Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars


The statue of Captain Varkocs Ferenc in Székesfehérvár (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The city and castle of Székesfehérvár are located in the middle of Hungary. Székesfehérvár was initially just Fehérvár, it used to be the kingdom’s medieval capital, Alba Regia. It was one of the most important cities in Hungary. In the Székesfehérvár Basilica, one of the largest basilicas in medieval Europe, where the Diets were held and the Crown jewels kept, thirty-seven kings and thirty-nine queens were crowned and fifteen rulers buried. The Ottomans and the Imperial mercenaries alike, unfortunately, destroyed and mixed the skeletons when robbing their tombs.

Remaining sections of the wall (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The city got its name from “the white castle of the royal seat”. Similar names were Nándorfehérvár aka Belgrade in Serbia or Gyulafehérvár aka Alba Iulia in Transylvania. Both used to get their names from Hungarian ranks like “nándor-nádor=palatine” or “gyula”=military leader. “Gyula” was the keeper of Transylvania at the time of the home-taking in the 9th century, later this rank became the Voivode of Transylvania.

Remaining sections of the wall (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The town was founded in 972 by High Prince Géza, father of King István. Géza had a small fort built in the city, too. King István I granted proper town rights to the settlement, surrounded the town with a plank wall, had a provosty and a school built, and under his rule, the construction of the Basilica began (it was built between 1003 and 1038). The settlement had about 3,500 inhabitants at this time and it was the royal seat for hundreds of years. Forty-three kings were crowned in Székesfehérvár.

Székesfehérvár, 1543

King András II issued the Golden Bull here in 1222. The Bull included the rights of nobles and the duties of the king, and the Constitution of Hungary was based on it until 1848. It is often compared to England’s Magna Charta. 

Remaining sections of the wall (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

During the Mongolian Invasion of Hungary (1241–1242), the invaders could not get close to the castle because the Mongolian warriors could not get through the surrounding marshes which were flooded by melting snow. In the 13th–15th centuries, the town prospered, and several palaces were built. In the 14th century, Székesfehérvár was surrounded by city walls. The Cathedral burned down in 1327 but it was soon restored.

The Cathedral of Székesfehérvár on fire (Chronica Picta)

After the death of King Matthias (1490), the Holy Roman Empire’s army of 20,000 men, led by Emperor Maximilian invaded Hungary. They advanced in the heart of Hungary and managed to capture the city of Székesfehérvár, which they sacked, plundered the tomb of King Matthias, too. However, the Landsknechts were still unsatisfied with the booty and refused to set out for taking Buda. Maximilian returned to the Empire in late December and the Hungarian troops liberated Székesfehérvár in the next year, led by Kinizsi Pál.

The Ottomans occupied the city after a long siege in 1543. The Turk army was led by Sultan Suleiman who had about 35-40,000 men. The defenders had 5-6,000 warriors. The siege began with heavy artillery bombardment and fierce assaults followed each other. The Turks managed to break into the outer city on 2 September. It could happen only after a sally of the defenders that has a disastrous outcome for the Hungarian warriors, including their commander, Varkocs György.

Remaining sections of the wall (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The wealthy citizens, fearing they might incur the wrath of the Ottomans by a lengthy siege, locked the returning warriors out from the inner castle. The trapped warriors faced the enemy but they were outnumbered and massacred. Varkocs György fell with them. Later, the Turks executed many of the burghers, they put to death those who were responsible for shutting the heroic defenders out. The city got depopulated: southern Slavic inhabitants were settled in Székesfehérvár.

The city remained under Ottoman occupation for 145 years, until 1688, except for a short period in 1601 when it was re-occupied by Prince Mercoeur. However, Count Salm tried to take it back in 1566, just like Nádasdy and Schwarzenberg attempted it in 1598 but these were in vain.

The siege of Székesfehérvár in 1601

The siege of 1601 took place during the 15-Year-War and at the final attack, 4,000 Turkish soldiers died at the breach in a hard fight along with 1,000 Christian attackers. The Ottomans were fighting in the city from house to house and their heroism was worth recording. The brave Sanjak Bey of the city took himself with his 120 soldiers into a tower and fought to the end. He and his family were captured and the Christian prince took care that they could not be harmed. Prince Mercour gave them his own tent.

Philippe Emmanuel, Duke of Mercœur

When the fight was almost over, Colonel Giovanni Marco Isolano who later became the town’s captain, said that “the Turks fled to the marshland around the castle who had to be rounded up there. The gunpowder was stored in the church which exploded after the end of the fight and the houses have burned out so much that only the walls of the unfortunate city were standing.”

Indeed, after the taking of the city, the winners visited the ancient cathedral to give thanks to God and the explosion happened right after they have left the building, killing “only” a dozen men. Gossip said that all the treasures were blown up which had been hidden there at the siege of 1543 by the Hungarians. It was recorded that the western mercenaries couldn’t find much booty in the torched town so they were so much angered that they attacked and plundered each other after the siege. The prince sent 1,500 Turkish captives to Győr city.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

However, the Ottomans took the city back the next year from Colonel Marco because the German mercenaries surrendered the fort. The Turks have destroyed the remains of the city, demolished the royal palace, and repeatedly pillaged the graves of kings in the cathedral. The stones of the huge Cathedral were used to repair the walls and for other constructions in the city. Now, the bones of Hungarian kings are hopelessly mixed up with the sadness of researchers.

Remaining sections of the wall (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The Turks named the city Belgrade (“white city”, from Serbian “Beograd”) and built mosques. In the 16th–17th centuries, it looked like a Muslim city. Most of the original population fled. It was a Sanjak center in Budin Province as “İstolni Belgrad” during Ottoman rule. You can read more about the 15-Year-War on my page, I am sharing a long series about the events of this war:

Remaining sections of the wall (Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

Székesfehérvár was liberated in 1688 by the troops of Batthány Ádám, after a 12-day-long siege. The Ottoman defenders surrendered and were allowed to leave the castle unhurt. During the War of Independence of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc, the town sided with the Habsburgs. However, it was taken in 1705 by General Nádasdy Ferenc who was in charge of Rákóczi’s Trans-Danubian army. He started to build a new fort but it was pulled down at the end of the 18th century.

Today, not much can be seen from the old castle. The “ruin-park” at the previous place of the Basilica is the place where the mixed skeletons of the Hungarian kings are kept in a special chamber under the ground. Although the plundering soldiers of the past had done their best, the shame for the confused bones is mostly on the people who were responsible for them during the socialist period. If you visit the town, check out the Saint István Museum and Saint Anna Chapel by all means. Also, there is a modern castle in Székesfehérvár, it is the so-called Bory castle but it was built only in the 20th century.

The Bory castle (Photo: karel291)

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