Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars


Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

Pécs is in the southern part of Hungary, at the Mecsek mountain. It is famous for its sub-Mediterranean climate. Its episcopate was founded in 1009 by King István (Stephen I), and the first university in Hungary was established in Pécs in 1367 by King Lajos (Louis I) the Great. Pécs has a rich heritage from the age of a 150-year-long Ottoman occupation, like the mosque of Pasha Qasim.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

Also, there is a very sad story attached to another Ottoman pasha: after the day of the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the enemy marched to Pécs. The leaders of the defenseless city (the soldiers who defended Pécs fell in battle) surrendered it to them, handed over the key of the city to the officer leading the army, and asked for mercy for the people of Pécs. Although the pasha promised that the townspeople would not be harmed, on the third day, the Ottoman soldiers dragged the children, women, and men to the main square, and then massacred them, killing thousands of people on the spot.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The description of the castle

The Episcopal castle can be found in the northwestern corner of the inner city. The medieval square-shaped castle has an outer tower but it used to include the Cathedral that has four towers as well as the Bishopric Palace on the southern side. The strongest part of the palace is the vaulted gatehouse, which can still be seen today, above which rose a residential tower-like gate. There was a relatively large castle courtyard to the west of these two buildings.

Picture: Pazirik Ltd.

The inner castle was surrounded by a castle wall fortified with outer towers, surrounded by fortified moats. It had two gates, one on the west side, with a 1.4 m thick, 7.2 m diameter barbican attached to the wall by a neck wall, with a protective nose on top still standing today. The corridor running around the crown of the barbican could be reached by stairs leading up inside.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The late Gothic stone frame of the drawbridge gate and the snails of the drawbridge have survived. Before the barbican, as Haüy’s recording shows, it was an earthwork. The other gate led to the inner castle around the Szepessy statue, a gate tower with a square floor plan and also a drawbridge. There was also a clock on the tower, according to Hermang’s 1754 castle survey drawing. The relatively thin defensive wall of the outer castle, built of natural stone and reinforced in several places by semicircular and rectangular towers, joined the defensive wall of the inner castle from the southwest and northeast.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

It had four gates: the Iron Gate of the northern square, or the Mountain Gate, joined by a semicircular section, the Eastern or Buda Gate, which was equipped with a drawbridge, the Siklósi Gate with a southern square, next to it the small guard building, in front of it with a building gate, and finally on the west side the Szigeti Gate, in a similar form to the Siklósi Gate. The location of the outer and inner castle was not suitable for a long siege during the enemy attacks, as the mountains behind the castle created a favorable situation for the placement of the attackers’ cannons, and therefore the greater military significance of Pécs Castle could not have been in our history.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The history of Pécs castle

At the arrival of the Magyar tribes in the Carpathian Basin, the tribe of Chief Árpád occupied this region in 899. Although the Chief’s castle was here, the County seat became Baranyavár. King Stephen (István) founded the bishopric of Pécs in 1009, which became the ecclesiastical center of Baranya county. As the Chronicle of Thúróczi and Bonfini say, on the night of the coronation of Salamon as king in 1064, “the whole church and the annexed palaces were set on fire, collapsed.”

According to Henszlmann, the Cathedral that can be seen today was built between 1180-1200. The city, which was destroyed during the Mongolian invasion in 1241, was soon rebuilt and populated, and at this time the Episcopal Castle developed with the Episcopal Palace and the Cathedral.

Photo: Pudelek

However, its inhabitants could not live in peace for long, because in 1248 the castle of Pécs, already mentioned as a stone castle, was under siege by the Henrik sons. At this time, a castle lord named Balogh is also mentioned, who is also the Canon of the Chapter of St. John.

The brother of Palatine Mizse, Heyzew, burned the town in 1299, then in 1301, Henrik of the Héder Clan occupied the castle along with the town. The church and the episcopal property were handed over to Miklós, Canon of Pécs who kept it in his possession until 1309. After the death of King Louis the Great, rebels aroused by the Ban (Duke) of Macsó ravaged the city, but their leader, Horváth János, was captured in 1383. His body was cut in four pieces by the order of King Sigismund, and it was hung on the four gates of the city.

The crypt of the cathedral (Photo: Kovács Dániel)

Pécs was formed into one of the cultural and art centers of the country by Bishop Janus Pannonius, a great Latinist poet in the age of King Matthias Corvinus. The inner castle was fortified by Bishop Sigismund Ernus (Hampó) against the Turks, at this time the south gate to the inner castle was built, which was decorated with the bishop’s coat of arms and bears the year 1498. The castle inspection held at that time was carried out by Captain Kinizsi Pál of Nagyvázsony on the orders of King Ulászló. You can read more about Kinizsi Pál here:

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

 After the day of the Battle of Mohács (1526) in which the invading Ottoman army defeated the armies of King Lajos (Louis II), the armies of Suleiman occupied Pécs.  After the relentless massacre, several buildings in Pécs were set on fire. Only those who were able to escape in time to the castle of Pécs, which the Ottomans could not occupy, survived the devastation. Church officials fleeing Pécs did not do well either, they were robbed by  Batthyány Ferenc and his remaining men, who were supposed to come to the aid of the Hungarians.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The Dual Kingship has come: Hungary was divided. One party supported King Habsburg Ferdinand, the other party crowned Szapolyai János in Székesfehérvár. The citizens of Pécs supported Emperor Ferdinand, but the rest of Baranya County supported King János. In the summer of 1527, Ferdinand defeated the armies of Szapolyai and was crowned king on November 3. (Please, note that I use the Eastern name order for Hungarian names.)

