Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Esztergom

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

The ancient Hungarian castle of Esztergom, the old headquarter of Hungarian kings, is located in the Bend of the Danube in Hungary. Esztergom used to be the capital of Hungary from the 10th till the mid-13th century when King Béla IV of Hungary moved the royal seat to Buda. It was among the very few castles that could resist successfully against the Mongols in 1241. About the old castle, you can watch this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eu5AHhUXeU

Traditionally, Esztergom is the seat of the “prímás” (see Primate) of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary. The city has the Keresztény Múzeum (Christian Museum), the largest ecclesiastical collection in the country. Its cathedral, Esztergom Basilica is the largest church in Hungary. King Matthias’s widow, Beatrix of Aragon, lived in the castle of Esztergom for ten years (1490–1500).

Esztergom Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

Géza, the father of King Saint István, lived in Esztergom at the end of the 10th century. He built a hexagonal tower on the site of the current palace building. Vajk, aka Saint István, was born here around 975 A.D. and was baptized by Saint Adalbert of Prague in the freshly built Christian church. Like his father, István ruled Hungary from Esztergom, and there he was ceremonially crowned in 1000 A.D. Many important events took place in Esztergom over the years. It was the location where the Peace treaty was signed with the German (later Emperor) Henry III in 1031. Esztergom saw the receiving, by King Géza II, of Emperor Conrad III of Germany and King Louis VII, of France.

Esztergom
Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

The castle and the cathedral were partly ruined by a fire in 1188, however, repairs were made within a year. In 1189, King Béla III received Emperor Frederick Barbarossa as a guest at the castle. Then, the king had the tower enlarged. King Imre carried out more construction as well. Soon, stone walls surrounded the buildings on the plateau, but according to the document of King Imre in 1198, they were not finished just yet. At this time, the castellan’s name was Gurcu.

Esztergom Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

The first siege took place in 1241 when the Mongolian Tatars crossed the frozen Danube. The town was protected only by a wall, a moat, and a few towers that could not stop the invaders. However, the castle itself was defended by the Spanish Lord Simeon and his archers who were able to repel the attack. Later, King Béla IV had the town rebuilt and gifted the southern slope of Castle Hill and the palace to the Archbishop of Esztergom. The Royal Seat was removed to the not distant, 29km/18 mi, Visegrád, and later to Buda a further 43km/27 mi away.

Esztergom Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

At the end of the Árpád-Age, Duke Németújvári Iván took Esztergom in 1301. The Bohemian King Václav took it from him in 1304. His troops caused lots of damage to the walls and the gates, not to mention that they pillaged the kingdom’s Treasury and the National Archives along with the palace. Later Lord Németújvári Henrik was in command. He was beaten out of the castle by Archbishop Tamás of Esztergom in 1307. It was Telegdy Csanád who rebuilt the castle and had the palace of the Archbishop repaired between 1330 and 1349. He had new towers constructed as well.

Esztergom Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

The next time, it was the army of King Zsigmond who, in 1403, besieged the walls. Then the army of King Ulászló did the same in 1440. The damages were later restored by the Archbishops and Cardinals Széchy Dénes, Vitéz János, Bakócz Tamás, and Szatmáry György. King Matthias’s widow, Beatrix of Aragon, lived in the castle of Esztergom for ten years (1490–1500). Cardinal Bakócz Tamás, the great Renaissance builder, had a chapel built in the Saint Adalbert Church of Esztergom in 1507.

It is one of the nicest surviving examples of Renaissance architecture in Hungary. You can read the following inscription inside the chapel: THOMAS BAKOCZ DE ERDEVD CARDINALIS STRIGONIEN(SIS) ALME DEI GENETRICI MARIE VIRGINI EXTRVXIT ANNO MCCCCCVII  English: It was built with piety by Erdődi Bakócz Tamás, Cardinal of  Esztergom, for the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, in 1507.” The Cardinal died in the Battle of Mohács in 1526.

Esztergom Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

During the first part of the Dual Kingship (1526-1543), Esztergom was besieged six times. Finally, in 1530, King Habsburg Ferdinand I occupied the castle. He installed foreign mercenaries in it. In 1543, Sultan Suleiman I attacked the castle and took it. During this siege, the tower built by King Béla III was heavily damaged, but the palace remained more or less intact. Enjoy the video about the siege with some reenactors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JNfRUrJq4U

Esztergom (Estergon) became the center of an Ottoman sanjak controlling several counties, and also a significant castle on the northwest border of the Ottoman Empire – the main clashing point to prevent attacks on the Mining Towns of the Highlands, Vienna, and Buda.

Photo: Marek Dziwior

The Hungarians have attempted to take it by siege many times. The greatest Hungarian warrior-poet of the period, Balassi Bálint, lost his life during the attack against the castle built on the top of formidable cliffs, in 1594. A so-called bearded cannon’s bullet shot both of his legs. He left behind the most beautiful poems and songs that a noble warrior could write: his songs were known and sung by everybody on the Borderland. That siege was only a waste of blood: the 50,000-strong Christian army had to quit the siege when Pasha Sinan’s reinforcements came.

The siege of Esztergom in 1595

The most devastating siege of Esztergom took place in 1595 when the castle was reclaimed by the troops of Count Karl von Mansfeld and Count Cseszneky Mátyás. The combined troops of General Pálffy Miklós and Alfred Schwarzenberg, along with the army of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Prince of Mantova, laid a long siege against Esztergom. There was the Italian Claudio Monteverdi next to the Prince, entertaining his lord: he was playing his music piece called „Vespro” in the camp. It is thought that he had composed here one of his madrigals called „The Contest of Tankred and Clorinda”. It is recorded, that during the pauses of the siege, the Turks up in the castle were listening to the music with utter amusement from the camp of the „Italian Pasha of Montava”.

The 823 Ottoman defenders were fighting heroically but many of them got injured and they lost their strength because of the long siege. Besides, by September they had run out of food and water and just had enough gunpowder for one more day. The forces sent from Buda to their help were defeated and they had no more hope left: they didn’t want to endanger their women’s and children’s lives so they surrendered. They were free to take their leave to Buda, unhurt. The price that had to be paid, however, was high, though it was a great military deed of that time.

Photo: Villy

Most of the buildings in the castle and the town that had been built in the Middle Ages were destroyed during this period, and there were only uninhabitable, smothered ruins to welcome the liberators. General Mansfeld died of wounds acquired in the battles. The king appointed Pálffy Miklós as captain of Esztergom and he had the walls mended. Before the next Turk attack, the commander of Esztergom, Vilmos Oettingen sent the Hungarian guards away and replaced them with German mercenaries.

Then, the Ottomans attacked the castle in 1605 and Oettingen died of his wounds. Colonel Count Dampierre took over the defense and fought on bravely. When the enemy demanded his surrender he refused, but his men arrested him and ceded the castle to Pasha Ali. Thus, the Ottomans again gained control over the castle as well as over the whole region, maintaining their rule until 1683.

Esztergom in 1595

 Though the Ottomans were mainly engaged in building and fortifying the castle, they also built significant new buildings including mosques, minarets, and baths. These structures, along with the contemporary buildings, were destroyed in the siege of 1683. You can read more about the siege of Esztergom in 1683 on my page:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/1541-1699/7-9-october-1683-the-battle-of-parkany/

After Esztergom, the nearby castle of Vác, Visegrád, and Zsámbék fell easier into Christian hands. The news of Esztergom’s taking reached Europe and was celebrated everywhere: even the Pope held a mass to give thanks for it. The last time the Ottoman forces attacked Esztergom was in 1685. Later, all that had been rebuilt at the end of the century was destroyed and burned down during Prince Rákóczi’s long-lasting, but finally successful siege. This was led by General Bercsényi Miklós in 1706. However, the Imperial troops, led by Starhemberg Guido and Pálffy János soon retook it. After this time, the castle’s military function ceased to exist.

Photo: Civertan

The destroyed territory was settled by Hungarian, Slovakian, and German settlers. It was how the new national landscape developed. In the area where there had previously been 65 Hungarian villages, only 22 were rebuilt. Though the reconstructed town received its free royal rights, in size and significance it was only a shadow of its former self. 

Photo: Civertan

Empress Maria Theresa gave Esztergom to Primate Barkóczy Ferenc who began to build the new Basilic on the site of the demolished medieval cathedral in 1763. It was at this time when most parts of the fortification were pulled down, along with the remaining walls of the palace.

Esztergom Castle can also be found on the free APP of Castles.today that is available here on Google Play:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.castles.today

Photo: Gabor Bejo Artbejo

 

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Photo: Karelj

Here are plenty of pictures of the castle and the town’s fortifications: