Visegrád is 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.
The place used to be a royal center of Hungarian kings in the past, a strategic place. It has changed masters many times and the castle and the town got almost entirely destroyed during these wars. Visegrád was first mentioned in 1009 as a county town and the chief town of an archdeaconry. The first fort was destroyed by the Mongols in 1241.
After the Mongol invasion in 1242, the town was rebuilt in a slightly different location to the south after 1246. The expenses were paid by Queen Mary’s personal jewelry that she had brought from Greece. She wanted to build a shelter for the nuns who lived on the Island of the Rabbits (now Margarate Island) between Buda and Pest. The construction was finished between 1253-1254. King Béla IV gifted Visegrád and Pilis County to the Queen in 1259. The lower castle was finished in the 1260s.
After the death of King Endre III, the castle was seized by the soldiers of the Bohemian King Vencel in 1301 like Esztergom but soon it was taken by a Hungarian oligarch, Csák Máté. This lord was able to oppose the power of the new King Robert of Anjou for a long time by controlling the middle section of the country. Yet, Csák Máté was at war against the Czech king as well so the Anjou king could retake Visegrád in 1317, after a bloody and long siege.
We know that the guards of the castle rebelled against the king in 1321, though. It was the year when Csák Máté died and two years later King Robert relocated his seat from Temesvár to Visegrád. Thus, he made Visegrád his hometown, the royal seat of Hungary. Being the strongest castle of the kingdom, the Sacred Crown of the Hungarians was also taken there and it had been guarded in the citadel for about two hundred years.
In 1335, Károly (Charles) hosted at Visegrád a two-month congress with the Bohemian king, John of Luxembourg, and the Polish king, Casimir III. It was crucial in creating peace between the three kingdoms and securing an alliance between Poland and Hungary against Habsburg Austria. Another congress followed in 1338. (In modern-day, we call the alliance of the four countries of Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary the “V4 or the Visegrád Countries.)
Later, when the Hungarian King Louis I was crowned as King of Poland in 1370, the Polish Crown was also taken to the citadel. Visegrád was the place where the severely wounded King Károly II died in 1386 after he had been assassinated by Lord Forgách Balázs, hired by the Queen.
King Sigismund was crowned in 1387 and ruled the kingdom from Visegrád. During the reign of King Sigismund aka Zsigmond (later Holy Roman Emperor) the rebelling oligarchs arrested the king and kept him in custody in Visegrád in 1401 before taking him to Siklós castle. There was an interesting incident in 1403 that shows us how important the Sacred Crown was. The noblemen rebelled again and it was the Archbishop of Esztergom, Kanizsai János who led them. They wanted to replace Zsigmond with the son of late King Károly II (the one who had died at Visegrád in 1386) so they invited Prince Nápolyi László from Naples to the country. The Legate of the Pope gave a “temporary” crown and the young man was crowned with it in Zagreb.
Seeing this, Sigismund went to Visegrád where he displayed himself with the “valid crown” on his head for everyone to see, knowing that Hungarians accepted only that king who was crowned with the crown of Saint Stephen (István). Then, he appointed Lord Korbáviai Károly as the castellan of Visegrád. After these, Zsigmond moved the royal seat to Buda between 1405 and 1408 and the Sacred Crown was temporarily carried to Buda castle, too.
After Zsigmond’s death, his son-in-law became the new king of Hungary who was the only Habsburg monarch who held his court in Buda, Albert (1437-1439). Albert took the Crown back to Visegrád in 1439. However, after the king’s death, his Queen, Erzsébet stole it from the castle in order to crown her unborn baby “officially” with it. She succeeded to crown her son in 1440 (King László V) but the power was taken by an adult who we call King Ulászló. Unfortunately, the Crown was seized by the German King Frederick III who “guarded” it; later King Matthias had to pay a huge ransom to get it back. He paid a staggering sum, 80,000 Gold Forints for it in 1467.
King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary used Visegrád as a country residence. The Hungarians’ Holy Crown had been guarded in its castle during the Anjou kings of Hungary as a law was made in 1492 that regulated its protection. It was when the control over the lower castle and the citadel were separated: the citadel belonged to the Crown Guards while the lower fort remained the king’s domain. Take a look at this animation video about King Matthias’ palace in Visegrád, with English subtitles:
After the Battle of Mohács, it was Perényi Péter, a Guard of the Crown who escaped the Crown to his own castle at Füzér. Read more about Füzér Castle here: https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/kingdom-of-hungary/fuzer/
When Perényi abandoned Visegrád in 1526, the Paulinian monks of Márianosztre took refugee in it and they could defend it against the Turks. Then, the fort was owned by the new king, Szapolyai János. It was Lord Nádasdy Tamás who took away Visegrád from him by a siege in 1527 and gave it to the usurper Habsburg Ferdinand. Soon, Lord Perényi sided with Ferdinand and gave him the Crown. He wanted to carry 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 has understood the importance of the Crown and gave it back to Szapolyai, knowing that the Hungarians would accept him as their king only like this. Suleiman didn’t have enough strength to overrun the entire Northern and Eastern Hungary so he needed Szapolyai support. He rather set his eyes on Vienna. He was wrong in both decisions: Szapolyai didn’t become a proper vassal and Vienna was too far. As for the Crown, Szapolyai had it transported to Transylvania.
King Szapolyai besieged Visegrád in 1532 and the citadel surrendered, unlike the Spanish guards of the lower castle who fled one night, nevertheless.
Visegrád castle got seriously damaged in 1540 when Leonhard Fels, General of Ferdinand attacked it after Szapolyai’s death. The Austrians took the lower castle in ten days but couldn’t seize the citadel. The General tried to take Buda but failed so he returned home and took Vác Castle instead, and on the way home, they were able to take Visegrád because the 250 Hungarian guards in the citadel surrendered it in exchange for safe conduct.
Pasha Mehmet of Buda joined forces with the Bey of Esztergom and besieged Visegrád in 1544. When they succeeded in collapsing the tower on the southern corner of the lower castle with their cannons, the Christians surrendered the lower fort. Captain Amádé Péter and his men were defending the citadel until they had drinking water. The Ottomans offered safe conduct so they left the citadel but they were slaughtered when they were outside. The Pasha spared the life of Amádé and a few injured men, they were taken as prisoners to Istambul.
The new dwellers of the lower castle in 1570 were Muslims and South-Slavic people 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 opposing hilltop, using the manpower of 400 soldiers and were able to shell the castle quite successfully. After two days of heavy fire, Agha Piri surrendered and accepted Aldobrandini’s conditions. Visegrád was in the Christians’ hands between 1595-1605 for a short time. The Ottomans had owned it until 1686 when it was finally taken back. The castle’s repairs began in 1601. The castle was under the command of a mercenary officer called Altheim who surrendered the fort to Pasha Khodsa Murat without a fight in 1605.
It was retaken only in 1684 by Charles of Lothar whose 11,000 troops and 7,000 cavalrymen managed to take the town quite fast. Seeing this, the Ottoman garrison of the castle surrendered. However, the Turks attacked the town and the castle in 1685. Captain Bischoffschausen was heroically defending it until he could, but then he had to surrender and leave. Next time, it was taken back in 1686.
The castle became abandoned after the severe destruction. The area became uninhabitable. The remnants of the castle were exploded by the order of Leopold I, in 1702. The archeological excavations began in 1871 and hopefully have been finished by now (2017). Every year the town hosts a very famous medieval festival where once I was participating in a longsword tournament, too.
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Here I have uploaded a few pictures of Visegrád:
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