Ferdinand favored the city because of its support and exempted Pécs from paying taxes. Pécs was rebuilt and fortified. In 1529, the Ottomans captured Pécs again and went on a campaign against Vienna. The Ottomans made Pécs accept King Szapolyai János (who was allied with them) as their ruler. King János died in 1540. In 1541, the Ottomans occupied the castle of Buda and ordered Isabella, the widow of János to cede Pécs to them, since the city was of strategic importance. However, the citizens of Pécs defended the city against the Ottomans and swore loyalty to Ferdinand. It was Athinay Simon who defended it against the 50,000-strong army of Sultan Suleiman.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

Ferdinand helped the city and defended it from further Ottoman attacks, but his advisers persuaded him into focusing more on the cities of Székesfehérvár and Esztergom instead of Pécs. Sultan Suleiman led his campaign in 1543 against Valpó and Siklós castles. Having taken them, he turned against Pécs. Pécs was preparing for the siege, Ferdinand had sent there 1,000 cavalrymen and 1,000 infantrymen. At that time, the famous Borderland warrior, Magyar Bálint served as a low-ranking officer at Pécs, too. Unfortunately, a day before the siege, the Flemish and Walloon mercenaries fled from the city and raided the nearby lands.


Bishop Várallyai Stanislaus, in the absence of Castellan Székely Lukács, who was on Ferdinand’s party, had encouraged the defenders to make a last stand but he fled before the Turks got there. He went to Fehérvár where the old priest died. We know that all the other priests in his retinue fled from Pécs, including the nuns. The nuns were attacked by the pillaging soldiers of Werbőczy Imre who robbed them. Seeing the bishop and the mercenaries gone, the burghers rebelled. According to the chronicle of Istvánffy Miklós, their mutiny was instigated by officers like Alia Mátyás and Magyar Bálint, though Magyar’s role is doubted. Their delegation went out to the sultan, pleading for mercy.

Pécs under Ottoman rule

They agreed to open the gate before the troops of Kászim bey. It was how Pécs fell into the hands of the Turks on July 20, 1543, it was how they gave up the defenseless castle without any resistance. Their shame and cowardice were mentioned for decades, even Istvánffy recorded it like this in his chronicle at the beginning of the 17th century.

After occupying the city, the Ottomans fortified it and turned it into a real Ottoman city. The Christian churches were turned into mosques; Turkish baths and minarets were built, Qur’an schools were founded, and there was a bazaar in place of the market. For 143 years the city was allegedly an island of peace in a land of war.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

It was a Sanjak center in Budin (Buda) Eyalet at first and Kanije (Kanizsa) Eyalet later as “Peçuy”. We know that there were 513 Ottoman soldiers in the castle in 1543-44, while there were 828 of them in 1545-46, 370 in 1552-53, and 321 in 1565-66. The town was famous for Ibrahim Pecevi (1572-1650) whose mother came from the Bosnian Sokolovic family but his paternal great-grandfather was a Turkish Sipahi called Kara Davut Agha. Ibrahim was born in Pécs and became a great historian-chronicler in the Ottoman Empire.

The statue of Ibrahim Pecevi in Pécs, Hungary

In 1664, Croat-Hungarian nobleman Zrínyi Miklós aka Nicholas Zrinski arrived in Pécs, with his army. Since the city was well into the Ottoman territories, they knew that even if they occupy it, they could not keep it for long, so they planned only to pillage it. They ravaged and burned the city but could not occupy the castle. Medieval Pécs was destroyed forever, except for the wall encircling the historical city, a single bastion (Barbakán / barbican), the network of tunnels and catacombs beneath the city, parts of which are closed down, and other parts are in possession of the famous Litke champagne factory, and can be visited today.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

Several Turkish artifacts also survived, namely three mosques, two minarets, remnants of a bath over the ancient Christian tombs near the cathedral, and several houses, one even with a stone cannonball embedded in the wall. After the castle of Buda was wrested from Ottoman rule in 1686, the armies went to capture Pécs. The advance guards could break into the city and pillage it.

The siege of Pécs in 1664

The Ottomans saw that they could not hold the city, and burned it, and withdrew into the castle. The army led by Louis of Baden occupied the city on 14 October and destroyed the aqueduct leading to the castle. The Ottomans had no other choice but to surrender, which they did on 22 October. The city was under martial law under the command of Karl von Thüngen. At first, the Viennese court wanted to destroy the castle but later they decided to keep it to counterbalance the importance of Szigetvár, which was still under Ottoman rule.

The COA of Pécs

Slowly the city started to prosper again, but in the 1690s two plague epidemics claimed many lives. In 1688 German settlers arrived. At that time, only about one-quarter of the city’s population was Hungarian, the others were Germans or Southern Slavs. According to 1698 data, South Slavs comprised more than half of the population of the town. As Hungarians were only a minority of the population, Pécs did not support the revolution against the Habsburg rule led by Prince Rákóczi Ferenc. It was the reason why his armies pillaged the city in 1705, led by General Vak Bottyán. Then, the military role of the castle ceased to exist and the fortifications were systematically pulled down after 1780.

Pécs in 1763

Source: Partly by Szibler Gábor

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Here are more pictures of Pécs: