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Peculiarities, curiosities and records among the Hungarian castles

Buda Castle
Budapest
Greater Budapest

Hungary boasts many castles and castle ruins, so it can be difficult to choose which of these should be your next destination. Here are a few tips if you’re looking specifically for curiosities, because each of the castles listed here is a record-holder in something compared with its counterparts.

 

The largest castle: Buda Castle

On the Danube bank in the capital, on the southern tip of Buda Castle Hill, stands Buda Castle, which, with its 44,674 m2 is the largest castle in Hungary, but also the seventh-largest royal fortress in the world. The largest castle in the world is Malbork Castle in Poland, built by German Knights in 1274, and is more than three times the size of its Budapest brother. Versailles is another example that springs to mind, but that is a palace, as is St Catherine's Palace in St Petersburg. But let's return to Buda Castle. It was first strengthened in the 13th century after a Mongol attack, when the citizens of Buda sought an area that was easier to defend. Today, the castle consists of a combination of many architectural styles, from Gothic to Baroque. It was attacked several times and always rebuilt in the typical style of the age. It is currently home to a number of public institutions, while the former Carmelite monastery within is the official residence of the Hungarian Prime Minister.

The most romantic: Sirok Ruin Castle

Hungary’s most romantic castle ruin, as not only can you venture within the castle walls, which offer a splendid view, but also enter the complicated tunnel system carved into the belly of the mountain. These ruins are also referred to as the only cave castle in the country, and it’s true, we are unaware of any other castle in Hungary that has a section with corridors carved into the heart of a mountain. Of course, these are not real caves, but passages and spaces carved into the rhyolite tuff, similar to the cave dwellings in Noszvaj or the church in Petra. The castle ruins, situated at an altitude of 296 metres, are just a 10-minute walk down a pretty stone road.

The fortress that was spared for 500 years

The predecessor of the current castle was erected after the Tatar invasion, and was then turned into a royal castle by Charles Robert. The Tari family, owners of the fort from 1388, were associated with the foundation of Sirok, which was also a customs post. In the 16th century, the castle was fortified and then included in the border fortress system as one of the strongest forts protecting Eger. In reality, it failed to fulfil this function, because when the Turks set out to besiege the castle, the Hungarian defenders chose to flee the fort. As a result, it did not experience any serious battles, either then or later on. Nevertheless, in 1713, after the Rákóczi War of Independence, it was blown up by the Austrians and for many years it was simply decrepit and uninhabitable.

The highest castles: Galyavár and Nyesettvár

Unsurprisingly, Hungary's highest-standing castle site and castle remains are close to one of the highest points in the country: not the very highest, of course, which is Kékestető, but the second highest, Galyatető. On its north-western outcrop stands Galyavár, 837 metres above sea level. Its ramparts are relatively easy to make out, but its history is unknown. A Bronze Age hillfort most likely stood here, onto which a smaller stone castle was built in the Middle Ages. The castle is connected to Galyatető by an 820-metre-high saddle, and is bordered by steep slopes that fall away by 250 metres on the other sides. 

Lagging behind by just a hair

South of the Galyatető block lies the country’s second-highest castle, 25 metres lower than the previous one: Nyesettvár. Exactly in the middle between the Nagy-Galya and Kis-Galya mountains stands the 800-metre-high castle hill, at the top of which is a circumscribed group of trees covering the remains. Underneath, however, you can definitely make out a ring castle. It has very deep ramparts, 70 metres in length and 35 metres wide. At first it was a pagan castle, which was later transformed into a castle of minor significance in the Middle Ages. Its ramparts conceal antiques from different ages, the oldest of which may be some pottery from the Árpád era. The nearest inhabited settlement is Gyöngyössolymos.

The oldest castle: the Szabolcs hillfort and Abaújvár hillfort

One of our oldest castles is the hillfort of Szabolcs. Located in the northern corner of the village on the Tisza shore, 12 km from Tokaj, above Rakamaz and opposite Tokaj, it is the most intact and largest earthen castle in Hungary. As the name suggests, the hillfort accommodated one of the tribal chieftains of the Hungarians who settled in the Carpathian Basin, Chieftain Szabolcs. This is also confirmed by the chronicle of King Bela's clerk, Anonymous III. Szabolcs was the son of one of the seven allied tribal chieftains, Előd, and later the founder of the Csák clan.

This means the castle was built around 950 by the conquering Hungarians.


How to imagine a hillfort?

Stone was also used to construct the foundation of hillforts built mostly of wood and earth and the wooden beams were joined together with twig stumps, while the space between the twig stumps was filled with rammed earth. This provided a strong foundation for the former structures. In the case of the Szabolcs Castle, the walls were on average 11 metres high relative to the inner level of the hillfort, and extended up to 20 metres from the floodplain. Here, the hillfort is bordered on two sides by the Tisza River, while on the third side, a canal seven metres wide and three metres deep was built, thereby creating an artificial island. The main entrance to the island was connected to the mainland by a bridge. A watchtower probably stood in each of the three corners of the fort. Today, you can only see its triangular ridges, but you can still imagine its true size. Not far from the castle lies a three-nave monastery built in the time of St Stephen, which is also of special significance because King St Ladislaus held his first legislative council here in 1092. The Romanesque building functions as a Reformed church today.


11th century hillforts

Also of significance is the Abaújvár hillfort along the Hernád River, which dates from a little later: its heyday was between the 11th and 14th centuries. A Roman settlement previously stood in its place. The hillfort itself was probably a fortress carved into a raised rampart and surrounded by a wooden wall, which presumably also had a balustrade. In the 11th century, a multitude of pit houses and wooden buildings housed the inhabitants of the castle. At the time, the bailiff’s courthouse and a church that had to be built by order of King Stephen were the only buildings constructed of stone, built in the Romanesque style according to the tastes of the age. The castle was protected by both light-armour archers and armoured horsemen. Borsod Castle, located in the embrace of the Bódva stream and its swamps and located right on the border of Edelény, was built in a similarly well-protected place. The hillforts of Domony and Gyöngyöspata were built using the same technique.

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