History of Visegrad Hungary
Visegrad (Visegrád) was always in the center of attention during history due to its favorable amenities and essential strategical role. The earliest traces of a human presence lead to the New Stone Age. From the Bronze Age, the town and its surroundings have been inhabited. During the historical times Celtics, Germans, Romans, Avars, and Hungarians populated the Danube Bend area.
The Romans under the reign of Constantine I built the Ponts Novatus fortress on the Sibrik Hill. This was the most significant construction of the `limes` system by the Danube. Besides that, you can find Roman relics at several places in the town, so such as the watchtower remnants in Szentgyörgypuszta, or the fortress remnants at the Gisela Manor built around 330.
When the Hungarians were settling in this area it was the ancient demesne of Kurszán, the brother of Arpad Prince. The first, Latin document mentioned Visegrad for the first time in history in 1009. The word Visegrád means high fortress.
A Fortress Appears in Visegrad
The first fortress of Visegrad emerged on the castrum, by using its stones. This fortress didn't survive the Mongol invasion.
Bela IV and his wife Queen Maria built the current fortress complex in the 1250s. The fortress consists of the Citadel on the top of a 328 meters high hill, the Lower Castle situated on the hill underneath the Fortress hill, and the Water Bastion on the Danube embankment.
The town became important in the 15th century during the reign of the Anjou Dynasty. Charles Robert started the Royal Palace's construction on the main street of the town close to the Danube Bank around 1320. Within a couple of years, this center became the royal headquarters and the favorite residing place of the King.
The famous ballad of Klára Zách describes the unsuccessful assassination attempt against the royal family organized by Felicián Zách, and afterward the bloody revenge.
The famous Royal Summit took place here in 1335, when Charles Robert King of Hungary invited John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, Casimir III, King of Poland, Charles, the Moravian Marquis; Heinrich Wittelsbach, the Bavarian Prince, and Rudolph, the Saxon Prince. They created such a significant agreement. It secured the economic independence of the affected countries from Vienna and from the Western merchants.
The Royal Palace historical walls hosted the signing of the coöperation in 1991, called the Visegrad Four. The Hungarian, Czechoslovakian and Polish Presidents followed the example of their ancestors. After the death of Charles Robert, the Polish delegation visited his son, Louis the Great in Visegrad, and offered him the Polish crown.
After the coronation ceremony, the Polish crown joined the Hungarian Holy crown, guarded in the treasury of the Visegrad Citadel by the crown-guards.
The next days of glory for the town came under the reign of King Matthias. The King started colossal construction and renovation activities. He created the Palace complex enriched with late Gothic details, which is on display in the museum.
Matthias's renaissance court was often visited by the prominent figures of the era, who were philosophizing in science, philosophy, and literature and they were supporting the arts and they were leading the innovations. Visitors arriving from faraway countries described Visegrad as the "paradise on Earth".
This prosperous period lasted until the Turkish times when immense regression and destruction started. During the fights for the fortress and for the town, Visegrád got completely devastated. The survivors went into hiding and left the uninhabitable town. Leopold I, Austrian Emperor in 1702, ordered demolishing the remnants of the fortress.
The settlement's development started once more in the 19th century when the Danube steam boating began and the Danube Bend and Pilis-Visegrad Mountains became favorite excursion targets of the hikers arriving from the capital.
Around this time took off the excavation activities by the incentives of József Viktorin Parish Priest who had a Slovakian origin. The most famous archaeologists of the era, e.g. János Schulek, excavated the ruins and restored the historic monuments.
Today Visegrad is the popular target of national and international tourism, which is in one of the most visited recreation areas, in the Danube Bend. Though the size of the population is less than 1,700 people and this is the smallest town in Hungary, the area hosts 300,000 visitors a year.
Most of the visitors are paying a visit to the Citadel, the Royal Palace, and the Solomon Tower. But more and more come to the area for the hotel and thermal bath in the Thermal Valley. This famous water with its extraordinary high mineral content is on sale in local shops. The town offers to improve high-standard accommodation and catering facilities for its visitors.
The Visegrad Citadel and the Lower Castle double castle system is one of the castles built by Béla IV recognizing the consequences of the Mongol invasion. The fortress preserved its significance until the Turkish invasions.
The Citadel had a multi-functional role. It was protecting the valley of the Danube and controlling the main commercial route between Buda and Esztergom. It also served as a customs house. The fortress consisted of two parts.
Construction of the Lower Castle started under the reign of Béla IV around 1247. It was unique, as the fortress was not located next to the road differing from the common traditions, but the road was crossing the territory of the castle. The most interesting part of the Lower Castle is the Solomon Tower. The Tower's name comes from a false story, stating that Solomon was under guard in this Tower after losing in the battle for the throne against King Saint Laszlo and Geza.
Construction of the Visegrad Citadel
The basis of its construction is a southern-German design. Under the reign of Louis the Great King of Hungary, the famous bell-founder Konrád Gaal was operating in the fortress. Today the Tower is hosting a five-story museum, introducing the history of Visegrad to its visitors.
In 1246 Béla IV started constructing the Citadel on an area with outstanding geographical characteristics. He used money from the family jewels of his wife to build a refugee for the Dominican Order nuns living on the ’Rabbits Island’ (today’s Margaret Island). At that time the plan of the fortress was triangle-shaped, with two towers.
The Old Tower emerged at a location most at risk, and the Gate Tower protected the southern entrance. The fortress its importance much improved during the Anjou era. Once Charles Robert obtained the fortress from Máté Csák, he moved the royal court here in 1323.
Fortifications left in ruin
The Visegrad Citadel hosted the famous Royal Summit of Kings, and the first Anjou King died in the castle in 1370. When Louis the Great became the King of Poland in 1370, the Polish crown was also stored in the castle. The palace wings and a new external wall appeared during the Anjou reign. Sigismund of Luxemburg extended the fortification with the third set of walls and carried out several lavish constructions.
Following the Turkish reign, after Buda's liberation in 1686, the Habsburgs conquered the fortress after a 5-day siege. Due to the dissolution of the border castle system, the fortification became unwanted and fell into ruin.