Visegrad is a stunning sight. Hungarian King Bela IV could not have selected a better spot to build a fortress/palace than atop a rocky crag overlooking the Danube far below.
Actually there was quite a long history at the place long before it became the seat of Hungarian royalty. The Romans were the first to take advantage of this seemingly impregnable point.
They situated a fortress where the mighty river makes a wide arc known as the Danube Bend. Various tribes that succeeded the Romans continued to occupy the fortress right up until the arrival of the Magyars.
The last of these were Slavic tribes who termed it “Vysehrad” meaning “high fortification.” (This is one of over a thousand words borrowed from Slavic that have become part of the Hungarian language.
The Hungarians first placed a monastery on the site during the 11th century following their conversion to Christianity. It was the Mongol Invasion in 1241-42 that led to Visegrad becoming a key strategic point.
The resulting stronghold was a response to the utter destruction wrought on Hungary by the invasion. The nation was totally devastated.
One historian has estimated that half of the two million inhabitants were either killed or became refugees due to the onslaught.
In the aftermath, King Bela IV began to seek out highly defensible places to fortify.
At Visegrad, a fortress was constructed making excellent use of the terrain. For nearly three centuries a host of Hungarian Kings ruled during a golden age which saw them expand their realms from the Baltic to the Black Seas.
The first to move here was King Charles Robert in 1323 who wanted to put distance between his court and Buda’s majority German populace.
Even after Charles’ successors moved the court back to Buda they continued to pursue work on a palace and castle complex he had started close to the Danube’s banks.
In its final golden age, King Matyas (1458 -1490) had the buildings associated with Visegrad refurbished not once, but twice.
First in late Gothic style and then transformed to incorporate the Renaissance ideas taking hold.
It was the Ottoman Turks who would end the Golden Age of Visegrad once and for all just a scant half century after Matyas death. Following their occupation of Buda in 1541 they conquered Visegrad via siege warfare three years later.
The castle and palace soon fell into disrepair, but the ruins still communicated some of Visegrad’s majestic glory to visitors down through the centuries.
In the 20th century a major restoration took place. This effort has given us a splendid approximation of Visegrad’s greatness.
There are three must see sites at Visegrad. Your first stop should be the palace ruins. At one time this was one of the most marvelous royal residences in the whole of Europe.
Laid out on a square ground plan there were over 300 rooms on multiple tiers with hanging gardens and fountains that would spew wine during grand events.
Renaissance architectural elements, such as the loggia that can be seen today, were the first used on a building outside of Italy.
Next make your way to Solomon Tower. It is one of the more impressive examples of a keep found anywhere in Europe.
Now take a moment to imagine that a string of these connected the lower part of Visegrad all the way up to the citadel.
This must have been quite a sight, intimidating for all but the most formidable of attackers. Unfortunately it did not stop the Turks.
During a raid in 1544, the south side of Solomon Tower collapsed. They took Visegrad and the site slowly fell into ruin.
Finish a visit by making your way to the citadel. Whether you choose to walk or ride to the entrance you will get some idea of what a task it would be for any would be conqueror to even consider an attack.
It is here where you can peer down from the rocky outcrop at the Danube glittering far below. Above you the sky seems close enough to touch, if not with your hand than with one of the citadel’s bastions.
The effect is dizzying. It is as though the citadel is floating. It is here at the heights of Visegrad where you can marvel at a medieval civilization at its peak.
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