The short history of the Castle of Sümeg

The area that is now Sümeg and its surroundings appears first in 1280 in the surviving charters. The territory then belonged to the sphere of influence of the Kőszegi family. The seat of the Bishop of Veszprém was also occupied by a member of the family, Péter Kőszegi. The Sümeg Castle and estates were awarded by Stephen I of Hungary around 1000 CE as royal demesne to the Bishop of Veszprém.

The current Castle of Sümeg may have been erected at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries by Bishop Benedek; the first certified reference to it can be found in a charter dated from 1318. The head of the castle was the castellan (várnagy), who was not only the leader of the castle but also of the corresponding estates. However, he could ensure the maintenance and protection of the castle only with the help of his armed gatekeepers, as he did not have an own army.

The early Sümeg Castle constituted only the southern part of the current building complex, with the predecessor of the Old Tower (Öregtorony) at its centre, still standing there today. At the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, the construction of most of the castles of Hungary began with a multi-storey tower surrounded by walls, beside which there were only lesser residential buildings at most, or, mostly in case of ecclesiastical landowners, a chapel. It is likely that, as in the case of the castle of Sümeg, it was necessary to build in front of the tower surrounded by a thick wall an outer fortress wall made of strong planks of wood as well, which also housed the horse stables.

The everyday life of the Sümeg Castle and estates was first disturbed in the early 1440s due to the internal conflict between Vladislaus I of Hungary and Elizabeth of Luxembourg, widow of the deceased King Albert Habsburg. The armed clashes between the two fractions saw the first known siege of the castle of Sümeg. At the order of Bishop Mátyás Gatalóczi (who was a supporter of King Vladislaus), castellan Miklós Unyomi repulsed every assault. Beginning in 1458, Bishop Albert Vetési oversaw major construction projects in the castle, which is evidenced by the Vetési coat of arms found above the early bricked-up gate, on the wall of the current chapel. Following the death of King Matthias I of Hungary in 1490, Maximilian I Holy Roman Emperor invaded the Transdanubian region with a large army.

The Sümeg Castle also surrendered to him; however, it was reclaimed by Pál Kinizsi in the following year by force for Vladislaus II of Hungary. In 1524, pursuant to the instructions of Bishop Tamás Szalaházi, a census was prepared of the total assets of the Bishopric of Veszprém. According to data regarding Sümeg and its castle, 1 vice-castellan, 4 armed guards, 7 gatekeepers, as well as a small number of household staff served under the castellan of the day. The weaponry consisted of 4 smaller cannons, 27 arquebuses, half a barrel of gunpowder, a great amount of balls, spears, arrows and bolts. At the time, 42 families were living in the market town under the castle. The male members of these families constituted the armed defence of the castle when it was necessary.

The outer castle wall, surrounding the large courtyard and supported by buttresses from the outside, was built during the first decades of the 16th century as an extension to the former castle, together with the current double internal gate with the drawbridge and the two-storey tower, as well as the residential and palace wings, both reconstructed several times in the following eras. On its opposite, on the eastern side of the courtyard were built the kitchen of the castle and the adjoining economic premises. Finally, the long ward and the outer gate tower were constructed in front of the inner gate. In mid-16th century when Ottoman Hungary had its borders extended to Lake Balaton, the squire of nearby Devecser, András Csóron held the title of castellan in Sümeg.

In 1526, he also became the captain of the 200-strong drafted regiment (so-called banderium) of the Bishopric of Veszprém, and the castellan of the Bishopric Castle of Veszprém at the same time. From 1528, the seat of the bishop was occupied by Márton Kecseti from Transylvania, who would never have himself consecrated as bishop but used the wealth of the bishopric to strengthen the castles of Veszprém and Sümeg. In 1552, a new bishop arrived in Sümeg in the person of András Köves, formerly canon of Veszprém. Since after the fall of Veszprém in 1552 to the Turks, the bishopric moved to the castle of Sümeg, he also continued to strengthen the castle, for which he also received royal support. At this time arrived in Sümeg the Italian architect, Giovanni Speciecasa. Thanks to his operations, the castle was entirely reconstructed, whereby another stone wall was raised behind the outer fortress wall with the buttresses, the space between them was filled with soil, and then vaulted cannon batteries were placed into the rampart.

A two-storey pentagonal, so-called star fort (or “trace italienne”) was raised at the north-eastern corner, while at the southern end of the castle, the earliest part was completely rebuilt by constructing beside it a large bastion with cannon embrasures. Giulio Turco, Italian architect happened to be in the castle between 1568 and 1572 when he made a floor plan survey and a drawing of the castle. In 1605, Stephen Bocskai’s commander-in-chief, Gergely Némethy, after conquering Várpalota and Veszprém, arrived in Sümeg where Kristóf Hagymássy, owner of nearby Szentgrót Castle had already captured the castle as a supporter of Bocskai. Lajos Újlaky, just appointed as Bishop of Veszprém in the previous year, also stayed in the castle at this time, and he was murdered and beheaded by Hagymássy’s invading troops beside his own dining table.

At royal order a few months later, Ferenc Batthyány recaptured the castles of Transdanubia, including Sümeg. He appointed in 1606 the first known captain of Sümeg Castle, Ferenc Egerváry, who was followed by Ferenc Palotay. However, the continuous struggles against the Turks did not really save either the energy or the money for the maintenance of the border fortress. Then in 1648, Bishop György Széchényi began the 10-year renovation and reconstruction of the already quite neglected castle.

The legacy of his construction projects includes for example the reconstruction of the grand staircase with balustrade in early Baroque style, located on the courtyard side of the palace wing. Under his successor, István Sennyei, the outer gate tower was also reinforced, and a tall bastion was built beside it with the bishop’s coat of arms but with the tenure of his successor, Bishop Pál Széchenyi (when some minor constructions may still have been carried out beside the renovations), the history of the castle’s construction concluded.

During Rákóczi's War of Independence, in the autumn of 1705, the guards of the Sümeg Castle also joined the rebel Kuruc, and the castle became one of the main supply centres of the Transdanubian kuruc forces. Foodstuff and munitions were stored inside, and a 700-800-strong army was stationed there under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ferenc Balogh. Following the suppression of the war of independence, in 1713, the occupying imperial troops probably set the castle on fire then left it to its fate. Its further deterioration was finished by time, winter frost, snow, and rain, while its building stones were slowly carried away by the inhabitants over the centuries. 

Extract from the compilation made by dr. Tibor Koppány, the architect planning the heritage preservation works of the ruins of the Sümeg Castle in the early 1960s.

The 7-year excavation and renovation works of the castle began in 1957. The beneficial rights of the castle got into private hands in 1989; it has been subject to continuous restoration works ever since.

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