Nagyvárad (Oradea) was also called Várad and it was the most important frontier castle against the Turks on the Transylvanian side of old Royal Hungary during the Ottoman occupation of the country. It is in Romania, near the Hungarian border.
It was also one of the gates to Transylvania and the princes regarded it as their second capital. Accordingly, the rank of its captain got appreciated because its bearer became the second in rank after the prince. The captain of Nagyvárad acted as a substitute for the prince when he was on a campaign abroad.
All the princes, Báthory István, Báthory Kristóf, Bocskai István, and Rákóczi György II had been captains of Várad before becoming rulers of Transylvania.
Báthory István (Stefan) was its captain in 1559 and when he became a prince in 1571, he began carrying out bigger constructional works in the castle in Italian late-Renaissance fashion that was considered the most modern way of fort architecture of the time.
The building was completed in 1596 by Italian architects like Pietro Ferrabosco, Ottavio Baldigara, Domenico Ridolfino, and Simone Genga. Prince Báthory Kristóf granted collective nobility to the citizens of Nagyvárad in 1580. It was a similar right to the collective nobility of Hajdú soldiers in the Partium. Yet, the citizens swore fealty to Emperor Rudolf, asking his son, Maximilian’s protection against Prince Báthory and the Ottoman Turks. Archduke Maximilian (Miksa) sent German troops to the city to aid them thus occupying this strategic city.
The Turks were besieging it unsuccessfully in 1598 and later Prince Bocskai laid a siege on them as well. His army had to wait two years to starve the defenders out, making them surrender in 1606. Lord Rhédey Ferenc was the captain of Nagyvárad between 1613-1618 and he modernized the fortifications.
Prince Bethlen Gábor had the old, ruined medieval buildings pulled down in 1619 and ordered his Italian architect, Giacomo Resti to build a pentangular renaissance palace for him that was finished only around 1650. At that time, it was the biggest Renaissance palace in Central and Eastern Europe.
The city was blooming during the reign of Prince Rákóczi György I, especially due to his wife, Lady Lorántffy Zsuzsanna. They supported the Reformed church and established a college. The first printing house was launched in 1565 when the Polish printer Raffael Hoffhalter settled in Nagyvárad. The next press was set up sixty years later by Szenczi Kertész Ábrahám. Bethlen István had the press brought from Luneburgum and Prince Rákóczi acquired special oval letters for it around 1640. The Hungarian Bible of Nagyvárad was first printed in 1657 in 1500 copies but they couldn’t finish it because of the Turk siege of 1660. Luckily, they were able to smuggle the printed pages out and could complete the work in Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg).
It was the sorrowful time when Prince Rákóczi György II was killed in a battle by the Turks after he had wasted the Transylvanian army in a war for the Polish throne. Nagyvárad was a strong fort but it was left almost empty when most of their defenders went to the burial of the Prince, led by their captain, Gyulai Ferenc. Only 850 untrained soldiers were left behind under the leadership of Máté Balogh, vice-captain. It was a great mistake and the enemy has heard of it soon enough. Wasting no time, Pasha Achmed and Pasha Ali of Temesvár with 50,000 seasoned soldiers set out to capture the important castle, the gate to Transylvania that guarded immense territories.
At the same time, near the border of Habsburg’s ruled Royal Hungary, there was the sizable army of General Souches who refused the begging and pleading of the city and denied even the minimal help against the Ottoman Turks. He was a great soldier but he had to obey his strict orders from the Habsburg Emperor. In the meantime, the two Pashas sacked the wealthy agricultural town of Debrecen and destroyed some cities before completing the siege around Nagyvárad. It took them a month to drain the water of the moat and destroy the walls with mines and artillery.
The defenders were lacking the military knowledge so much that they couldn’t even use their own cannons – but they were valiant in close combat. After 44 days, all their heroic resistance proved futile so vice-captain Balogh left the castle with his people under the terms that the city wouldn’t be sacked.
Their valiant fight can be compared to the warriors of Eger Castle, even though they weren’t victorious. After the loss of Nagyvárad, the Habsburgs received criticism internationally because the whole Partium (a great area between Transylvania and Royal Hungary) had gone under Turkish control. Its loss marked the end of Transylvania’s independence, too.
Here is an article I wrote that is closely connected to the siege:
As for the fort of Nagyvárad, I would like to acknowledge the nice renovation work of those dedicated people who have achieved it in the last few years. Here is a film about the renovation of the castle (it is in the Hungarian language):
From the sky: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AktwHNOPv3Y
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Here are many pictures of Nagyvárad: