Stones And Gunpowder - Spectacular animations illustrating castle construction
Spectacular animations illustrate the fortified settlement and medieval cathedral. They show the bishop's castle and its transformation into a bastion fortress, capable of withstanding artillery and demonstrates how fortress commanders prepared for a siege.
To view the videos in English or Polish click on the cogwheel in YouTube.
Castle History until 1596
In the 11th century, a manor house and round church (baptistery), surrounded by a graveyard, stood on the castle hill. A small settlement also developed closeby.
Construction of the medieval cathedral started in the 12th century, the Bishop's Palace from the 13th - 14th centuries. By the 15th century, an extensive fortified ecclesiastical settlement had come into existence.
From the 1540s onwards, the Commanders Péter Perényi, Tamás Varkoch and later István Dobó strove to rebuild the castle as a modern fit-for-purpose fortress. They fortified it with sturdy bastions.
The fortress, seriously damaged in 1552, was more or less rebuilt during the following decades. Ottavia Baldigara employed the latest "trace italienne" designs to improve the defensibility of the complex. The work was, however, never fully completed.
A Magnificent Cathedral
The bulk and magnificence of this medieval church on the castle hill was legendary, hard to imagine today. Built over a period of 500 years, by the early 1500s, the sheer mass of this enormous church must have been stunning. This animation, originally shown in a castle casemate demonstrates the development of the cathedral through the ages.
The interactive multimedia exhibition, located in the castle casemates, was given a facelift in 2016. This collection is packed with fascinating features. It tells the story of the construction of the former cathedral and the history of the bishop's castle. It also explains Turkish-era warfare and fortress design.
The Episcopal Castle
Ippolito d'Este finalized the late medieval episcopal castle of Eger in around 1500. The bishop erected two rows of walls to protect the splendid buildings from attack. We would have been struck by the medieval cathedral with its twin towers and marvelled at its Gothic palace. The provost church of St. Stephen would also have been visible beside it.
From the mid-1400s, with the advent of artillery, Péter Perényi, Tamás Varkoch, and István Dobó started improving the fortifications. The video shows these famous commanders prepared the stronghold for the eventuality of a siege up until around 1500. Many of the defensive structures built during this period are still visible today.
The Siege of 1552
The governor of Transylvania, Bishop George Martinuzzi, wanted to unite Hungary and Transylvania under the Habsburg Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, Ferdinand I. In 1551, Suleiman the Magnificent dispatched troops to Transylvania to prevent this happening. He captured key fortresses, including Becse (Bečej/Serbia), Becskerek (Zrenjanin/Serbia), Csanád (Cenad/Romania) and Lippa (Lipova/Romania). Still, he failed to take Temesvár (Timoşoara/RO), surrounded as it was by a vast expanse of marshland. This fortress, however, also fell the following year, and the Turks slaughtered the remaining defenders.
Meanwhile, the Buda Pasha's army captured Veszprém and a series of northern fortresses and then crushed the royal troops at the Battle of Palást on 9th-10th August. The two Turkish armies joined at Szolnok, taking the fortress that guarded the Tisza crossing. The Christians fled for their lives. The last great fortress before Eger thus fell into the hands of the invaders without a fight. The confident Ottoman army marched on to Eger and surrounded the mighty fortress by 11th September 1552.
An estimated 45,000 Ottomans fought the siege against just 1,800 Hungarian defenders. István Dobó prepared the fortress, stockpiling sufficient food, weapons and ammunition for a lengthy siege. The defenders' guns were far outnumbered, but the Ottomans were defenceless against bullets fired from well-defended positions and other ingenious projectiles used in their thousands. Thanks to the determination and perseverance of the Hungarian soldiers, coupled with Dobó's and his officers' military expertise, it proved possible to halt this overwhelming Ottoman force.
Fighting Below Ground
The most dangerous and challenging task the Ottomans undertook was undermining (or sapping) the fortress walls. An explosive device placed in a tunnel under the surface could rip apart substantial sections of the curtain walls. The castle defenders put huge efforts into detecting excavation, so the attackers had to dig unnoticed. They carried out the work close to the castle walls. The air in the tunnels became dank and there was a general lack of oxygen. Soldiers regularly fainted if a corridor had become too long. Conditions in the tunnels were often unbearable. The soldiers were bent over double in a highly confined space and had to work at speed. Any mistake could lead to the tunnel collapsing. If they were discovered, it was sufficient to blow up a barrel of gunpowder in the vicinity. An explosion 6-8 meters from the tunnel would bury them all alive.
Italian engineers had perfected fortress design (technically called trace italienne) by the first half of the 16th century. They created fortresses that could be defended with firearms and could also withstand artillery. The curtain walls were straight, with cannon chambers, or casemates located in the bastions. From these chambers, it was possible to keep the straight curtain walls under continuous crossfire. The curtain walls were faced with masonry, backed by sturdy earthworks. Deep, wide ditches surrounded the defences. As this system proved a success, by the mid-16th century, its use had spread throughout Europe, including Hungary.