Szarvaskő with a population of just 350 is ideal for those wanting to take a short trip out of Eger.
Served by both public bus and rail, it is a great place from which to trek into the Bükk forest as many marked trails converge on the village. However, it is also worth spending some time in the village and visiting the ruined castle and the Roman Catholic Church.
Due to its location, Szarvaskő is an ideal place from which to take a hike in the woods
Szarvaskő used to be an ancient estate of the Eger Bishopric. In the 14th-15th century the village was first referred to in the sources as Szarvaskőalja.
In 1527 King János Szapolyai gave the Castle and the attached village to Simon Erdődy, Bishop of Eger, who appointed his brother Péter Erdődy, the captain of the Castle.
After the fall of Eger in 1596, the captain of the time, János Gáll, fled along with his soldiers and the Castle was occupied by the Ottomans as were the houses in the village.
Szarvaskő was a Turkish possession until 1687, when János Dória’s troops reoccupied the Castle and it became an estate of the Bishopric once again remaining so until 1848.
In the meantime Szarvaskő was repopulated by the bishops of Eger as were other surrounding villages.
Postcard of the village from 1928
In the 1770s, due to the increasing population, the Church gave the villagers 300 hectares of agricultural and forested land so that they could provide for themselves.
As well as agriculture, the inhabitants of Szarvaskő worked in coal mines and stone quarries in the local area. The last of the mines closed in 1968 and the last quarry closed its doors in 1979.
Due to these closures the population of Szarvaskő fell from a high of 600 at the beginning of the 1960s to around half that number by the 1980s.
On January 1st, 1985, Szarvaskő officially became a part of the Eger municipal area but in 2002 it once again became independent after a referendum was held in the village.
The origin of Szarvaskő’s name is linked to ’Castle Hill’, the outcrop above the village on which the ruins of the fortification can still be seen today.
Built by Bishop Lampert and with a royal charter granted by Béla IV, the castle was constructed between 1261 and 1295 in response to the Tartar invasion. Szarvaskő’s castle was under the control of Eger Castle’s Captain along with those in Cserépvára and Dédesvára.
Castle Hill today (you can still make out the lava flows down the hillside - this was an underwater volcano in the Miocene Age)
From the 12th century it was known under various names: Püspökvár (Bishop’s Castle), Mentsvár (Refuge Castle) and Tarisznyavár (lit. ’Shoulderbag’ Castle – reflecting its role guarding the route on which food was brought to supply Eger’s Castle) .
The surrounding villages Bátor, Bakta, Bocs, Deménd, Fedémes, Kerecsend and, of course, Szarvaskő-alja all came under the jurisdiction of the Castle.
As well as providing food for the soldiers, villagers also paid tax to their overlord (whoever controlled the castle at the time); the Castle’s dungeon ensured the villeins toed the line and if they didn’t? The name of the hill next to the castle is Alaszfó Domb lit. ’Gallows’ Hill’.
By the 14th Century, Szarvaskő Castle had lost its role as a bulwark against further Tartar incursions and instead became a border post, as well as a hunting lodge for the bishop and his guests. From the 1420s it was also used in the Church’s fight against the growing influence of the Hussites.
By the time of the famous 1552 defence of Eger Castle, Szarvaskő had been largely deserted by its inhabitants but the castle remained in Hungarian hands, at least until the return of the Ottomans in 1596.
The only part of Szarvaskő Castle that remains
With the expulsion of the Ottomans in the late 17th Century, Bishop Telekessy repopulated the surrounding villages including Szarvaskő.
Unfortunately the castle, which up until this point had remained largely intact, was allowed to fall into disrepair. The walls were pulled down and used in the construction of houses in the local villages.
All that remains of the castle today are drawings and paintings but recent excavations have uncovered the floor plan, alas there are no plans to explore the site further.
Visitors to the castle today can still see remnants of the castle’s well but beyond that a lot of imagination is required. The view from the site, however, is fantastic and well worth the short walk
The Szarvaskő Parish of the Eger Episcopate was brought into existence in 1332-1333 as a Subcastro Episcofi and named Püspökváralja; later it is referred to, in records dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, as Szarvaskőváralja.
The first patron saint of Szarvaskő’s wooden church (15th century) was the French St. Egidius and since his day was September 1st, this date saw the biggest celebration in the village.
Szarvaskő's neo-classical church - built from materials diverted from Eger's Basilica?
The wooden ’prayer house’ is first referred to in 1732 which was replaced by a newer construction in 1767 built from wooden planks.
Permission for the new church had been given by Bishop Károly Eszterházy, but finances were limited and it was so small and narrow that it had no sacristy or organ. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary (the Assumption), the saint’s day of the church now moved to August 15th.
By the 1830s the church had fallen into disrepair and the parish priest approached the Archbishop of Eger, János László Pyrker for help. The Prelate acquiesced and in 1840 work began under the watchful eye of master builder Mihály Telmeinwöger with the stonemasons Mihály Benkovics and Antal Ledek playing predominant roles.
It took five years (1840-45) for the neo-classical church to be completed, and it was consecrated to St. John, meaning that the saint’s day changed once again, to June 24th, when it is still celebrated today.
Some sources claim that the original plans for Eger’s Cathedral, which was built at around the same time as Szarvaskő’s church, showed four towers but that the materials needed for two of them were diverted to the building of Szarvaskő’s church and that is why Eger Cathedral has only two towers.
On the hill opposite the castle is the observation tower which affords superb views over the Bükk National Park
There are plenty of places to stay in Szarvaskő, please find a selection below with contact details.
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