Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars between 1372-1699

Temesvár

Temesvár (drawing: Ludwig von Förster)

Temesvár (Timisoara, Temeschburg, Temeşvar) is the center of the Bánát area, used to be the entrance of Transylvania from the direction of the Great Hungarian Plain. It can be found in Romania: who would forget the Hungarian and Romanian heroes of Temesvár who triggered the Revolution in 1989 that finally has overthrown the communist dictator’s rule? 

Now, the town is populated by several ethnic groups, Hungarians, Serbs, Romanians, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Germans, and Roma people. The town is also described as “small Vienna” because of its beautiful buildings.

Hungary (1914) find Temesvár and Bánát in it

Temesvár has been always inhabited since ancient times due to the closeness of the three rivers, the Tisza, the Maros, and the Danube. Temesvár was a strategic castle next to the Transylvanian border, a much-disputed fort between the Ottoman Turks and the Hungarians.

The Bánát region before 1526

The region was populated in the second part of the 10th century A.D. by Hungarians whose cemetery was found near Temesvár. The name “Temes” derives from the name of the Temes river while “vár” stands for “castle”. The Romanian and German names came from the Hungarian word “Temesvár”. As for the fortress, it was first mentioned in the Register of Arad around 1177. Next time, it was mentioned in a document issued by King András II of Hungary, it was called Castrum Temesiense. However, others say it referred to another town.  Assumedly, it was an earth-timber construction at that time.

Temesvár in our days

This first castle was destroyed during the Mongolian Invasion in 1241 but later the walls were rebuilt. The place was mentioned again in 1266, in a document of King István V. It was called castrum Tymes, the fort was a rectangular castle, three sides defended by rivers, and on the third side by a moat. The castle had strategic importance as the Chief Comes of Temes County could easily control the area from there.

Temesvár

The city grew under the reign of King Károly Róbert who, upon his visit here in 1307, ordered the construction of a royal palace. Italian masons completed the work, adding stone walls and bastions to the corners of the new castle. At the beginning of his reign, King Károly Róbert held his court there before he could overcome the powerful oligarchs of the country. Later, the king visited the castle in 1330, he set out from there when he launched his campaign against Voivode Basarab of Wallachia.

Temesvár

The “guest settlers” in the town (hospites de Themeswar) were first mentioned in 1341. We have a document from 1342 when the inhabitants of Temesvár were mentioned as “burghers”: cives de Temesvar. However, the place was mentioned as an “oppidum” (market town) until 1512. It was King Lajos I who gave a COA to the city in 1365, it is one of the earliest Hungarian COAs given to cities. Merchants from Ragusa (now Dubrovnik in Croatia) settled in the town around 1402. Bulgarians, Wallachians, and Serbians also moved to the town in the 15th and 16th centuries.

This COA is from 1781: the wild horses refer to the Bánát Region

By the middle of the 14th century, Temesvár was at the forefront of Western Christendom’s battle against the Ottoman Turks. French and Hungarian crusaders met at the city before engaging in the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396. In 1397, King Zsigmond held a Diet in Temesvár to discuss how to defend the Ottoman threat.


 
In 1440, Hunyadi János was appointed as Chief Comes of Temes county. He moved there with his family and launched his campaigns from here. Unfortunately, a major earthquake destroyed the castle in 1443 and Hunyadi had to build up Temesvár castle again, with the help of Italian masons. Thus, it has become a military stronghold against the Turks. It was on a strategic point, nothing shows it better than the fact that it was repeatedly besieged by the Ottomans in 1462, 1476, 1491, and 1522. It was so important that King Matthias Corvinus appointed his best general, Kinizsi Pál as the Chief comes of Temes county in 1478.

The tombstone of Kinizsi Pál (in Hungary)

Temesvár remained the property of the Hunyadi Clan until 1490. The rebelling peasants of Dózsa György were defeated near Temesvár by Lord Szapolyai János in 1514. Dózsa was executed in the city. The castle beat the Ottomans back in 1551 again but its most famous siege took place in July 1552. Pasha Achmed led an army of thirty thousand against the fort that was defended by Losonci István (Stephen), Chief Comes who had barely two thousand Spanish, Hungarian, Czech, German and Italian soldiers. After twenty-five days of siege, the Turks destroyed the water tower of the city so Losonci had to start negotiations. He was allowed to leave freely with his soldiers, accompanied by the city’s inhabitants, but the Ottomans slaughtered them, capturing and beheading the seriously injured Losonci in the end.

The Ottoman army after the taking of Temesvár (1552)

In spite of the massacre, the city began to develop during the Turkish rule, especially the agriculture. Part of the Bánát region also became part of the Ottoman Empire. Temesvár remained under the Ottoman rule for nearly 160 years, controlled directly by the Sultan and enjoying a special status, similar to other cities in the region such as Buda and Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade). During this period, Temesvár was home to a large Islamic community and produced famous historical figures such as Osman Agha of Temesvár.

The siege of Temesvár (1552)

Temesvár was also an important trading center. It was the first city where besides the Turkish merchants, the Sefard Jewish traders appeared in bigger numbers. The houses of the city were built of clay and covered by wooden roofs and the streets were paved by wooden planks. Each quarter of the city was surrounded by water and had its own fortress. Temesvár became a center of a Vilayet and it was the starting point to launch raids and military moves to the nearby regions.

The siege of Temesvár in 1596

During the 15-Year-War, an uprising broke out in the area against the Ottoman rule in 1594 but the rebels couldn’t take Temesvár. However, Bán (Duke) Borbély György of Karánsebes, a general appointed by Prince Báthory Zsigmond of Transylvania was able to achieve success in the region in 1595. Shortly after this, the army of Báthory Zsigmond appeared at Temesvár and besieged it for 40 days, unfortunately in vain. The next siege took place in 1597, then it was Jósika István who led the Transylvanian army but they quit the siege after ten days. The soldiers of Voivode Michael II of Wallachia were raiding the outer town of Temesvár in 1600.

Temesvár in the Ottoman age

 The castle had an important role in the wars launched by the Transylvanian princes against the Habsburgs, too. When the army of  Székely Mózes was defeated at Tövis in 1602, he fled to Temesvár. He sent his letter to the Sultan from here, asking for the throne of Transylvania in it. Then, Székely Mózes launched his attack from Temesvár against the Habsburg-occupied Transylvania in 1603.

Temesvár was visited many times by important Ottoman officials and foreign envoys, including the visits of the Sultans. All of the fugitives from Transylvania found shelter here, especially those who aspired to get the throne of Transylvania with the Turks’ help. Bethlen Gábor, later Prince of Transylvania used to stay in the city like many Romanians who wanted to rule Wallachia or Moldavia one day. We know that Bethlen has succeeded: he was aided by Ottoman troops to seize the throne of Transylvania in 1613.


 
Temesvár witnessed an uprising in 1652-53 when the leaders of the city rebelled against Pasha Mustafa who allegedly had misused his power. After the Siege of Vienna, the Ottomans’ rule was weakening and Sultan Mustafa II suffered a great defeat at Zenta in 1697. The sultan and the remains of his army fled from the battlefield to Temesvár. After the Treaty of Karlóca (Karlowitz) in 1699, the Temes area remained part of the Ottoman Empire as it was quite uninhabited and the Austrians didn’t need it for the time being.

Temesvár in 1686

The new war against the Ottomans broke out in 1716, and after the victorious Battle of Pétervárad, Prince Eugene of Savoy attacked Temesvár. The siege lasted for 48 days and most of the buildings were destroyed because of the cannonade. Finally, Pasha Mustafa, the last Ottoman captain of Temesvár had to surrender the fort. The prince and Mustafa agreed that all the Turkish inhabitants must leave the city but the Romanians, Serbs, Armenians, and Jews were allowed to stay. The prince appointed Count Claude Florimond de Mercy to govern the city. He organized and led the region of the Banate of Temes (Temesi Bánság). Temesvár became its center in 1719. 

The siege of Temesvár in 1716

 The city was prospering, and the Habsburgs settled many German people in the area. Many German villages were founded around the city. The Béga Channel was created between 1728 and 1732 so the swamps disappeared. The channel connected the Béga river with the Tisza and the Danube rivers. The Vauban-style fort was built between 1723 and 1765. During this period, a huge epidemic killed 1,000 inhabitants of the 6,000 in 1738. Now, only a small section of the fort is still intact.

Temesvár fort, 1808

The Bánát region used to be under direct military control until 1751 but it became again part of the Kingdom of Hungary only in 1778. Temesvár received the privilege of a free royal town in 1781 which was a great step in its economic growth. The Serbs of Hungary held a national congress in Temesvár in 1790, demanding autonomy. Emperor Habsburg Leopold II accepted their demand but he died in 1792. In this period, there were several epidemics and the town suffered because of a fire and an earthquake in 1797, too. 

Temesvár at the end of the 18th century

 When Emperor Bonaparte Napoleon attacked Austria, the Habsburg coronation jewels and the Hungarian Holy Crown were taken to Temesvár in 1809. The next war after 1716 around Temesvár took place in 1849 when the Hungarian troops tried to take it from the Habsburgs. The unsuccessful siege lasted for 114 days, it was the last battle of the Hungarian Revolution in 1849.

Temesvár, 1910

After the Revolution, the Habsburgs reorganized the area and they created the Serbian Voivodeship of Serbia and Banat of Temes. Again, the region was under the direct control of Vienna. As Temesvár remained a free royal town, the place experienced a fast industrial development. The Bánát region became part of the Hungarian Kingdom again in 1860. The development of the city was unbroken, after London, it was the second European town where the public lamps were fed by electric power as soon as 1884. 

Temesvár, 1910

Temesvár had many hardships in WWI. There was a local German politician called Otto Roth who made an attempt in 1918 to turn Temesvár and its vicinity into a sovereign state. It was the Bana Republic that lived until 1919. Finally, French and Serb troops marched into Temesvár and the bánát region was divided between Serbia and Romania. Temesvár became part of Romania.

Workers demolishing the old walls, 1915

After 1920, the ethnic structure was changing, many Romanians moved into the town. The city suffered much destruction in 1944. The Romanians changed sides and arrested the German officers in Temesvár, then they were able to defend it against the German army. Then, the Soviets arrived and took over control. they stayed there until 1958. As for the Hungarian Freedom Fight of 1956, we must remark that Temesvár gave place to the biggest anti-communist demonstrations in Romania.

The remains of the fort in Temesvár (Photo: Imre Lánczi)

There was huge industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s, the ethnic picture of Temesvár has been profoundly changed. In December 1989 a popular uprising began in Temesvár against the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. The Hungarian Calvinist pastor Tőkés László was ordered to be deported by the Securitate, or secret police, and as a reaction, his house was surrounded by members of his church. People supporting him, even including people of Romanian origin, gathered at the central square (Opera Square). The Communist administration ordered the army to fire at the congregation. However, a number of army officers refused to open fire and sided with the people. That was the beginning of the Romanian Revolution of 1989, which ended the Communist regime a week later.

The remains of the fort (Photo: Imre Lánczi)

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