Showing posts with label archaeology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label archaeology. Show all posts

Monday, November 23, 2015

Remains of Bonyhád church covered over

Virtual reconstruction of Bonyhád church 
I wanted to give an update about the situation with the excavation of the medieval church of Bonyhád. Unfortunately, the excavations could not be completed fully. Once the very short-term permit ran out, work on the excavations had to stop on October 7th. More than a month passed until the possibility of continuation was debated - a precious month with good weather, during which a lot of progress could have been made. Starting from mid-November, 2015, the excavated ruins of the medieval church were covered up and filled with concrete, so the new road could be built over them. As a results of this, unfortunately a lot of the questions surrounding the church could not be answered. I talked to the chief archaeologist, Géza Szabó, and he provided some information about the church. He explained to me that it is plain to see - even without a full excavation going down to sufficient depth, that the church had at least two phases of construction. The earlier phase can be dated to the period of King Sigismund, and is probably connected to the men found buried in front of the main altar. He was a strong, well-to-do man. Although no tombstone was found, a coin from the rule of Wladislas I. dates the burial to this period (1440-1444), and places the construction of the church to the Sigismund period. The church was later rebuilt, most likely in the early 16th century - this is the date of the late gothic net vault, the fragments of which were found during the excavations. Unfortunately, earlier phases of construction could not be adequately explored, and the area of the church also could not be excavated.

The excavation site during my visit in late October

Because of the very short period available for archaeological excavation, and the impossibility of examining the site in the future, documentation was of paramount importance. In the following, I would like to illustrate some of the techniques used during the work carried out. The site itself was documented in a 3D photogrammetric survey, recording all details by Interspect Research Group. 3D modelling company Pazirik also scanned the site, and carried out 3D scanning of the architectural fragments, which then served as the basis of a theoretical 3D reconstruction of the early 16th century phase of the building. 
Virtual reconstruction of the church at Bonyhád
Based on a keystone and several vault fragments, the intricate late Gothic net vault of the church was also reconstructed. These reconstructions, and initial results of research were published by The articles published in this collection not only make preliminary results and wonderful illustrations available, but also reveal that there are still several questions surrounding the remains - questions, which largely could have been answered via a thorough and complete archaeological excavation. Current legislation in Hungary unfortunately makes it possible that the construction of a road could proceed, without the completion of this archaeological survey.

The site being covered over (mid-Novermber, 2015)

A középkori templom feltárása Bonyhádon - article (pdf, in Hungarian), Archeologia - Altum Castrum Online Magazin. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The lost medieval church of Bonyhád

It is rare that the excavation of a simple medieval parish church makes national news in Hungary. However, this is precisely what is happening these days with the remains of the medieval church of Bonyhád in southern Transdanubia: largely because there seems to be no time and no way to fully excavate and preserve the ruins. This is because of recent changes in Hungarian heritage laws, which favor construction and development instead of heritage protection.

The remains of the church of Bonyhád were discovered during the construction of a new exit from route 6. Current legislation only gives 30 days for any archaeological investigations in such situations, with a possibility of further extension granted by the Ministry of Culture. This extension has to be given by the Minister himself within 8 days - if he does not grant it, construction can continue without delay. The remains of the church of Bonyhád were discovered in late September. Thanks to the cooperation of a team of Hungarian archaeologists, the excavation was carried out during the last two weeks - but now work is coming to an end, as the construction of the road will commence on Wednesday.
Photo: István Huszti / Index
So let's see what was found: excavations have brought to light the nave of a medieval church (the sanctuary lies under the main road built a long time ago). It seems that the edifice was the medieval parish church of Bonyhád, which in the Middle Ages was located at some distance from the current center of the settlement. The church must have been destroyed in 1542 when the Ottoman Turkish army pushed through this area. The church burnt down, its walls were torn down some time later, and the site was abandoned. The site soon filled up with mud - thus the remains were preserved in good condition. A keystone and other fragments of the late Gothic vault of the church were found, along with the remains of the bell, as well as stone carvings from the portal of the church and other structural elements. Here are some photos of the stone carvings:

The excavation was one of the first times when the new heritage laws of Hungary were applied in a real-life scenario, and it became obvious that the regulations are not sufficient to protect archaeological heritage. Despite protests from the Association of Hungarian Archaeologists and even a statement by the ombudsman, it seems that the site will have to covered over before the excavations can fully be completed, as construction will resume as early as next week. Maybe the ensuing debate and national attention will help lawmakers rethink the current regulations.

Photo: István Huszti / Index

Monday, May 18, 2015

Conference on Medieval Esztergom

18th century painting of the Porta Speciosa
of Esztergom cathedral 

There will be a conference on May 28th 2015, at Esztergom, dedicated to medieval history and art of the city, which was Hungary's first capital. Titled "Metropolis Hungariae," the conference will feature a number of internationally known Hungarian scholars, who will speak about recent archaeological research in the town and new art historical work. The focus of the conference will be the Árpád period, perhaps the most important period in the town's history. Art historical lectures will primarily discuss the architecture and sculpture of the medieval cathedral of the town.

The conference presents a good opportunity for visiting Esztergom, where the permanent exhibition in the former royal palace has been reinstalled and the restoration of the palace chapel has been fully completed (I already reported on this last year).

The full program can be seen below.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Medieval news update

During the last five years, I wrote on various subjects on this blog, including the discoveries of treasure hoards and wall paintings, interesting exhibitions and new publications, museum collections and organizational changes and many others. The beginning of a new year seems like a good time to re-visit some of these topics, and to give a quick update on some of the news I reported. Here, then, is a medieval news update, focusing on some of the most popular topics on the medieval Hungary blog.

Wiener Neustadt treasure hoard published

Back in 2011, I reported on the discovery of a significant medieval treasure hoard found in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. The objects - over 200 in total - have since been cleaned and restored, and are now presented in a lavish new publication issued by the Austrian Office of Monument Preservation (Bundesdenkmalamt).

The book describes the discovery of the treasure, and provides an exhaustive survey of the objects, including a detailed techical analysis of the materials, as well as studies on the art historical and cultural significance of the treasures. A catalogue of all the objects and an extensive photographic documentation is also included in the book. On the publisher's website you can browse the beginning of the book, and there are also a number of photos available (this is the source of the image above). A smaller publication, a brief introduction to the treasure, has also been published.

Nikolaus Hofer, hrsg.: Der Schatzfund von Wiener Neustadt. Horn - Wien, Verlag Berger, 2014. 496 pp., ISBN: 978-3-85028-636-7

Goldsmith works from the Herzog collection on view at the Hungarian National Museum

Another treasure collection, goldsmith objects once in the collection of Baron Mór Lipót Herzog, surfaced at a New York auction a few years ago, as I reported also in 2011. It has now been revealed that the mysterious buyer of the objects at the sale was the State of Hungary, and the objects have been placed in the National Museum. After three years, in late 2014, the collection has been put on view in a special exhibition at the museum (which is open until January 25, 2014). No catalogue has been published, and there is no information available on the website of the museum - but a photo gallery is available on the website of the Hungarian state news agency,, by clicking on the image on this page. A total of 32 pieces entered the museum, all of which at one time belonged to Mór Lipót Herzog, who passed away in 1934. The pieces have been recorded earlier as wartime victims of looting, and their whereabouts were unknown until the New York sale.

Transylvanian goldsmith works from the former Herzog collection - Hungarian National Museum, on view until January 25, 2015. For more information (in Hungarian), visit Obeliscus, an online journal on the early modern period.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hungarian ornaments found at the site of the Battle of Lechfeld (955)

In the Battle of Lechfeld, King Otto I defeated the Magyar troops in 955, effectively putting an end to the period of Hungarian invasions to western Europe. The battle took place near Augsburg, but its exact location was not known. According to German press reports, a sensational find may change that. An amateur archaeologist found a set of horse ornaments at a site some 15 kilometers northeast of Augsburg. The silver ornaments show traces of gilding, and their style unmistakenly ties them to 10th century Hungarians. The ornaments must have belonged to a high-ranking leader in the Hungarian army. The leaders of the army, including Bulcsú and Lehel (Lél) were executed by Otto - who himself was later crowned Emperor. The Hungarians turned towards east during the next few decades, being involved in conflicts against the Byzantine Empire. Finally, however, the period of Hungarian raids was over, and a new kingdom emerged in the Carpathian basin under the rule of King St. Stephen (1000-1038).

Photo: Archäologische Staatssammlung München 

The finds were presented last week by the Archäologische Staatssammlung München. Further excavations to be carried out at the site may shed more light on the circumstances of this decisive battle. The finds will be presented at the permanent exhibition of the State Archaeological Collection after restoration.

You can read about the discovery in Augsburger Allgemeine (in German) or in Népszabadság (in Hungarian). More information is available at the following sites: Bayerischer Rundfunk, Focus, Aichacher Zeitung, usw.

Drawing of Hungarian conquest-period horse ornaments.
Reconstruction by László Révész

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Virtual reconstruction of Simontornya castle

The virtual reconstruction of the castle of Simontornya - a project, which has been in the making for several years - has now been presented with a series of innovative solutions. The castle, which was originally built in the late 13th century, was extensively rebuilt at the beginning of the 16th century, and survived in fragmentary form. The virtual reconstruction was carried out by Pazirik company.  They made virtual reconstruction of the exterior and the interior of the castle, where it is possible to change the timeline and explore the reconstruction of various periods. There is also a virtual time-travel feature, where you can enter a virtual panorama of the present building, going back and forth from the present to the medieval period.

You can reach the reconstructions here:

Reconstruction of the interior courtyard of the castle (various periods)
Simontornya in the early 16th century (with interior reconstructions)
Virtual tour of Simontornya castle, with time-travel feature (click on the clocks to go back in time)

Most recently, a video was presented about the history of Simontornya castle, utilizing the results of all these reconstructions.

You can read more about the castle and the virtual reconstruction on the Sírásók naplója blog and in Altum Castrum Online Magazin (both in Hungarian). More information is available on the website of the museum working in the castle today.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hungarian Archaeological Journals Online

I would like to call attention to two (actually, three) Hungarian online journals, dedicated to archaeology. The first one is directly relevant to the topic of my blog, as it generally deals with medieval archaeology. Titled Archaeologia - Altum Castrum Online, the magazine is published by the King Matthias Museum at Visegrád, a branch of the Hungarian National Museum. The magazin is edited by Olivér Kovács, and it is coordinated by the director of the museum, Gergely Buzás. The articles report on interesting new discoveries in the field of medieval archaeology, and there is section where longer studies are also published - generally in nicely formatted PDF-files. The only problem is that content is only available in Hungarian. The magazine works together with another online portal, the Hungarian-language műemlé This site is a one-stop starting point for getting information on historic monuments in Hungary, complete with user-submitted information, and informative magazine-section and a project focusing built monuments in the Carpathian basin, outside the borders of modern Hungary. The editor of this portal is also Olivér Kovács, who must be quite busy, I imagine. The two websites mentioned so far are important sources of information for the Medieval Hungary blog as well.

The other new e-journal is titled Hungarian Archaeology, and is published by Archaeolingua Foundation, the premier Hungarian publishing house in the field of archaeology. This quarterly journal is published both in Hungarian and English editions, and contains a wide range of studies dedicated to all periods. It is a forum to spread information not only on archaeological research in Hungary, but also on the work of Hungarian researchers working at excavations in various parts of the world. Naturally, there are articles in almost all issues dedicated to medieval subjects. The e-journal is currently in its second year: so far 6 issues have been published online. You can read more about the goals of the publishers and editors here. Go ahead, and browse the journal - you will surely find something interesting!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Buried Medieval Synagogue of Buda

View of the remains in 1964
Hungarian daily Népszabadság reported this weekend on the Schulhof Foundation for the Restoration of the Medieval Synagogue of Buda. The aim of the foundation is to uncover and reconstruct the medieval great Synagogue of Buda, which was found in 1964. This late Gothic Synagogue was built in 1461, and was destoyed in 1686, when the castle of Buda was taken back by the Christian army from the Turks. Although the medieval Jewish community of Buda had to leave the town in 1526 (when the army of Suleiman the Great first took the Hungarian capital), they were allowed to return during the period of Ottoman Turkish rule (1541-1686). In September 1686, when the Christian army broke through the Vienna Gate in the process of taking back the town, they started slaughtering everyone they encountered - Turks and Jews alike. The chronicle of rabbi Isaac Schulhof describes how the people of the town ran into the synagogue and tried to barricade themselves inside - but the Christians stormed the synagogue and slaughtered everyone inside. The building burned down, and was later covered over, becoming the tomb of those trapped inside for several centuries.

Remains of the building were found by László Zolnay in 1964. The Synagogue was a square building, which was divided into two aisles by a row of piers. The remains are about 4 meters below the present-day street level, so tall walls, as well as much of the piers once dividing the space survive. The vault supported by these piers already collapsed in the 16th century, but one keystone survives. After the removal of the bodies, the great synagoge had to be covered over again, in hopes of a future reconstruction. Stones from the piers were taken across the street, where a smaller and earlier synagogue was also found in the 1960s. This smaller prayer house was rebuilt from its ruins at the beginning of the 18th century as a residential house, and now it operates as a small museum, as part of the Budapest History Museum.

