Photo: David Sallay

The castle of Eger (Erlau in German) is in northern Hungary. As it is, after much hesitation I have added it to the Ottoman Occupied Lands, because after a heroic period, it was finally taken by the Ottomans. Eger guarded the roads to the mining towns in the west of Upper Hungary and to the east to the great city of Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau). Have a look at the animation video of Pazirik Kft, which shows us the construction of Eger before 1552:

Photo: H. Szabó Sándor

The town was already an episcopal center in the time of Saint Istvan in 1009. Its stone castle was built after 1248. The famous wine production dates back to the 14th century, but red wine was produced later. During the Ottoman wars, contrary to legend, the warriors drank white wine. (Note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarian names, where the surname comes first).

Enjoy this trailer:

The famous siege of Eger in 1552

In the autumn of 1552, Captain Dobó István and his 2200 soldiers successfully defended the fortress and northern Hungary from the expanding Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman army was led by Kara Achmed Pasha and consisted of 35-40,000 men from the Rumelian army (and an Anatolian contingent) and the troops of Ahmed Pasha of Buda. The Ottomans had 16 zarbuzans (very large siege cannons), 150 medium and small pieces of artillery, and a fleet of 2,000 camels, which proved very useful in collecting and transporting wood to the site for the construction of temporary siege platforms.

The defenders had 6 large cannons and about a dozen smaller ones, as well as about 300 trench guns with plenty of ammunition. During the siege, Dobó’s officer, Bornemissza Gergely, devised primitive but deadly shells and bombs the size of powder kegs to use against the attackers, as well as a water mill wheel filled with gunpowder which he rolled into the Ottoman ranks. His secret was to make the gunpowder not just explode, but create more fire. He loaded these weapons with oil, sulfur, and flint to shower the enemy with flaming missiles.

Eger in 1595 (by Pazirik Ltd.)

The Ottomans had expected an easy victory, but the bravery of the castle’s defenders and Dobó’s inspired leadership resisted and repelled repeated Ottoman attacks. Even after the storage tower containing 24 tonnes of black powder exploded, causing extensive structural damage, the invaders were still unable to find a way into the castle. The defenders lost about a third of their ranks, including those killed or permanently maimed in battle.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

There was considerable infighting between the two Ottoman leaders, Pasha Ali and Pasha Ahmed. Ahmed was the senior of the two and contributed twice as many troops to the combined army, but Ali showed more strategic talent and proved his skill with artillery, severely damaging the castle walls with his battery of just four large siege cannons.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

During the siege, the Ottoman army ran out of gunpowder and cannonballs (which were carved from marble) at least twice, limiting Ahmed’s use of heavy artillery for a week or more. The end of autumn arrived earlier than usual, with heavy rains and freezing night temperatures. Reduced rice rations and allegations of corruption among officers caused discontent among the Ottoman troops. After 39 days of bloody, brutal, and intense fighting, the Ottoman army withdrew, beaten and humiliated.

The tombstone of Dobó István (photo: Thaler Tamás)

Despite the failure at Eger, the Ottomans had no reason to lament the campaign of 1552, for they had taken Veszprém, Temesvár, Szolnok, and Lippa, as well as some twenty-five Hungarian fortresses. Despite the disparity in troop numbers, Eger’s strong walls and the high morale of its defenders enabled the fortress to withstand five major assaults and continuous cannon fire (not counting those stuck in the walls of the fortress, almost 12,000 cannonballs landed inside the fortress before the siege ended).

The Women of Eger (by Székely Bertalan)

The women of Eger also took part in the fighting on the walls and their heroism became legendary. (It was all the more humiliating for the Muslims.) The point is that Dobó István and his soldiers successfully defended the fortress and it was the first time the Turks were defeated after the Battle of Mohács in 1526. The famous Hungarian poet Balassi Bálint served here for several years from April 1578. After the victory, Dobó and his officers resigned in protest against King Ferdinand’s refusal to provide material support for the defense.

