Saturday, April 20, 2013

Today's Castle: Visegrád, Hungary

Visegrád is a slavic word meaning "upper fortress," and there are several castles with this name scattered across eastern Europe. This one is in Hungary on a hill overlooking the Danube River. It was built after the Mongol invasion of the 1240s, and modified and enlarged several times down to the sixteenth century.

The triangular citadel still maintains its essential medieval structure.

King Charles I of Hungary (1288 – 1342) made Visegrád the royal seat of Hungary in 1325. He then built a large palace on level ground below the fortress. You can see both the citadel and the palace in this rendering from 1480. Charles was the product of several of those late medieval dynastic marriages, descended on one side from that branch of the House of Anjou that had been established in Naples and on the other from the old Árpád dynasty of Hungary. When the last Árpád died childless in 1301, decades of civil war followed between two sets of his cousins. Charles of Anjou had the better dynastic clam, but he had grown up in Naples, and most of the Hungarian nobles supported a son of King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia. (Not the good one). For his coronation Charles had to sneak into the cathedral at Esztergom and use a fake crown, since his enemies had the real one. Eventually the Bohemians gave up, allowing Charles to be recrowned in the proper style.

In 1335, Charles hosted at Visegrád a two-month congress with the Bohemian king, John of Luxembourg, and the Polish king, Casimir III. There they formed an alliance against the Hapsburgs of Austria. They followed up with a second meeting in 1338. Above are the  ruins of the royal residence and Solomon's Tower, one of the main surviving pieces of the lower palace.

When King Sigismund of Hungary became Holy Roman Emperor in 1405, he moved his capital to Buda. Thereafter Visegrád served as a country residence for Hungarian kings. It was a favorite home of King Matthias Corvinus, whom have always liked because I can't resist rulers named for crows or ravens. Corvinus rebuilt the royal residence but couldn't decide which style to use, so it ended up with some Gothic elements and some, like this fountain, copied from the Italian Renaissance.

Corvinus was a fascinating character. He grew up under house arrest in a series of castles because his weak claim to the throne represented a threat to more powerful claimants, including his older brother. In prison he was steeped in Roman history and Stoic virtue by a series of tutors, and he grew up with a great love of learning and books. The royal succession in Hungary had gotten so muddled that all the claimants agreed to submit their case to the Estates General for arbitration, and the great nobles who dominated the Estates decided on Matthias because he was only a bookish teenager with no money and little land, so they thought they could easily control him. Plus, the other claimants were all foreigners. But Matthias startled everyone by becoming one of the most powerful kings of the age. He raised a Black Army of professional soldiers in matching black uniforms and at their head won a long series of battles against the Austrians and the Turks, becoming along the way King of Bohemia and Croatia as well as Hungary. He amassed the second largest library in Europe and patronized numerous scholars and artists.

Sadly, Matthias Corvinus had no legitimate sons, so after his death in 1490 Hungary experienced yet more dynastic chaos. After the line of Hungarian kings ended at the Battle of Mohács, in 1526, Visegrád was ignored and slowly decayed.

1 comment:

kathy said...

Cue the music for Edoras.