Imagination and Reality
Is there anything more entrancing than a hilltop castle. Towering above its surroundings, a fortress perched high above a village has a timeless appeal. It is a magnet to the eyes, allowing the imagination to wander back in time to an age of chivalry and honor.
It is as though the defenders are still perched on the heights above, behind the towering, thick walls. For the enemy, these same walls must have looked impregnable. They offered a near insurmountable obstacle, but that was not their first problem.
The sloping, precipitate hillsides were as much a part of an elevated castle as were its stone walls.By the time a besieger scaled nature’s heights, they would have despaired at the near impossible task of confronting the stone walls ahead and above them.
This feeling is still possible today and not only via the imagination, but also through the experience of visiting the castle of Csókakő. High above the 1,100 person strong village bearing the same name, the medieval castle of Csókakő has stood the test of time.
Its location bears as much responsibility for its security as the stone walls. The castle was constructed several hundred meters above the surrounding area on a rocky plateau that is part of the Vertes Mountains.
The hillsides were nearly vertical on three sides of its strategic location. The lone approach was from the western side, but a defensive ditch guarded that direction.
Because of its formidable terrain, Csókakő castle was a mighty symbol.
From the time it was built in the late 13th century it became one of the main political centers for Fejér County, second only to the royal coronation site at nearby Székesfehérvár.
The castle was a critical component in a series of fortifications built to guard the road between the cities of Győr and Komárom. Despite Csókakő castle’s highly defensible location it fell to the Ottoman Turks during the 16th century.
The castle was the scene of numerous battles over the next 140 odd years. In one battle which took place from October 9th – 15th, 1601 Hungarian forces under the command of Archduke Matthias emerged victorious. Less than a year later they lost the castle again.
Finally in 1687 the fortress was cleared of all Turkish forces. At this point the region was devoid of population and the castle began a slow decline into ruin.
It would not be until the late 20th century that reconstruction of the castle started in earnest. Despite this reconstruction, the remaining ruins are just as instructive.
To the historically aware visitor they are a reminder of the central role in Hungarian history of the Ottomán Turkish occupation. The Csókakő ruins represent the bitter taste of defeat and occupation that imposed the highest of costs.
The Hungarian nation recovered the land, but lost much of its ethnic identity in the process. The battles that took place over and over for Csókakő are indicative of what occurred throughout Hungary during that time.
The countryside was left depopulated and had to eventually be resettled by Germans, Slovaks and Romanians. By the early 1700’s, it was estimated that ethnic Hungarians made up only about half of the population in their own nation.
The village of Csókakő that exists today rose from the ashes in the 1750’s, due to the efforts of a Count Lamberg. Notice the Germanic surname. Csókakő is but a window into a wider world of change wrought by war and occupation.
Today, the village of Csókakőis almost entirely Hungarian. It eventually recovered its ethnic identity, but the Hungarian nation never did regain the type of power and influence it had before the Turks arrived.
The hilltop castle at Csókakő still captures the imagination today, but the reality behind its history is not nearly as enchanting.
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