Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

Visegrád lies north of Budapest on the right bank of the Danube in the Danube Bend. It is famous for the remains of the early Renaissance summer palace of King Matthias Corvinus and the medieval citadel.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

In the past, it was the royal seat of the Hungarian kings, a strategic place. It changed hands many times, and the castle and the town were almost destroyed during these wars. Visegrád was first mentioned in 1009 as a county town and the capital of an archdeaconry. The first fortress was destroyed by the Mongols in 1241.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

After the Mongol invasion of 1242, the city was rebuilt in 1246 on a slightly different site to the south. The cost was paid for by Queen Mary’s jewelry, which she had brought from Greece. She wanted to build a shelter for the nuns who lived on the Island of Rabbits (now Margarate Island) between Buda and Pest. The construction was completed between 1253 and 1254. King Béla IV gave Visegrád and the county of Pilis to the queen in 1259. The lower castle was completed in the 1260s.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

After the death of King Endre III, the castle, like Esztergom, was seized by the soldiers of the Bohemian King Vencel in 1301, but was soon taken over by a Hungarian oligarch, Csák Máté. This lord was able to withstand the power of the new king, Károly Róbert of Anjou, for a long time by controlling the central part of the country. However, Csák Máté was also at war with the Bohemian king, and in 1317 the king of Anjou retook Visegrád after a long and bloody siege.

Photo: Katarina Vavoulidou

However, it is known that the castle’s guards rebelled against the king in 1321. That was the year Csák Máté died, and two years later King Károly Róbert moved his seat from Temesvár to Visegrád. Thus he made Visegrád his hometown, the royal seat of Hungary. As it was the strongest castle of the kingdom, the Holy Crown of the Hungarians was taken there and guarded in the citadel for about two hundred years.

In 1335, King Károly Róbert hosted a two-month congress in Visegrád with the Bohemian king John of Luxembourg and the Polish king Casimir III. It was crucial in establishing peace between the three kingdoms and securing an alliance between Poland and Hungary against Habsburg Austria. Another congress followed in 1338. (In modern times, the alliance of the four countries of Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary is known as the V4 or the Visegrád countries). You can read more details of this congress on my page:

Photo: Katarina Vavoulidou

Later, when the Hungarian king Lajos (Louis) I was crowned king of Poland in 1370, the Polish crown was also brought to the citadel. Visegrád was the place where the severely wounded King Károly II died in 1386 after being assassinated by Lord Forgách Balázs, hired by the queen. (Please note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians, where surnames come first).

Hungarian reenactors at Visegrád

King Zsigmond (Sigismund) was crowned in 1387 and ruled the kingdom from Visegrád. During the reign of King Zsigmond (later Holy Roman Emperor), the rebellious oligarchs arrested the king and imprisoned him in Visegrád in 1401 before taking him to Siklós Castle. There was an interesting incident in 1403 that showed us the importance of the Holy Crown.

Photo: Katarina Vavoulidou

The nobles rebelled again, led by the archbishop of Esztergom, Kanizsai János. They wanted to replace Zsigmond with the son of the late King Károly II (who had died at Visegrád in 1386), so they invited Prince Nápolyi László from Naples to the country. The Pope’s legate provided a ‘temporary’ crown and the young man was crowned with it in Zagreb.

The Holy Crown of the Hungarians

Seeing this, Zsigmond went to Visegrád, where he displayed himself for all to see with the “valid crown” on his head, knowing that the Hungarians would only accept a king who was crowned with the crown of Saint István (Stephen). He then appointed Lord Korbáviai Károly as the castellan of Visegrád. Later, between 1405 and 1408, King Zsigmond moved the royal residence to Buda and the Holy Crown was temporarily transferred to Buda Castle.

After Zsigmond’s death, his son-in-law Albert (1437-1439) became the new king of Hungary, the only Habsburg monarch to hold his court in Buda. Albert brought the crown back to Visegrád in 1439. However, after the king’s death, his queen, Erzsébet, stole it from the castle to “officially” crown her unborn child. She managed to crown her son (King László V) in 1440, but the power was taken over by an adult who we call King Ulászló. Unfortunately, the crown was seized by the German King Frederick III, who “guarded” it, and later King Matthias Corvinus had to pay a huge ransom to get it back. He paid a staggering 80,000 gold forints for it in 1467.

Photo: Katarina Vavoulidou

King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary used Visegrád as his country residence. During the reign of the Anjou kings, the Hungarian Holy Crown was guarded in the castle, and in 1492 a law was passed regulating its protection. At that time, the control of the lower castle and the citadel was separated: the citadel belonged to the Crown Guard, while the lower castle remained the domain of the king. Watch this animated video about King Matthias’ Palace in Visegrád, with English subtitles:

Photo: Katarina Vavoulidou

After the battle of Mohács, it was Perényi Péter, a Crown Guard, who was able to escape the Crown to his castle in Füzér. Read more about Füzér Castle here:

Photo: Katarina Vavoulidou

When Perényi left Visegrád in 1526, the Pauline monks from Márianosztra took refuge in the fortress and were able to defend it against the Turks. After that, the fortress belonged to the new king, Szapolyai János. It was Lord Nádasdy Tamás who took Visegrád away from him by a siege in 1527 and gave it to the usurper Ferdinand of Habsburg. Lord Perényi soon sided with Ferdinand and gave him the crown. He wanted to take the crown to Patak Castle, but the men of Szapolyai ambushed him and the crown ended up in the hands of Sultan Suleiman.

The Sultan understood the importance of the crown and returned it to Szapolyai, knowing that only then would the Hungarians accept him as their king. Suleiman didn’t have enough power to conquer all of northern and eastern Hungary, so he needed Szapolyai’s support. Instead, he set his sights on Vienna. He was wrong on both counts: Szapolyai didn’t become a proper vassal and Vienna was too far away. As for the crown, Szapolyai had it transported to Transylvania.

Photo: Katarina Vavoulidou

King Szapolyai besieged Visegrád in 1532 and the citadel surrendered, unlike the Spanish guards of the lower castle, who escaped one night. Visegrád Castle was seriously damaged in 1540 when Leonhard Fels, Ferdinand’s general, attacked it after Szapolyai’s death. The Austrians took the lower castle in ten days, but couldn’t take the citadel. The general tried to take Buda but failed, so he returned home and took Vác Castle instead, on the way home they were able to take Visegrád because the 250 Hungarian guards in the citadel surrendered it in exchange for safe passage.

Photo: Katarina Vavoulidou

Pasha Mehmet of Buda joined forces with the Bey of Esztergom and besieged Visegrád in 1544. The Christians surrendered the lower castle when the enemy’s cannons brought down the tower on the southern corner of the lower castle. Captain Amádé Péter and his men defended the citadel until they had drinking water. The Ottomans offered them safe conduct so they left the citadel, but they were slaughtered outside. The Pasha spared the life of Amádé and some of the wounded, and they were taken as prisoners to Istambul.

Photo: Katarina Vavoulidou

The new inhabitants of the lower castle in 1570 were Muslims and South Slavs who served as guards. The Christians, led by Pálffy Miklós and Aldobrandini, took it back in 1595. The besiegers were able to drag 12 cannons to the opposite hilltop with the manpower of 400 soldiers and successfully bombarded the castle. After two days of heavy fire, Agha Piri surrendered and accepted Aldobrandini’s terms.

Photo: Katarina Vavoulidou

Visegrád was briefly in the hands of the Christians between 1595 and 1605. The Ottomans owned it until 1686 when it was finally taken back. Repairs to the castle began in 1601. The castle was under the command of a mercenary officer named Altheim, who surrendered the fort to Pasha Khodsa Murat without a fight in 1605.

Photo: Szántai Gábor

It was only liberated in 1684 by Charles of Lorraine, whose 11,000 troops and 7,000 cavalry quickly captured the city. Seeing this, the Ottoman garrison of the castle surrendered. However, the Turks attacked the town and castle in 1685. Captain Bischoffschausen heroically defended it until he could, but then he had to surrender and leave. The next time it was retaken was in 1686.

Visegrád, own photo (Szántai Gábor)

The castle was abandoned after the devastation. The area became uninhabitable. The remains of the castle were blown up by order of Emperor Leopold I in 1702. Archaeological excavations began in 1871 and will hopefully be completed by 2017. Every year the town hosts a very famous medieval festival, where I once took part in a longsword tournament.

The Corvinus Tournament in Visegrád (the guy in the red hood is me)

Visegrád castle can also be found on the free APP of that is available here on Google Play:

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

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The writer of this article in Visegrád castle

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