Eger Castle cuts a rather sad figure these days, a distant shadow of its illustrious past.
It was in 1552 that the little town of Eger gained Europe-wide renown when a small group of defenders managed to repel an Ottoman army of some 40000. In doing so, the Turkish advance was halted for some years, valuable years which gave the countries west of Hungary time to marshal their defences.
Eger, 1567 - Domenico Zanti
There is no doubt that 1552 was Eger`s finest hour, it is, however, only a small part of the story as the town and her castle have played a significant role in Hungary`s history from the very beginning of the State`s foundation.
It was in 1004 (just 4 years after the foundation of the Hungarian State) that a church was built on the site; it is said that King István himself oversaw the construction work, indeed the small hill overlooking the north of the castle is known as `Kiralyszeke` which can be translated as `King`s Seat`. Today there is a statue of the King where he is said to have pitched his tent to watch the building work (see below)
Statue of Hungary's first king, Istvan
The first buildings were modest: a small circular church and ancillary buildings, as time went by, however, houses began to spring up around the church and before long there was a sizable community. Building materials were primitive consisting of wood, straw/rushes and clay.
Such a community stood no chance, when in 1241 the Tartars swept through Hungary destroying all in their path. It has been calculated that 15-20% of the country`s population was killed and Eger was all but wiped out.
Once the Tartars had withdrawn, a period of rebuilding began, King Béla IV realised that if Hungary was to survive it needed fortifications of stone and so he embarked on a massive castle building spree. Eger benefited from this and in 1248 work began on a mighty castle. A copy of the Foundation document dated from 1248 can be seen in the Castle Museum.
So began a golden age, wealthy and cultured bishops (King István had proclaimed Eger a bishopric in 1004) used their riches to expand and improve the church - now a beautiful Romanesque cathedral- and the town that had sprung up around it.
It was during this period, the late 13th to 15th centuries, that Bishop's Ippolit d'este and Janos Bekensloer had the Gothic Palace built (or at least part of it), walls were strengthened and bastions constructed.
The Bishop`s Palace - a 20th Century reconstruction, but it contains some original elements.
By the beginning of the 16th Century, Eger Castle must have been a sight to behold. More that 200 years of relative peace, coupled with the wealth of churchmen had produced one of the finest and best defended castles in Hungary.
It needed to be strong, as Eger lay in a valley where the Great Plain meets the Northern Mountains, a vital border fortress, it was an asset that all sides wanted in the tumultuous centuries that were to follow.
Please click on The Story of Eger Castle - 1552 to continue.....