A Statement Preserved In Stone
Just before arriving in Sárospatak be sure to take a good look at a 500 forint note. On the front, you will see Ferenc Rákóczi II, the famous Hungarian leader with a serious look in his eyes, flowing hair and a fabulous swirling mustache.
Rákóczi spearheaded anti-Habsburg forces in the War of Independence from 1703 – 1711. Like so many of his countrymen before and after him, Rákóczi ultimately failed. Yet his legacy as the prince who declared Hungary free from the yoke of Habsburg rule lives on.
On the reverse side of the 500 forint note you will see a unique castle pictured. This is Sárospatak Castle which was owned by the Rákóczi Family. It was used by Ferenc II to plot his campaigns against the Habsburgs and it also held the last meeting of the Diet (Parliament) formed by the revolutionaries.
Visiting the castle is a fascinating experience. Rarely will you get a chance to see in Hungary so many architectural styles melded together in a single structure.
Situated close to the banks of the Bodrog River, the castle’s placement could hardly be more scenic. Once inside its zig zag fortress walls head to the Red Tower which long ago lost the color that gave it that name.
After over 500 years of history it is hardly surprising that the red plaster which once covered it long ago faded away. From the tower you will get great views of the surrounding area, including the languid waters of the Bodrog flowing past and the distant Zemplén Hills, shimmering in the distance.
Make your way next to the Knights Hall. Take a moment to imagine the plotting and planning that took place when Rákóczi and his closest followers met here during the war.
Next, head outward from the tower where you will suddenly notice renaissance flourishes. The tower is connected by a loggia to a palace built during the mid-16th century.
This was at the height of renaissance influence in eastern Hungary. In the early 17th century the castle came into the hands of the Rakcozi family. Ferenc II used Sarospatak as one of his bases during the war. Rakoczi’s leadership and bravery were not enough to overcome the divisive splits among the nobility.
Eventually support for both him and the rebellion waned. From Sárospatak Rákóczi was first exiled to Poland then on to Turkey where he lived out his life. In the meantime, Habsburg supporters took over the castle.
They left their own indelible mark on the structure, adding Baroque elements to the castle.
Today, visitors to the castle are confronted with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. It is a statement preserved in stone, speaking across the ages. It tells a dynamic story of cultural collision, assimilation and integration.
written by CHRIS WILKINSON
edited by CHRIS KOVACS
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