztes Castle.
In 1647 the castle was pledged to the Csáky family. According to an inventory from 1652, there were several shortcomings of the building, a 22-meter-long section of the bastion wall was torn, and an 8-meter-high section collapsed, not to mention the gate that was also in a dilapidated condition. As a result of this, the Assembly of Komárom County gave 400 Forints for its restoration. It was the year 1669 when the Turks were last time sighted raiding around Gesztes castle.
No one has given money to renovate the castle since 1652, so it began to decay in the 18th century, especially when its owner, Esterházy József gave permission to use the stones of the castle in the construction of the monastery in Majk-Kamaldul. The castle is already mentioned as a ruin in 1759. We know a few sketches of Rómer Flóris about Gesztes from 1877. The ruins were owned by the Esterházy family until 1945, who allowed the Workers’ Tourist Association to build a tourist accommodation on it in 1932.
The castle was excavated and restored only in the 1960s. There are annual events related to the castle, they are held in Várrét (Castle-field), last time the 11th Várgesztes Knight’s Games were held in the summer of 2019.
Read it on Castles Today, too: https://castles.today/en/castles/castles/hungary/v%C3%A1rgesztes/
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Here are more pictures of Várgesztes castle: