Showing posts with label castles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label castles. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Books on Medieval Visegrád

Visegrád in 1595, print by Joris Hoefnagel 
Visegrád was one of the most important towns of medieval Hungary, serving as a royal residence for much of the 14th century. The town is ruled by a majestic castle on top of a hill overlooking the Danube, while a monumental 13th century keep guards the road under the hill, by the river. Even more famous is the large royal palace, expanded and embellished by King Matthias Corvinus. However, until recent times, relatively little information has been available on Visegrád in English. One should mention the volume edited by László Gerevich, titled Towns in Medieval Hungary (1990), where Gerevich himself briefly considered Visegrád in the framework of a general study. The other book to be mentioned – titled Medium Regni – dealt with Hungarian royal centres in the middle of the Kingdom, and here Gergely Buzás provided an overview of Visegrád, focusing on the royal residences. the history and topography of the settlement itself. In 1995, an English-language volume - titled Medieval Visegrád - was published about the royal palace and the Franciscan monastery standing next to it, and the royal palace was also featured in a number of exhibition catalogues and study collections. In addition, a book is available on the Hercules fountain attributed to Giovanni Dalmata.

Visegrád, aerial view of the Upper Castle 

Archaeolingua publishers in Budapest started a new series about medieval Visegrád, of which so far two volumes have been published. The books provide up to date information about this important royal centre. The first volume in the series was dedicated to the most important monument in town, the medieval royal palace and the neighbouring Franciscan monastery. While a lot has been published on the royal palace in Hungarian, this volume is the first extensive treatment of the subject in English. You can read a review of the book by Pál Lővei in Hungarian Archaeology (2014 Spring). The second volume is dedicated to the town itself, which has always been overshadowed by the royal residences located there. Yet, for extended periods during the 14th century, Visegrád served as the capital city of the Kingdom of Hungary, and thus is worthy of our attention. The neglect of previous decades has been redressed by extensive archaeological research during recent years and now by this very important publication. The book relies on the results of new excavations and the research of one of the authors, Orsolya Mészáros. She is joined by a number of well-known experts of medieval archaeology and history: including the two other editors of the volume, Gergely Buzás and József Laszlovszky. Both have dedicated a considerable number of publications to Visegrád before, and Buzás has worked at the King Matthias Museum of Visegrád for a long time, serving as its director since 2011. The fourth author is Katalin Szende, a noted historian working on late medieval Hungarian towns.

Virtual reconstruction of the Royal Palace in the late 15th century, via
From their analysis presented in this volume, the special character of Visegrád emerges. Although regarded in the Late Middle Ages as one of the most important towns of the kingdom, the settlement in fact was not significant when the court was away. It had no (or only regional) economic significance, no ecclesiastical institutions of national significance, no serious fortifications (apart from the fortifications of the royal residences). The presence of artisanal guilds cannot be demonstrated and only a very small number of the town’s citizens are known to have studied at foreign universities. Even when the court was at Visegrád during several decades in the 14th century, Visegrád was not regarded as the capital of Hungary – that role was reserved for Buda. The main reason of its emergence during the 14th century was that high-ranking nobles and court officials owned houses there, which also served as their offices. No wonder then, that when the court left in the early 15th century, Buda (and Pest on the opposite side of the Danube) far surpassed Visegrád in importance. Although Visegrád retained its privileges until the end of the Middle Ages, during the 15th century it was only a small settlement next to an important royal residence, the royal palace.

Visegrád, Upper and Lower castle, with the town below

These books provide a welcome addition to the growing library of books on medieval Hungary available in English. It is to be hoped that the series will continue: the Árpád Period settlement of Visegrád – with the bailiff’s castle, the archdeaconal church as well as the 11th century monastery of St. Andrew – and the Upper and Lower Castle certainly provide ample material for future volumes in the series, and I hope we can see these soon.  

I wrote a more extensive review of the second volume, dedicated to the town, which can be read in English or in Hungarian in the Spring 2015 issue of Hungarian Archaeology.

Series title: 
Medieval Visegrád. Archaeology, Art History and History of a Medieval Royal Centre

The Medieval Royal Palace at Visegrád. Edited by Gergely Buzás and József Laszlovszky. Budapest, Archaeolingua, 2013.

The Medieval Royal Town at Visegrád – Royal Centre, Urban Settlement, Churches. Edited by Gergely Buzás, József Laszlovszky and Orsolya Mészáros. Budapest, Archaeolingua, 2014.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Exhibition about the Matthias Church

A major new exhibition about the building and the history of the Church of Our Lady (Matthias Church) of Buda Castle opened at the Budapest History Museum. The Church is a major historic monument of Budapest, part of the Unesco World Heritage site of Buda Castle. Established after the Mongol invasion of 1241-42, the church became the most important ecclesiastical institution of Buda, and finally served as a coronation church in 1867 at the coronation of Franz Joseph I. Soon after that, it was completely remodeled by Frigyes Schulek in Neo-Gothic style, with the addition of it landmark spire. 

During the Middle Ages, the Church of Our Lady served the purpose of a parish church for the town's German citizens. It was built and rebuilt in many stages. A royal charter from 1255 refers to the church as yet to be completed, while another document from 1269 calls it newly erected. The original, 13th century building was turned into a hall-church and rebuilt overall in the first half of the 15th century, at the time of King Sigismund. Its southern tower was built at the time of King Matthias. During the Turkish occupation of Buda it was converted into a mosque. During the 18th century, it was rebuilt in Baroque style, and used by the Jesuits, and later as parish church again. The present building originates from the rebuilding of Frigyes Schulek carried out between 1874-1896. The building was extensively renovated after World War II and most recently between 2004-2014. The current exhibition thus presents not only the history of the building, but also findings of this most recent period of research and renovation.

The church before the reconstruction of the late 19th century, painting by A. Schikedanz

After an introductory part focusing on the church as the site of the 1867 coronation, the exhibition is arranged chronologically. One room is dedicated to the two major phases of the medieval building. At the time of the rebuilding by Schulek, a large number of details of the medieval church fabric - including the portals - came to light. These finds provided a starting point for Schulek, who aimed to return the church to its "ideal," 13th century state. This meant for example the dismantling of the late gothic lateral sanctuaries of the church, to rebuild the side apses along their 13th century lines. Many late gothic elements were preserved and restored, however, including the monumental southern portal of the church or the chapel of the Garai family situated alongside the northern apse. The southern tower was rebuilt according to how Schulek imagined it should have looked like at the time of King Matthias in the 15th century.

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.

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, March 10, 2012

Medieval castle of Krasznahorka burned down

In a tragic event today, the medieval castle of Krasznahorka (Krásna Horka, Slovakia) completely burned out today. The roof of the castle caught fire, and the fire spread to all areas of the castle, burning all the roofs - and, presumably, everything under them. Firefighters battled the blazes for several hours, and finally managed to stop the fire, but the castle is still engulfed in smoke. There are no reports yet of damage to the artworks and other objects in the castle - but it is no doubt very serious. The cause of the fire has not yet been established.

Krasznahorka castle, before the fire

Krasznahorka, located near Rozsnyó (Rožňava) in south-eastern Slovakia, just north of the Hungarian border, was one of the most intact medieval castles of Upper Hungary, built by the Bebek family and later owned for centuries by the Andrássy family. You can read about the history of the castle on the official website. Krasznahorka managed to escape war damage both during the Turkish wars and later, in WWII. It burned down only once before, in 1817. The castle has been operated as a family museum and mausoleum since about the mid-19th century. Exhibitions inside the castle included valuable paintings, furniture and weapons. One of the large bastions has been turned into a Baroque chapel - famously holding the mummy of Zsófia Serédy, the wife of István Andrássy. Photos taken after the fire show that the roof of the chapel also burned down.

Here is a video of the fire, and a photo taken after the fire was put out - both showing the scale of devastation. Krasznahorka looms large in both Hungarian and Slovak historical consciousness - a joint effort will be needed to rebuilt what has been lost today.


Update on March 11th: Preliminary reports after the fire claim that most of the exhibitions and historic objects survived the disaster. Although all the roof structures of the castle burned in the fire, the vaults did not collapse - thus the historic interiors were not completely destroyed. Objects are now gathered in safe areas inside the castle. Obviously, only a detailed survey and inventory can reveal the extent of the damage in the end. So far, no photos of the interior after the blaze have been published.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Siklós castle

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Siklós, late Gothic balconySiklós, late Gothic balcony

Siklós castle, a set on Flickr.
As an addition to my most recent post, here are some photos of Siklós castle. These photos were mainly taken in 2007, thus before and during the current restoration campaign. I hope I will be able to share new photographs soon, too.

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...).

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, September 27, 2010

Destruction of the centers of medieval Hungary

On August 29 1526, the army of Suleiman the Magnificent defeated the Hungarian army at Mohács. King Louis II died on the battlefield, and the sultan's army marched on to take the capital, Buda. At that time, the Turkish army withdrew - but in 1541, Suleiman took the capital of the divided kingdom without having to lay siege to it. Two years later, he occupied the towns of Pécs, Székesfehérvár and Esztergom, and Visegrád fell soon after that. Thus all the centrally located towns - the Medium Regni - became part of the Ottoman Empire for 150 years. Because of the prohibition of figural religious imagery, this period led to the destruction of altarpieces, paintings, statues and to the covering up of frescoes. Damage to buildings was caused by neglect, but even more during the wars waged in order to reconquer these towns, especially during the Long War ('15 years' war,' 1591-1606) and the final campaign of 1683-1687. When the towns were retaken by the Christians, it was largely ruins what they found. Remains of important medieval buildings were generally taken down as new structures were erected during the 18th century.

As a result, the most important medieval sites of Hungary only survived as ruins, their remains recovered during various archaeological campaigns. The sites include Buda, the capital of the Kingdom; Esztergom, the seat of Hungary's Primate Archbishop; Székesfehérvár, the coronation and burial place of Hungarian kings; and Visegrád, perhaps the most important royal castle complex of the land. 

The photos below illustrate what little is left of these sites. Rather than illustrating the destruction (about which many contemporary prints were made), I chose mainly photos showing moments of discovery - although the first example will be of destruction.

Buda and Óbuda

This is an image of Buda castle from 1686, at the time when the center of the Kingdom was retaken by the joint Christian armies. The print shows the castle hill, with the ruins of the medieval royal palace on top of the hill. Very little of this survived when the new, Baroque royal palace was built in the 18th century.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Castles in Medieval Hungary

View of Visegrád

The territory of medieval Hungary was very rich in castles. Castles served as the centers of royal counties, and they were also the centers of noble estates. The first large wave of castle-building took place during the second half of the 13th century, after the disastrous Mongol invasion (1241). It became clear at that time that only a strongly fortified stone castle can stop invaders. A strong line of defence was also built up along the southern frontiers of the country during the 14th-15th centuries, with the intention of stopping the advancing armies of the Ottoman empire. However, the medieval kingdom of Hungary fell at the battle of Mohács (1526), and many castles of the realm became ruined during the ensuing 150 years of wars. Thus many medieval castles survived only as ruins, although there are several well-preserved structures, especially in the northern part of the former kingdom (present-day Slovakia and in Burgenland county of Austria). Transylvania is also rich in castles - there we also find a large number of fortified churches as well.

If you would like to know more about the castles of Hungary, you should visit the website dedicated to documenting these buildings. The website - Castles of Historical Hungary - presents hundreds of castles with photographs, drawings and descriptions. Unfortunately, not much else than the introduction is available in English at present - but you can still browse the list of castles and enjoy the photographs.

The enormous amount of information that appears on this website resulted in a new book, which presents castles in Transylvania (actually, all the regions of the Kingdom of Hungary ceded to Romania at the Treaty of Trianon, in 1920). The book presents a total of 600 castles and fortified churches, with photos and drawings. You can browse sample pages here and order the book here (it is actually unclear to me whether they would ship the book abroad or not).

Here is the bibliographic record for the book: