A short history of Eger Castle

2021. 11. 05.

In the early years of the Hungarian state, a manor house and chapel stood on the hilltop overlooking the Eger valley. A residential tower was added during the following century. Bishop Liduinus, local bishop of Lotharingian origin, moved here in the second half of the 11th century. He fled his former seat, the castle of Bihar, after its destruction by Pechenegs and then by Cumanians. Eger soon became one of the most prestigious episcopal centres in the Kingdom of Hungary. At the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries, work began to construct a Romanesque cathedral, a bishop's chapel and a palace next to the royal mansion. The cathedral and the adjacent cloisters of the Chapter and the Bishop's Palace were completed in the following century under Bishop Katapán. King Imre, who died in Eger in 1204, was buried in the church. At the beginning of the 13th century, a square-shaped bishop's castle with ashlar walls was built west of the cathedral and cloister.

During the Tatar invasion, the Eger episcopal centre suffered extensive damage. Bishop Lambert began rebuilding the cathedral and the bishop's castle in the second half of the 13th century. His successors completed this work by the early 14th century. A bishop's residential tower was constructed in the northwestern corner of the castle. In the middle of the 14th century, Bishop Miklós Dörögdi added towers to the western end of the cathedral along with a Gothic apse with radiating chapels. He built new palaces in the castle and surrounded the whole hill with a long stone wall, which protected the settlement located around the bishop's residence. In the first half of the 15th century, Bishop Peter Rozgonyi rebuilt the cathedral chapels, which had been destroyed or damaged during the Tartar invasion. Civil war once again impacted on the cathedral and castle in the middle of the 15th century. Repairs were made during the reign of King Matthias. Bishop János Beckensloer completely rebuilt the episcopal palace. At the same time, Bishops Orban of Nagylucse, Tamás Bakócz and Hippolito d’Este had a new late-Gothic choir hall added on to the cathedral. Meanwhile, the fortifications of the castle were also modernised and extended.

A civil war followed the tragic Battle of Mohács. The fortifications were strengthened, particularly on the eastern side. After the fall of Buda in 1541, Péter Perényi and his troops of the crown guard raided and occupied the castle. While taking the stronghold, a fire broke out, incinerating the roofs of the cathedral and palaces and most of the houses within its walls. After the fire, Tamás Varkoch, the castle's lieutenant, began to modernise the castle's fortifications with master builder Alessandro Vedani. In 1548, Peter Perényi returned the stronghold to Bishop Nicolaus Olahus and King Ferdinand, who appointed István Dobó to lead the defence. Dobó repaired the damage caused by the fire of 1541 and continued to strengthen the fortifications. Thanks to these works, the defenders were able to confront the overwhelming Turkish force in 1552 successfully. Sebestyén Tinódi (Lantos), a famous singer of the time, wrote a poem about the events only a few months after the siege, and the reputation of this heroic stand spread throughout Europe.

After the siege, the castle was rebuilt and fortified, new bastions and interior buildings were constructed. In 1569, Ottavio Baldigara took over construction work and started converting the stronghold into a modern fortress. This work, however, was only partially completed.

In 1596, the Turkish Sultan's army took Eger Castle. During the siege, the bastions suffered severe damage, which the Turks only repaired decades later. In possession of Eger Castle, the

conquerors organised a new vilayet, which became one of the most important of the conquered provinces.

Christian forces drove out the Turks in 1687. By then, the fortifications were considered obsolete beyond repair. In 1702 the outer castle was demolished. The remaining inner castle was of military importance for the last time during the Rákóczi War of Independence, which broke out the following year. The fortress changed hands twice, first in 1705, when the castle was occupied by the anti-Habsburg (Kuruc) insurgents, and again when Habsburg true forces retook it in 1710.

The church authorities started demolishing the castle walls, bastions and buildings, including the palaces and the cathedral, after 1783 when the military left. Archbishop János László Pyrker stopped the destruction, for he was fully aware of the site's significance. The first archaeological excavations did not take place until the 1860s, but work stalled after the castle was returned to the military by the Church.

Today, the medieval bishop's castle remains, and the early modern fortress are mostly known only from 20th-century archaeological digs. Excavations carried out in the 1920s and 1930s were interrupted between the 1950s and the 1980s, with only small-scale sporadic excavations in recent decades. The latest comprehensive investigations for the planned reconstruction of the castle started in 2016-2017.