Pétervárad (Петроварадин / Petrovaradin, Peterwardein ) used to be a key fort of the Hungarian southern Borderland, it can be found in Serbia. The place got its name after its owner, Bán (Duke) Petur. Hungarians know well the drama “Bánk Bán” written by Katona József, and there is an opera written by Erkel Ferenc about him as well. “Bánk Bán” aka Bán Petur was indeed a living historical figure. He was Péter, son of Töre (Toraj), his name was first mentioned in 1194. He was also the Comes of Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg), Bihar, Sopron, Bács, and Csanád, and the court judge of Queen Gertrude. He was the murderer of the Queen in 1213, whom II. King Andrew (András) punished with impalement. Also, he confiscated his estates. One of his properties was the one that we know as Pétervárad.
The suffix of the name of the castle (“várad”) means “courtyard, small castle”, the prefix is related to the fact that its owner was the above-mentioned Péter. It is thought that there must have been an early castle in the 11th century. The fort was first mentioned in 1237 as Peturwarod. Under the castle, there stood a Cistercian monastery called Bélakút in the valley, founded by King Béla IV. Its three-aisled basilica and its significant estates and incomes show that it was one of the richest monasteries in Hungary at the time.
In 1242 its building fell victim to the destruction of the Mongolians. The ruins in the valley below the castle hill were not rebuilt, but a new fortified monastery was built in 1246 on the hill, in a well-protected place. As for the inner castle, it was certainly built in this form as early as the 13th century.
Until the consolidation of his rule, in 1308, King Károly Róbert stayed in this safe monastery fort for a considerable time. From the middle of the 14th century, the abbey of Bélakút was mentioned as Pétervárad. this name also referred to its fortified nature. In 1439, King Albert donated the castle to Garai László, together with the right to patronize the monastery. The diploma shows that “its buildings are dilapidated and require a lot of repairs”. However, it was owned by Baron Újlaki between 1440-41 then returned to the Garai family. Pétervárad was in the hand of the castellan of Garai Miklós, he was a man called Buzlai Bertalan. He ceded it to the abbot, though. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.)
In 1455, King László V confirmed King Albert’s donation. From the 1460s on, the Archbishop of Kalocsa, Várdai István became the lord of the castle monastery along with its town. The income of the monastery’s estates was used primarily for the improvement of the fortifications in the following period. It is the merit of the Archdiocese of Kalocsa that they transformed the Cistercian monastery in Pétervárad into a strong castle, so it could become the key fortress of the second defensive line of the Southern Borderland.
The protective walls surrounded a roughly oval area at the steep edge of the summit, following the shape of the hilltop. The center of the plateau was dominated by the adjoining block of the church and monastery. They were surrounded by a separate wall, forming an inner castle. The entrance was open on the south side, protected by a rectangular tower. It was the castle where King Matthias Corvinus made a treaty with Venice against the Ottomans in 1463. You can read more about king Matthias here:
After the fall of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) to the Ottomans (1521), the role of Pétervárad has been appreciated. According to the report of Imreffy Mihály, only four monks lived in the monastery in 1522, so his ecclesiastical character became, so to speak, symbolic. Then, the castle guard consisted of only 18 Hussars, 16-18 guards, two musket-men, and two artillerymen. In March 1523, Bey Báli attacked the castle, but then retreated and camped in the field next to Szalánkemén. The Palatine informed young King Lajos (Louis) that the Turks were waiting for reinforcements and wanted to go against Pétervárad or Szörény castle.
At the end of May 1523, the new Archbishop of Kalocsa, the former excellent and popular cavalry officer leaving the monastery, Tomori Pál, set out for Pétervárad in view of the Turkish peril. The Diet wanted the supply the garrison of Pétervárad with 1,000 infantry, 1,400 cavalry, and 2,000 boatmen, but only half of that could be hired because there was not enough money left. It was also necessary because Pétervárad was almost without a guard. By the way, it took at least three or four days for the news from Pétervárad to reach Buda. Tomori arrived at the very last minute.
In the middle of June 1526, news arrived in Buda from the people of Pétervárad who were well informed by their spies. The Ottomans were coming: Sultan Suleiman was only twenty days away from Nándorfehér (Belgrade) Castle, and his vanguard, led by Bali Beg, might be able to cross the Sava river in ten days.
There could hardly be any doubt as to what would be the first target of the attack: Pétervárad castle was not as strong as Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) had been but it stood on a high cliff and overlooked the bend of the river. Archbishop Tomori Pál of Kalocsa with his one-thousand-strong cavalry and half a thousand infantry desperately tried to organize the resistance, but his calls to arms found deaf ears. All he could do was retreat with his small army, leaving the fortified garrison of the castle with artillery, ammunition, and food. Pontifical envoy Burgio at the time pondered that perhaps Pétervárad should be given up, as there was no hope of holding or reinforcing it… You can watch an animated video about the Battle of Mohács with English subtitles here:
The fall of Pétervárad on 27 (or 28) July 1526
The Sultan’s army began the crossing of the Sava river on 2 July 1526. The Turkish army was marching towards the field of Mohács and had to take more forts to get there. Pétervárad was among them – it was the second strongest castle after the fall of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade), 1521. There were no more than 3,000 defenders in Pétervárad (2,000 Hungarians and 1,000 Serbs), led by Captain Alapy György. As Pétervárad was the headquarters of Archbishop Tomori, he kept the boatmen in the castle because it was the best place for them. The boatmen of the Danube river consisted of mainly Serbs, it was a very important military unit.
The vanguard of the Ottoman army was led by Grand Vizier Paragli Ibrahim, he had about 40,000 men under his command. Nobody could block his way, there was only a 2,000-rider-strong Hungarian unit guarding the bank of the Száva river but they had to withdraw to the other side of the Danube river before him. They took up their new position on the other side of Pétervárad castle.
Ibrahim arrived at Pétervárad on 12 July, and as we can read from the diary of Suleiman, he immediately began to have trenches dug and deployed his cannons. The Vizier thought the castle was quite weak so he ordered a quick assault on 15 July but his troops were bloodily repelled. Tomori took advantage of the situation and he led the boatmen of the Danube river against the Ottoman ships that belonged to the Vizier. He inflicted serious damage, and Ibrahim had to take his warriors to the left bank of the Danube to beat Tomori back.
However, the Ottoman forces could not overcome Tomori’s men. Yet, the Archbishop did not feel that his troops were large enough to fight for a long time so he withdrew his army to Bács. From there, he sent urgent letters to the king but his ruler failed to get there in time. After this, Ibrahim resumed the systematic siege and began to break the walls with his 150 cannons. The cannons of the warships contributed to the damage, attacking the fort from the Danube river.
The Anatolian army arrived on 17 July and joined in the siege, and a general attack was ordered. The defenders fought bravely, sallied out many times, and beat the attack back. Then, the bombardment went on but the defenders could not really answer the artillery challenge as they were low on gunpowder. Two more general assaults were repelled. The fort could be taken only by undermining one of its bastions and breaking through the breach on 27 July in a decisive assault. A very long section of walls fell down because of the mines, and the defenders were panicking.
The surviving Christians (about 90 men) got into a tower and kept on fighting until noon when they surrendered because they were offered safe conduct. Most of the soldiers of the fort had died heroically and only about 300 of them were captured. Sultan Suleiman arrived at the end of the siege and could witness the last scenes. The siege was being observed by Tomori Pál’s 4,000-strong armies from the opposite bank of the river Danube but Tomori could not relieve the castle. It was how Captain Alapy György had to surrender the castle of Pétervárad on 27 July 1526, after a 12-day-long hard and desperate siege. Let us not judge him harshly over.
The fall of the castle caused astonishment and terror in the court of King Lajos who decided to march on Tolna with a small army, trusting that perhaps this would speed up the gathering of armed noblemen in his camp. His road led him to the field of Mohács, and the lost battle meant that Pétervárad became an Ottoman stronghold. Sultan Suleiman immediately had its walls repaired and placed guards in it. Then, the main Ottoman army continued its march and crossed the Dráva river, and held a battle with the Hungarian king’s army at Mohács. The outcome of that battle is well known to us. It was the Ottoman chronicler, Ferdi who described the fall of Pétervárad.
On July 14, 1688, Pétervárad was successfully recaptured by the troops of Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria. In 1692, the building of a Vauban-style fortress began on the castle hill, so the medieval walls and buildings fell victim to the construction. However, Pasha Ali could regain it in 1694 but soon he had to give it up. Not much later, Prince Eugene of Savoy defeated the Ottomans at Pétervárad in 1716. Here is a short video about the reconquest wars of Hungary:
Hungary’s largest fortification system was built here in the first half of the 18th century, only the Fort of Komárom was bigger than this. The formidable stronghold of Pétervárad played an important role during the Hungarian War of Independence during 1848-49. It was the seat of the Slavonian headquarters of the rebelling Hungarians.
This southern fortress had a huge stockpile of ammunition and supplies. It was of particular importance because the Croats and Serbs were instigated by the Habsburgs to turn against the Hungarians. The guards of Pétervárad insisted on the cause of the war of independence throughout. They surrendered only on 7 September 1849 when General Görgey’s letter of surrender was shown to them. After laying down the arms, the Austrians kept their promise, and everyone was free to leave, including Kiss Pál, the castle’s commander in spite of the intention of General Haynau who wanted to punish him most severely. Since 1986, excavations have been going on in Pétervárad.
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Here are a few more pictures of Pétervárad: