Sat Mar 14th, 2015 at 08:20:22 AM EST
In the last few weeks, I made excursions to two castles that have been in ruins since Ottoman times, both of them destroyed in somewhat inglorious fashion. So here is a light diary that is a bit of travelogue, a bit of history, and a bit of train blogging.
The partly rebuilt northern bastion and the remains of the exploded main tower of the castle of Nógrád, with the Börzsöny mountains in the background
You can barely recognise the rock outcrop on top as artificial
This minor castle (manned by no more than a few dozens) guarded the entrance of the valley of the Ipoly river, a northern tributary of the Danube that now forms the border of Hungary and Slovakia.
The castle was built as a mere royal hunting castle in the 14th century, to be first destroyed when the Ottoman Empire conquered the central parts of the Kingdom of Hungary in the mid-16th century. It was rebuilt as an Ottoman fort in 1581, but went to Austria (whose Habsburg rulers took control of the northern and western provinces and the crown of the Kingdom of Hungary) just two decades later in the 15 Years War.
Stairs leading up to the castle. Until a year or two ago, the castle hill was fully covered by an inaccessible thorn bush
The not much longer period of Austrian control is a story of corruption, one not at all untypical for the time. (Later pro-Habsburg, still later nationalist and modern-day Islamophobe 'historians' bashfully gloss over such stories.) The first captain of the castle supplemented his meagre pay by illegally 'taxing' peasants and merchants, but nothing was done to rein in him despite complaints to the Court in Vienna. Then came the loss of the castle in 1641.
In hopes of a high ransom, the Ipolydamásd castle captain 'bought' a Turkish artilleryman hostage (captured at the other castle I shall cover). Three dozen friends of the artilleryman came over from a nearby Ottoman-held fort, but could do no more than shout abuse from beyond shooting distance. But then a passing merchant brought the false rumour that a large Ottoman boat fleet is moving up the river. The problem was, the castle captain was away in Vienna, doing lobbying to further his career. So the leaderless soldiers agreed amongst themselves to flee, and the Ottomans could take over the fort without firing a shot. However, all this happened during a nominal peace, so the Ottoman guard had to leave the fort after a few weeks, but they set fire to it upon leaving. The original troops who fled the false rumour were court-martialed.
View along the wall on the Ipoly side
The castle hill from the south. Cloud shadows were literally racing across it in strong wind
This mid-sized castle was on another trade route north from the Danube (and thus beyond the borders of the Roman Empire), passing to the east of the Börzsöny mountains (which are the remains of a Vesuve-sized volcano active 15 million years ago).
View from the castle towards the mountains west-northwest
It's uncertain when the first (earthen) fortification was built, but in the early 9th century, Nógrád (then Novigrad = New Castle) was the centre of a province on the north-western edge of the Bulgarian Empire, and later served as a county seat in the Kingdom of Hungary, too.
The road to the castle and the modern village of Nógrád, looking north-east
The castle was made a strong stone fort after the Mongol Invasion, as part of an extra line of defence against an invasion from the north/east, but then it fell in an invasion from the south: troops fled the Ottoman advance in 1544. It was a strategic fort in Ottoman times, taken by Austria in the 15 Years War but re-taken by the Ottoman Empire in 1663.
The western bastion
Then, in 1685, a lightning struck the tower serving as munitions storage, and the resulting explosion destroyed the entire inner castle. Just a year later came the Ottoman Empire's disastrous last attempt at conquering Vienna, which was swiftly followed by Austria's genocidal Reconquista of the former Kingdom of Hungary. Since the inner castle couldn't be rebuilt in time, the Ottoman troops fled the castle of Nógrád and burned it down.
A chapel on a hill opposite the castle
Railway line 75
I reached Nógrád on Hungary's railway line 75, which circles the castle hill. This is a branchline which could have much more potential would there be modern vehicles and a complete track renewal.
But, even with the old 'rail buses' going as slow as 30 km/h, there is significant school and tourist traffic on the first third, and a one-hour regular-interval timeplan was introduced a few years ago.
The road crossing next to the station still has a barrier lowered and raised by hand (a chain connects the barrier on the left with the wheel turned by the man on the right).
The same road crossing as seen from the castle:
You can barely see the train at centre receding towards the Naszály mountain in the distance (looking south-east).
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