Besides being one of the most popular attractions of the country, the castle of Eger is a fundamental value of our history and culture. The amazing walls, remains of medieval buildings and exhibitions tell the story of heroes and their glorious fight to defend the castle and the country and offer a memorable experience to visitors.
More than a thousand years of Eger’s history is displayed by Dobó István Castle Museum. It showcases relics from various periods ranging from the 11th century when the episcopate was founded to the era when the fortress defended the remains of the country from continuing Turkish invasion in the 16th century. Some of them outdoors and others in the museum.
The most famous event associated with the castle was the siege by Turkish troops in 1552. The vastly outnumbered defenders of Eger led by István Dobó achieved a glorious victory over troops of Sultan Suleiman I and halted Turkish conquest for 50 years.
The credit for the detailed records of the siege goes to minstrel and chronicler Sebestyén Tinódi Lantos. He obtained an account of events on the spot right after the siege from the survivors. Besides its literary values his work was a major contribution to Hungarian culture because of his historical credibility too.
Immortality of the heroes, however, was conferred by the novel entitled “Stars of Eger” written by Géza Gárdonyi Géza in 1901. As a major element of compulsory readings in elementary schools, the book amazed generations of children and made both real and fictious characters and events a vital part of our collective memory. Its role was greatly enhanced by a feature film adapted from the novel in 1968, which is the most watched Hungarian film of all time. The remains of the castle built as a movie set for the shooting near Pilisborosjenő is still a popular tourist attraction.
History of the castle
The valley of Eger Creek has been inhabited since prehistoric times but its history that shaped the present began in the 11th century when Stephen I established the diocese of Eger in 1009. The site for the diocesan centre was chosen on the east side of Eger Creek, on a hill. The oldest remains in the castle, a Romanesque rotunda are from this period.
It was supposedly in the late 11th century, during the realm of Ladislaus I, when a 3-naved cathedral was constructed. A remaining pillar of the church with the statue of Stephen I in the archaeological garden truly demonstrates its monumental size.
After the Mongol Raids (1241) the construction of a castle around the diocesan centre began. The 15th century was the heyday of the diocese characterized by luxury, feasts and hunts and Gothic architecture. By the mid-16th century, the role of the castle had changed. The Turkish expansion in Hungary made it a borderline fortification defending North Hungary.
Hungary paralysed by internal political conflicts and fractured by the Turkish occupation had to face a large-scale military campaign launched by Suleiman I in 1551 to prevent the reunion of the country. Forts fell one by one and in Eger was the next in line.
Merged troops began the siege on September 9, 1552. Despite promises for reinforcements the defenders did not receive sufficient backup. Around 2,000 defenders lead by István Dobó were greatly outnumbered by the 35-40 thousand Turkish troops.
Besiegers kept up heavy bombardment the whole month to breach the walls and several full-scale assaults were launched.
The last assault took place on October 12 to capture the depleted castle but the defenders relentlessly withstood. According to accounts they fought desperately making use of anything at hand, such as women dropping boiling water, tar and stones on attackers on the scaling ladders, or deploying improvised and innovative pyrotechnic devices.
The failure led to a collapse in Turkish morale especially as cold weather was commencing and the Turkish troops left on October 17.
The remains of the oldest buildings, such as the rotunda and the cathedral are displayed in the archaeological (or ruins) garden (“Romkert”).
The Gothic-style bishop’s palace is the only undamaged medieval building in the castle. The restored arches of the downstairs colonnade built during the Rennaissance era is one of the most spectacular parts. The building hosts the museum on the history of the castle until the 18th century and the Heroes’ Hall with the cenotaph of István Dobó surrounded by statues of stereotyped defenders. Dobó’s tomb with his remains is in Ruská (Dobóruszka), Slovakia.).
Make a visit to the Casemates, the underground chambers and passages that protected soldiers while moving between bastions. The Dungeon Exhibition, also underground, showcases instruments of torture. Calvary Hill (Kálvária-domb) offers a stunning view over the town. Looking to the east you may see the site of the one-time outer bailey “overgrown” by the town.