Drawing of one of the walls of the Synagogue

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Danube Bend in the Middle Ages - Exhibition

12th century stone carving from Vác cathedral
A new temporary exhibition opened last Saturday at Vác, dedicated to the medieval history of the region known as the Danube Bend. Stretching from Esztergom through Visegrád down to Szentendre, the area includes some of the most important medieval settlements of Hungary (towns located in the Medium regni, as the central part of the kingdom was known). The exhibition was organized by the Pest County Museum, centred in Szentendre, with the cooperation of other major museums of the region: the Balassa Bálint Museum of Esztergom and the King Matthias Museum of Visegrád. The exhibition is on view at Ignác Tragor Museum of Vác (in the former Greek Orthodox church), the museum of another major city in the region, located on the other side of the Danube. As the well-established system of Hungarian county museums is currently being completely shaken up and reorganized, the exhibition can be seen as an attempt to demonstrate the power of the old system - capable of cooperation, joint organization and the like. (Hungarian-speaking readers can read about the changes for example here - I could not find any English-language reports on this major reorganization).

Of the towns mentioned above, Esztergom was and is the seat of Hungary's primate archbishop and a former royal seat, Visegrád boasts a royal castle and a royal palace at the bottom of the hill, and Vác was (is) an important bishopric, while Szentendre was a small market-town along the Danube. Thus there is plenty of material to show in an exhibition dedicated to the region - the exhbition instead is adapted to the small exhibition space, and focuses mainly of recent archaeological finds. This include - among others - a Romanesque baptismal font recovered at Vác, as well as a fragment of the 15th century terracotta relief showing the Battle of Amazons, and attributed to Gregorio di Lorenzo (formerly known as the Master of the Marble Madonnas).

Relief fragment by Gregorio di Lorenzo, Vác
The exhibition will later also be shown at Szentendre, Visegrád and Esztergom. As the Esztergom Museum and of course the royal palace at Visegrád both have their significant medieval exhibitions, the present exhibition will clearly appear in a different light at future venues. I have not yet seen the exhibition, and I could find no information on the websites of any of the museums involved. (The invitation to the opening ceremony can be seen here).

The curator of the exhibition was Tibor Ákos Rácz, and was opened by Imre Takács, director of the Museum of Applied Arts, and a noted medieval art historian himself.

While we are on the subject of the Danube bend, I would like to mention related news as well. At the King Matthias Museum in Visegrád, visitors can see a temporary museum in addition to the permanent displays. Titled "Not without a trace...," the exhibition displays finds from the period of the Magyar Conquest, from the collection of the Pest County Museum. Star attractions of the show are recent finds from the vicinity of Bugyi - about which I reported earlier. The traveling exhibition is on view at Visegrád until October 28th.

Archaeologists of the Pest County Museum also had luck late this summer - the very low water level of the Danube enabled them to recover a medieval shipwreck in the Danube Bend. Discovery News reports on the find. Maybe objects from this boat can be incorporated in the next incarnation of the "Danube Bend in the Middle Ages" exhibition.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Medieval University of Pécs

General view of the site north of the cathedral
Hungary's first university was founded in 1367 at Pécs, with faculties of philosophy, law and medicine (no theology). The university was created by the bishop of Pécs, Vilmos (William), with royal support and by a decree of Pope Urban V. The university was short-lived: already in 1395, King Sigismund created a new insitution at Óbuda, and the school at Pécs stopped working some time in the early 15th century (the University of Óbuda was unsuccessful, too). It is believed that the buildings of the University were located on the north side of cathedral, where in the 12-13th centuries the bishop's palace was erected. Indeed, excavations carried out there in 1980s unearthed a large Gothic building, built on the remains of an earlier, Romanesque structure. The topography of this area, however is rather complicated: among other structures the remains of a 14th-century chapel: the so-called Gilded Chapel of Our Lady (mentioned as such in a charter of Pope Boniface IX in 1401: capella deaurata beate Marie Virginis), founded by Bishop Nicholas (1346-1360). Remains of the chapel and the university dissapeared during the Ottoman Turkish conquest and the wars ensuing (Pécs was occupied in 1543).

The chapel and other remains on the north side of the cathedral were unearthed by Mária Sándor between 1978-1987). Among the most important finds on the site were the extraordinarily fine statues stemming from the former chapel. After this for many decades, the remains of the buildings stood under temporary roofs, while the sculptural fragments from the chapel languished in storage at the local county museum. There were many attempts to make the site accessible, but there was never any money for it - not even during preparations for 2010, when Pécs was European Capital of Culture (when a new visitor center was built for the Early Christian ruins, also located near the cathedral).

Fragment of a stone retable from the Gilded Chapel of Our Lady
 Last year, however, something finally happened - there was a brief new archaeological campaing to clarify some questions, and it was announced that the site will be opened to the public by this year. Along this process a lot of additional medieval architectural fragments have been recovered in the area, especially inside the later walls encircling the complex.

The area is now managed by the Hungarian State Holding Company, and a significant amount was set aside for the erection of a new protective building for the remains of the university and the chapel. In June it was announced that that the university building is ready for visitors, apart from some minor internal restoration tasks. The walls of the medieval fortress structure surrounding the cathedral complex have also been strengthened and a new walkway is being created around them. The opening of this area is scheduled for September, 2012. With this step finally the whole cathedral complex will be accessible to visitors, together with the very rich holdings of medieval sculpture and other remains. I wrote briefly before about the cathedral and the adjacent Cathedral Museum, which holds the Romanesque sculptures from the cathedral. The new area will make accessible the equally significant Gothic remains of Pécs.

Glimpse inside the new museum building at the site

Additional reading:
Reports on a research project coordinated by Mária Sándor in 2001-2006, dedicated to the remains of the university and the chapel (with bilbiography).
The MA Thesis of Veronika Csikós, submitted at CEU Budapest in 2008, can be downloaded from the website of the University. The thesis deals with the statues of the Gilded Chapel of Our Lady.

More information is available in Hungarian at the following sites:

Report on the discovery of carved stones last year, in the online heritage magazine, Műemlé
Report on the new excavations at the chapel, on the online journal for medieval archaeology (Archeologia - Altum Castrum Online Magazin), maintained by the Visegrád Palace Museum (with a more detailed report by Gergely Buzás, a PDF-file with lots of images).

Friday, August 26, 2011

Remains of Carolingian palace found at Zalavár

The church of St. Hadrianus at Mosaburg/Zalavár (from Wikipedia)

The area of Zalavár in western Hungary has long been one of the most interesting archaeological sites of medieval Hungary, especially for the Carolingian period. The area has been idetified with Mosaburg, where the Slavic prince Pribina established himself around 840, after he was expelled from Nyitra (Nitra, Slovakia). Lands in the area were granted to him by Louis the German. The first church there was dedicated by Liutprand, archishop of Salzburg in 850. Several other churches have also been documented there. In the late 9th century, Arnulf of Carinthia had his seat there, before he became Holy Roman Emperor at the end of his life. This late Carolingian flourished until the time of the Hungarian (Magyar) conquest of the Carpathian basin, including the area of Pannonia. Later, in 1019, King St. Stephen established a Benedictine abbey at Zalavár, and by the 12th century, a new castle was established there. The settlement - including the castle and the churches - became largely abandoned during the Ottoman Turkish occupation of Hungary, and after the reconquest, in 1702, the remaining buildings were torn down.

Carolingian glass fragments from Zalavár

Archaeological excavations of the past decades, however, have brought many interesting remains to light. The sensation of the previous decade was the excavation of the third church of Mosaburg, the pilgrimage church dedicated to Saint Hadrianus, established in 855 (the conserved foundations walls of the church can be seen above). Several interesting finds, including fragments of stained glass windows were found here.

Reports from this summer's archaeological season indicate that the remains of a Carolingian stone palace have been found at the site of Mosaburg. As the online magazine műemlé reports, archaeologists have found the corner of a large, rectangular stone building. Béla Miklós Szőke and Ágnes Ritoók, archaeologist in charge of the excavations identified the remains with the foundations of the palace of Arnulf, and thus date it to the last quarter of the 9th century (Arnulf died in 899, after becoming Holy Roman Emperor in 896. These are also the years of the Hungarian Conquest). Research still has to continue - it is hoped that by next summer, the full area of the Carolingian palace can be excavated.

Remains of a Carolingian building at Zalavár
You can find more aerial photos of the area on the website of Civertan.
More information about the history of Zalavár and its churches is available on the website of the Zalavár Historical Memorial Park.
For more of the historical and ecclesiastical context, you may want to read the following studies:

Szőke Béla Miklós: Mosaburg / Zalavár a Karoling-korban. In: Paradisum Plantavit. Bencés monostorok a középkori Magyarországon. Ed. Imre Takács, Pannonhalma, 2001 (in Hungarian)

Szőke, B.M.: Karolingische Kirchenorganisation in Pannonien, in: U. von Freeden – H. Friesinger – E. Wamers (hrsg.): Glaube, Kult und Herrschaft. Phänomene des Religiösen im 1. Jahrtausend n. Chr. in Mittel- und Nordeuropa. Akten des 59. Internationalen Sachsensymposions und der Grudprobleme der frühgeschichtlichen Entwicklung im Mitteldonauraum. Römisch-Germanische Kommission, Frankfurt a.M. Eurasien-Abteilung, Berlin des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Kolloquien zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte Bd. 12. Bonn 2009. 395–416.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Medieval news in the Hungarian press

I'm back from my vacation, and I am returning to blogging with a brief overview of news about medieval art and archaeology in the Hungarian press. Summer is naturally the chief season for archaeologists, so there are reports about various interesting finds. The links are all to Hungarian-language news sources - generally with images, so perhaps worth clicking, even if you don't know the language.
Remains of early Christian chapel found at Pécs photo from pé 
The historical portal Múlt-kor reports on an early Christian chapel found at Pécs. More and more of the early Christian necropolis there is coming to light. This particular chapel was found in March - current reports are about the decision to re-bury the find, as there is no money to properly conserve and restore the architectural remains. Local newspapers reported first on the discovery - Múlt-kor now reports about the decision to protect the walls by covering them again.
In a post one year ago, I wrote briefly about the world heritage site of Pécs, linking to some 3D reconstructions of the early Christian building.

Photo of Siklós castle - by Népszabadság
South of Pécs, the castle of Siklós is in the news again - Hungary's largest daily, Népszabadság reports about the small late-medieval prayer niche found inside the castle wall there. I wrote about the research and reconstruction of Siklós castle in a previous post - and plan to report in more detail about this interesting painted niche as well.

As a further addition for now, I am providing this link to three 360 degree panorama photos of Siklós castle - one of them showing the interior of the famous chapel.

Reconstruction of Szeged in the second half of the 18th c.
Múlt-kor and other sources are also reporting on the excavations at the site of the former castle of Szeged. This year, remains of the southern gate tower were found, in the same area where remains of the southern wall of the castle were identified last year. Excavations in the area have been going on for several years. The castle of Szeged was originally built in the 13th century, and was significantly modified after the town was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1543. During the 18th century, the fortress fell into disrepair, and was completely dismantled by local citizens after the flood of 1879.
Therefore, excavations are bringing to life only the remains of foundations, thereby helping to reconstruct exactly the former extent of the castle. The online magazine műemlé reported on finds from previous years, with a photo gallery.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Research and renovation at Siklós castle

The medieval castle of Siklós reopened after years of research and renovation. The castle lies in southern Hungary (just south of Pécs). For much of the 15th century (until 1481), the castle and the large estate was in the property of the mighty Garai family - even king Sigismund was held captive here at the beginning of his Hungarian rule, in 1401. The general layout of the castle stems from this period, but it was enlarged and rebuilt in several later phases. Most significant of these campaigns was the addition of a large late Gothic sanctuary to the castle chapel, built in the second decade of the 16th century, at the time of the Perényi family. Although the castle was occupied by the Turks for almost 150 years, and was rebuilt after that in Baroque style, it still preserves a lot of significant medieval and Renaissance details (see these photos). A large new exhibition hall was created during this most recent reconstruction, which enable the display of these fragments.

The reconstruction was preceded by several years of archaeological and architectural research, which brought to light many interesting finds, including a previously unknown small and painted wall niche. I hope to report on these finds in more detail soon - I am planning a trip to Siklós some time soon, and maybe a guest post can be organized with one of the archaeologists. For now, here is a photo of one of the frescoes in the castle chapel, discovered during a previous restorations campaign in the 1950s.

St. Ladislas and St. Leonard - Fresco c. 1420, in the castle chapel of Siklós
Photo by Attila Mudrák 
Siklós of course preserves many other treasures. I would only like to mention the former Augustinian church standing in the vicinity of the castle, which was decorated with an extensive fresco cycle at the beginning of the 15th century, commissioned by the Garai family. I have written extensively on these frescoes elsewhere - you may want to look at this Hungarian-language article with and English summary. For even more information, you can have a look at my dissertation (especially if you are based at any American institution with UMI/Proquest access...).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Earliest Christian church of Transylvania found at Gyulafehérvár

Traces of the oldest church of Transylvania
Photo from 

New archaeological research near the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia, Romania, the seat of the bishopric of Transylvania) led to the discovery of the remains of the semicircular apse of a medieval church. Archaeologists believe this is Transylvania’s oldest church, built around the year 1000 - thus before the foundation of the diocese in 1009 (see my previous post on the history of the cathedral). The remains were found at a depth of only one meter, 24 meters away from the Catholic Cathedral of St. Michael. Daniela Marcu Istrate, well-known archaeologist announced in a press conference on April 18 that the newly discovered church might have been built either by prince Gyula or by Saint King Stephen. Around 952, Gyula was baptized in Constantinople, and upon his return was given a bishop named Hierotheos who accompanied him back to Hungary - so if the church dates to the period of prince Gyula, it was built for the Byzantine rite (of course we are before the Great Schism of 1054 at this time). Besides the apse, archaeologists have also discovered several tombs dating back to the 12th century. However, experts believe that the church was already destroyed at that time. For the moment, work at the archaeological site has been suspended for lack of funds. The remains of the apse will be preserved provisionally.

Most interesting about this find is that it is not connected to the present 13th century cathedral - or its 11th century predecessor - in any way. The archaeologist proposes that this feature means that the new Roman Catholic cathedral was deliberately distanced from the earlier structure built for the Greek rite.

You can read more about the discovery in Hungarian or in Romanian.

It is worth noting that the town - Roman Apulum - has an even older history: lately, more and more Roman remains have also come to light, see here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Conference and exhibition about László Gerevich

László Gerevich, one of the eminent Hungarian archaeologists of the Middle Ages, was born 100 years ago. To commemorate, the Budapest History Museum organized a conference and an exhibition about his career. The highlight of this career was the excavation of the medieval royal palace of Buda, which became possible after the destruction of World War II. Gerevich was able to uncover the lower lever of the entire medieval palace, bringing to light a number of highly important finds. In that period, he was the director of the Budapest History Museum, and later also the founder and first director of the Archaeological Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Gerevich also excavated several other medieval sites, including the Cistercian Abbey of Pilis (see my recent post on the abbey). His English-language books include The Art of Buda and Pest in the Middle Ages and Towns in Medieval Hungary. If you read Hungarian, you can find more information on him here.

You can read the program of today's conference by clicking on the image above. I will write another post on the exhibition once I get a chance to visit it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Conquest-period sabretache plate found at Hungarian excavations

Sabretache plate excavated in Pest county
Photo from Sírásók naplója blog 
A Hungarian archaeological blog (Sírásók naplója) reported on a recent lucky find in Pest county of Hungary. Last week, remains from the period of the Hungarian Conquest (early 10th century) have been found on a field, and excavated by archaeologists from the Pest County Museums. Of the three tombs found, one belonged to a high-ranking male, and all his accessories were found intact, including his belt and his arrow. Most important is the his sabretache plate. To quote András Róna-Tas (Hungarian and Europe in the Early Middle Ages - An Introduction to Early Hungarian History), "the sabretaches are the most characteristic finds from graves of the Conquest period. They were strengthened with metal plates, generally of silver. At the side of each bag, a strap was threaded through, and both this strap and that which attached the bag to the belt were decorated with mountings. The sabretache, which fulfilled the function of a pocket, would have held fire-making tools." 

Only about two dozen similar objects have been recovered from the Carpathian basin, and very few of them come from documented excavations, so the find is of great importance. As the archaeologists, Ágnes Füredi and Tibor Rácz report on their blog, the last similar find was made in the late 1980s, when tombs at Karos were excavated.

Sabretache from Galgóc
Hungarian National Museum 

The photo above is from the Sírásók naplója blog - you can find more images of the excavations there. For more information on Magyar metalwork of the Conquest period, visit the website of the Archaeological Department of the Hungarian National Museum. Sabretaches enjoy some popularity in contemporary Hungary - I found the most complete list of such finds on one of the traditionalist websites, the Tarsolybearers' Homepage. Defitinely have a look at the sabretache plate from Galgóc, maybe the finest of such objects, and the first one to be found, back in 1868.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Romanesque stone carvings from the abbey church of Ercsi

The Benedictine monastery of Ercsi was located about 40 kilometers south of Buda (present—day Budapest), on an island of the Danube next to the much larger Csepel Island. The monastery was founded by Palatine Thomas (1185-1186), who was also buried there. The monastery ceased to exist during the Ottoman conquest of central Hungary and stones of the monastery church were used as building material for the church of Szigetújfalu during the 18th century. During the past summer, the exterior of the Szigetújfalu was restored, giving a chance to examine the Romanesque carvings used as building material there, and also providing a chance to remove some of these stones. The first report on this was written by Lilla Deklava Farbaky and Balázs Bodó, and was published in the December 2010 issue of the journal Örökség (Heritage), published by the National Office of Cultural Heritage. The issue can be read online (a least by those with some knowledge of Hungarian) – for the benefit of my other readers, I am providing an abstract of the text below.

“Topographical literature has noted before that the church of Szigetújfalu was built in 1770 using stones from the abandoned monastery of Ercsi. Géza Entz published this first in an article in 1965. During the Spring and Summer of 2010, while plaster was removed from the exterior of the church, a chance came to finally examine these stones.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Then and now - Hungarians in Margat

The exhibition on Hungarian excavations at the Crusader castle of Margat, Syria, is opening at the Hungarian National Museum (Budapest) on December 17.

You can read about Margat and these excavations in my previous post. If you would like receive up-to-date information on the Margat project, you can join the Facebook group of the Syro-Hungarian Archaeological Mission.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hungarians in the Crusader Castle of Margat

View of Margat castle, photo by Éva Galambos
The Crusader castle of Margat (Marqab) is the largest such building in the former Principality of Antioch (present-day Syria). After its capture from the Muslims in the early 12th century, the castle was incorporated into the Principality and later - in 1186 - it was sold to the Hospitallers. In 1188, Saladin was unable to capture it, and it remained in the hand of the Hospitallers for almost another century (until 1285).
King Andrew II of Hungary, leader of the Fifth Crusade (1217-1218) spent some time in the castle, and made a sizable donation to the Hospitallers.  It is interesting to note that the mother of Andrew II, Anne (Ágnes) of Chatillon stems from the Principality of Antioch, as she was the daughter of Raynald of Chatillon - the same Raynald executed by Saladin in 1187, a year before his army reached Margat.

The castle was built into a huge edifice by the Hospitallers, organized around a large circular keep (donjon). The main buildings of the castle - including the great hall, the chapel, the chapter house, the dormitories and the kitchen - survived largely intact to this day. Since 2006, the Syro-Hungarian Archaeological Mission, led by Balázs Major has been conducting research and excavations at the site.

The big breakthrough came in 2008, when frescoes were discovered inside the castle chapel. The frescoes are the remains of a large Last Judgment, likely painted at the end of the 12th century by western painters. So far large areas of the depiction of Hell have been cleaned on the wall to the left of the apse, and traces of Heaven have been uncovered on the opposite wall. Jaroslav Folda, in his book Crusader Art in the Holy Land from the Third Crusade to the Fall of Acre, 1187-1291 (Cambridge-New York, 2005) dates the construction of the chapel to 1186-87, so immediately after the Hospitallers took over the castle. He also describes the frescoes known before the current excavation campaign, located in the sacristy. The newly discovered frescoes are not only on a much larger surface than those known before, but their rare iconography makes them the most important discovery in the field of Crusader art. Their style is also different from those described by Folda as the work of a Byzantinizing locally trained painter (p. 33).

Thanks to the kindness of one of the restorers working on these frescoes, I am able to include a few illustrations here. These photos were all taken by Éva Galambos, and have never appeared before.

Monday, October 04, 2010

New books on medieval archaeology

Given the tumultuous history of Hungary, archaeology plays a major role in interpreting the medieval heritage of the Kingdom (see my previous post on this). Excavations in this field yielded spectacular results, much of which is now summarized in a new two-volume publication. Titled A középkor és a kora újkor régészete Magyarországon (Archaeology of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period in Hungary), and edited by Elek Benkő and Gyöngyi Kovács, the book will be presented to the public tomorrow (October 5). Ernő Marosi, a member of the Hungarian Academy, will present the book.

41 authors wrote the total of 980 pages in these two well-illustrated volumes. The book is in Hungarian, but with English summaries. The volumes were published by the Archaeological Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences You can read about some other publications of the Institute here.

You can read an interview with the editors on the website of the Hungarian Academy and in the online historical journal Múlt-kor (both in Hungarian).

For additional information on this field, you can turn to a book published some years ago. Visy Zsolt, ed.: 
Hungarian archeology at the turn of the millennium (Budapest: Teleki László Alapítvány, 2003) contains a great number of studies on medieval archaeology, and is available in a pdf version at the website of the Foundation (this is the link to the Hungarian version). See especially the section on the Middle Ages and the Post-Medieval period, edited by József Laszlovszky on pp. 345-413.