Eger castle
Photo: Imre Lánczi

The first notable writer to refer to the story was the Hungarian Renaissance poet and musician Tinódi Lantos Sebestyén (c. 1510-1556), whose account may have been partly based on eyewitnesses. The Siege can also be read in English because, in the 19th century, there was a Hungarian writer, Gárdonyi Géza, who wrote his novel “Eclipse of the Crescent Moon”.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

Bornemissza Gergely was appointed to take command of the fortress. He was later ambushed, captured, and hanged by the Ottomans. The fortress of Eger defied Ottoman attacks until 1596, when 7,000 defenders, mostly foreign mercenaries, surrendered to the Ottoman forces personally commanded by Sultan Mehmed III. The city remained in Ottoman hands for 91 years. The minaret, built at the end of the 17th century, is a reminder of this period. Among all the buildings of this type, the minaret of Eger is located at the northernmost point of the former Ottoman Empire.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

During the Turkish occupation, Eger became the seat of a vilayet, an Ottoman domain comprising several sanjaks. Churches were converted into mosques, the castle was rebuilt and other buildings were constructed, including public baths and minarets. It was the northernmost city in the Ottoman Empire where a minaret could be seen. The Ottoman warriors of Eger Castle gained a formidable reputation in the region.

Photo: Pudelek

The liberation of Eger castle in 1687

The ‘peaceful’ period ended in the 1680s. After the unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1683, the troops of the Holy League gradually drove the Ottoman conquerors out of the country. Vác and Pest were liberated in 1684 and the inhabitants of Eger began to flee. The imperial generals thought of surrounding Eger the following year, but the supreme general, Duke Charles of Lorraine, rejected the plan. The castle was strong and far from the main logistic lines (the Danube), which made the situation difficult for the besiegers. The possibility of a reinforcing Ottoman army also had to be taken into account.
Charles V, Duke of Lorraine
The chief general ordered his generals Peter Mercy, Donat Heissler, and Antonio Caraffa to surround the castles of Eger and Szolnok. The troops of Mercy and Heissler burned the palisade castle of Heves on the 16th and 17th of October 1685. The next day the three generals were joined by Petneházy Dávid’s soldiers and together they retook Szolnok. Immediately afterward, Mercy marched near the castle of Eger, but he burned only a part of the town.
Eger in 1596
The capture of Eger Castle was also planned in 1686. Mercy and Caraffa did not cease to keep an eye on the largest fortress on the slopes of the Bükk. The Imperials deported all the peasants from the surrounding villages and forbade anyone to sell or transport food to the castle. However, in July the Turks from the town of Szeged managed to bring 400 wagons of provisions into the fortress.
Hearing of this, Caraffa and Heissler approached the castle with 1,500 Hungarian hussars and 1,000 German cavalry. Petneházy’s hussars lured the castle’s defenders into a trap. The Turks were led into a nearby valley where they were surrounded and attacked. The Begler Bey of Eger, Pasha Oszmán, fell there with his 140 men, and 40 soldiers were taken prisoner. This is how the new pasha, Rusztem, was appointed.
Petneházy Dávid on the painting of Benczúr Gyula (1896)
After taking Buda Castle, the imperial troops quickly gained ground in the Trans-Danubian region and the Great Plain of Hungary. As a result, Eger was cut off from the interior of the Ottoman Empire. Unable to hold on to Hatvan Castle, its Turkish garrison set fire to it in mid-September and all the inhabitants moved to Eger with them. You can read the details of how Buda was taken here:
In 1687 the plans were again debated among the imperial generals, as Duke Charles of Lorraine thought it more important to march on Belgrade aka Nándorfehérvár than to besiege several fortresses like Eger. Nevertheless, he ordered General Caraffa to surround this important castle.
General Antonio Caraffa

At the beginning of April, Caraffa moved his troops from Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau) towards Eger, which had already been guarded by Hungarian light cavalry units to block the route of any wagons that might be carrying food into the fortress. Lieutenant-Colonel Count Giovanni Battista Doria was appointed to lead the army blockading the fortress. His first troops arrived in June, approaching Eger from the south. Doria’s headquarters were in the village of Maklár and he set up camp on a small hill overlooking the town from the south.

Eger 1687
Eger 1687
The Hungarian troops of the Mining Town District were led by Vice-General Koháry István, who set up camp on the western hills. This hill is now called Hajdúhegy (Hajdú Hill). The Hajdú soldiers and hussars of Captain Gombos Imre dug trenches in the north. (Now this part of the town is called “Sánc” aka “trench”.) Trenches were dug on Almagyar Hill, which overlooked the castle.
Eger 1687
The task of the soldiers inside was to repel the Turks if they tried to escape from the castle. The Ottomans tried to escape several times, and on one such occasion, Koháry’s right arm was hit by a rifle bullet as he led his men to drive the Turks back into the castle. This injury left his arm permanently paralyzed. The lower part of his arm had to be amputated and he almost died from the injury, he had to be carried to Vienna. Later, he was the first Hungarian nobleman to use a special stamp seal with his signature.
Koháry István
Meanwhile, the defenders were running out of food, and the Pasha kept sending his secret letters to his superiors, begging for supplies. As winter approached, the inhabitants and soldiers were starving. More and more were dying. Knowing their plight, Caraffa told Rusztem to surrender, but he received no reply. Caraffa wrote to him again in November, acknowledging their brave resistance but describing the overall situation in the Ottoman Empire and suggesting that there was no hope of help.
He called for their surrender. Many would have accepted, but the fanatical soldiers decided not to give in. More and more soldiers deserted the castle and fled to the enemy. Bey Ali, the commander of the Ispahi, visited the Imperial camp to begin negotiations with Doria.
Eger in the 17th century
Knowing the cruel conditions in the castle, Caraffa tried to persuade the Pasha again. This time the Pasha considered the offer but demanded better terms. He wanted the guarantee of the Habsburg monarch. Caraffa would not hear of it. Finally, on 28 November, the envoys of Pasha Rusztem came to the camp to negotiate with Doria, and the agreement was signed on 2 December. According to the document, the defenders were allowed to keep their weapons and were free to leave the castle. They were to be given armed escort to Temesvár Castle.
This cannon has recently been found in Eger, supposedly from 1687
Emperor Leopold was to sign the agreement. As Caraffa was against the idea of involving the Emperor, he attended the negotiations. Caraffa sent his trusted man, the famous military engineer Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, to have a secret meeting with Pasha Rusztem to modify the agreement, which was ready on 14 December. It was more precise than the previous one. As far as the inhabitants were concerned, anyone could stay or leave, except that they could not take any military equipment out of the castle.
Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli
The two military commanders assured each other of their friendship. On 17 December, the Turks came out. The Imperials gave them 250 wagons and escorted them to the castle of Várad. However, many of the inhabitants and soldiers decided to stay and later became Christians. Eger was in Ottoman hands for 91 years. According to the report sent to Vienna in 1700 by Butler János, the castle was not in good condition. As there was no money to rebuild it, it was decided to demolish the whole castle. The outer castle was demolished in 1702, but the inner castle survived. There were only 413 inhabitable houses in the area within the walls and most of these were occupied by the remaining Turkish families.
Episcopal Palace (Photo: Antissimo)

A famous film was made about this siege in Hungary in the 1960s, but I have heard false rumors that a new version is being made in Hollywood. I doubt there will be a new film any time soon. Eger has become an emblem of national defense, a symbol of patriotic heroism, and the superiority of a national army over an unmotivated foreign mercenary force.

Eger (Source: demizsonapartman)

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Looking at the pictures taken in 2020-2021, there are still many things to complete in Eger Castle. Here are more photos of Eger castle, the first two sets were taken by Lánczi Imre and Ádám Attila in 2020-2021: