Esztergom

Esztergom

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, see:

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).

In the Battle of Mohács, Bakócz Tamás, the great renaissance builder who was archbishop of Esztergom, died.

In the period between 1526 and 1543, when two rival kings reigned in Hungary, Esztergom was besieged six times.

Finally, in 1530, Ferdinand I occupied the castle. He put foreign mercenaries in it. In 1543, Sultan Suleiman I attacked the castle and took it.

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.

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 in the 1630s.

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 have 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. 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.

In 1605 the Ottomans regained control over the castle as well as over the whole region again, maintaining their rule until 1683. 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.


 
After Esztergom, the nearby castle of Vác, Visegrád, and Zsámbék fell easier into Christian hands. The news of Esztergom’s taking has 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.

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.