The Castle of Hunyadi János
Corvin Castle, also known as Hunyad / Vajdahunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle (Romanian: Castelul Huniazilor or Castelul Corvinilor), is a Gothic-Renaissance castle in Hunyad / Hunedoara, in Transylvania, it can be found in Romania.
As I have written so much about Hunyadi János and his son, King Matthias Corvinus, it is timely to present to you the castle where the greatest Hungarian king grew up. You can read more about King Matthias Corvinus here:
The castle is one of the largest castles in Europe and it can be seen today as it was built in its Gothic-Renaissance glamor. It was Hungarian King Zsigmond of Luxembourg who gave the castle in 1409 to Vajk, the captain of his bodyguard who began to use the name of Hunyad as his family name. The origin of Vajk is connected to Wallachia but gossip said he might have been an illegitimate (natural) son of King Zsigmond. It would explain much about his fast career, though.
Anyway, his son, Hunyadi János was already named after the Castle of Hunyad and he became one of the greatest military leaders of Europe in the 15th century. Hunyadi János is a hero who is equally loved and claimed by Hungarians, Romanians, and Serbians. However, his wife was undoubtedly a Hungarian lady, Szilágyi Erzsébet, and her son, Matthias was brought up by her. (Please, note that I am using the Eastern name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.) Here is more about King Matthias:
The history of the castle
It was the first Christian Hungarian king, István (Stephan) who had the first castle built on the Saint Péter Hill that is a bit to the south from the current castle. This fort served as the center of Hunyad County from where the Comes of the Hungarian kings controlled the area. It was a typical wood-and-earth castle like the rest of the forts built during the 10th century by the Hungarians. These early forts lost their importance after the Mongolian invasion of 1242 because stone castles were built instead of them on higher ground. In fact, the second strongest castle of Hunyad County used to be Segesd Castle (now in Kolozs County) through the period of Hungarian-Anjou kings.
Hunyadi Castle was laid out in 1446 when construction began on the orders of the Voivode of Transylvania, Hunyadi János who wanted to transform the former keep built by King Károly Róbert of Hungary. It was the same year when Hunyadi János was elected as the regent-governor by the Diet.
The castle is a large and imposing structure with tall towers, bastions, an inner courtyard, diversely colored roofs, and myriads of windows and balconies adorned with stone carvings. The castle also features a double wall for enhanced fortification and is flanked by both rectangular and circular towers, an architectural innovation for the period’s Transylvanian architecture. Some of the towers (the Capistrano Tower, the Deserted Tower, and the Drummers’ Tower) were used as prisons. The Buzogány Tower (a type of mace after which it was named) was solely built for defensive purposes and it had its exterior decorated with geometric motifs. The rectangular-shaped towers have large openings to accommodate larger weapons.
The castle has three large areas: the Knight’s Hall, the Diet Hall, and the circular stairway. The halls are rectangular in shape and are decorated with marble. The Diet Hall was used for ceremonies or formal receptions whilst the Knight’s Hall was used for feasts.
As one of the most important properties of Hunyadi János, the castle was transformed during his reign. It became a sumptuous home, not only a strategically enforced point. With the passing of the years, the masters of the castle had modified its look, adding towers, halls, and guest rooms. The gallery and the keep – the last defense tower (called “Neboisa” which means “Don’t be afraid” in Serbian and Croatian language), which remained unchanged from Hunyadi’s time, and the Capistrano Tower (named after the saint, a Franciscan friar from the Battle of Nándorfehérvár / Beograd in 1456) are some of the most significant parts of the construction. Other significant parts of the building are the Knights’ Hall (a great reception hall), the Club Tower, the White bastion, which served as a food storage room, and the Diet Hall.
In 1456, Hunyadi János died and work on the castle stagnated. You can read more about his heroic death:
Starting with 1458, new commissions were being undergone by Lady Szilágyi Erzsébet to construct the Matthias Wing of the castle. It has become the first Renaissance “loggia” in Transylvania. We can see beautiful late-Gothic murals on it.
As the residence of King Matthias was either in Visegrád or in Buda, it was his mother, Lady Szilágyi Erzsébet who remained in Hunyadi Castle and continued its construction. French and Italian masons and architects had been equally employed.
In 1480, work was completely stopped at the castle. However, it was recognized as being one of the biggest and most impressive buildings in Eastern Europe. King Matthias gave the castle to his natural son, Prince Corvin János in 1482. Later, Prince Corvin János had to pledge it to General Kinizsi Pál for money. More about Kinizsi Pál:
The 16th century did not bring any improvements to the castle, but during the 17th century, new additions were made, for aesthetic and military purposes. Aesthetically, the new Large Palace was built facing the town. A two-level building, it hosted a living chamber and a large living area. For military purposes, two new towers were constructed: the White Tower and the Artillery Tower. Also, the external yard was added, used for administration and storage.
It was attacked by the Wallachian Voivode Michael in 1601 who could not take it, either. All he could do was to burn the roofs of the stronghold and destroy the surrounding area.
The castle became the property of the Bethlen family of Iktár in 1618 who renovated and improved it. According to the fashion of the age, he enlarged it with outer defenses that were called “Hussar fort”. These new walls protected the raiding and patroling Hussars who were ceaselessly scouting the enemy. It was connected to the legendary flexible military tactic of the Borderland warriors who said that “a castle can only be defended on the field”. No wonder that Hussar castles were added to all Borderland castles all along the 1,000-mile-long Frontier. You can read more about the Valiant Order whose members had been protecting this Frontier for centuries:
Lady Széchy Mária lived here in 1632 for a short time. Several guilds were working in the city: tailors, tillers, boot-makers, and furriers. The Reformed church was established here in 1634. We know that the castle was owned by the wealthy Thököly family in the 17th century and Prince Thököly Imre stayed in Hunyadi Castle several times. It was the Transylvanian Prince Apafi who took the castle away from him in 1685. The Habsburgs were able to gain ownership in 1725. The last military action connected to Hunyadi Castle was in 1784 when the Romanian peasants were rebelling, led by Horea. Then, the local noblemen took shelter in the old fort and were able to repel all the attacks.
Emperor Habsburg Francis II happened to visit the castle in 1817 and he gave 30,000 Gold Forints for its renovation. Unfortunately, the renovation was mostly in vain because a thunder struck the roof in 1823 so it had to be covered by temporary roofs. The buildings were burned in 1854 again and efforts were made only after 1868 to renovate the magnificent knight-castle. Unfortunately, many new sections were just the product of the imagination of the architect called Steind Imre. Fortunately, there were historically correct renovations going on between 1907-1913 by Möller István.
The 20th century has brought some changes in the area as you can see it: an ugly chemistry industry was built around the marvelous fort. The good news is that the factory has been closed as far as 2003 was concerned. The castle’s restorations supervised by the Romanian state began in 1956, though.
It must be stated that the castle has nothing to do with Dracula and other fictional monsters.
In the castle yard, near the 15th-century chapel, there is a well 30 meters deep. According to the legend, this fountain was dug by 3 Turkish prisoners to whom liberty was promised if they reached the water. After 15 years they completed the well, but their captors did not keep their promise. It is said that the inscription on a wall of the well means “you have water, but not soul”. Specialists, however, have translated the Arabic inscription as “he who wrote this inscription is Hasan, who lives as the slave of the Giaours (infidels), in the fortress near the church”.
Here is a video about the castle from the sky:
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Here are a few pictures of Hunyad Castle: