HUNGARY  |  Western Bank of the Danube, Hungary Travel Guide
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Visegrad

Visegrad

Visegrad is not Hungarian, even though it is in Hungary. Actually, Visegrad is a Slavic name. Visegrad means “high castle” in Slav, and it got its name from the Slavic settlement that inhabited the area in the ninth century. The name was never changed, and it has become a part of Hungarian history as a home of Hungarian kings and medieval glory. As the river turns out of the Danube Bend and comes to Szentendre Island, it branches into a Y around the island. This point is the apex of a 30° angle from the island, looking up to a castle fortress whose towers pierce the sky from its mountain-side position. As though ready for siege today, defensive walls lace the hillside, finally winding down to banks of the river where, under the castle’s dominating shadow, the village of Visegrad sleeps, itself decorated with old defensive walls and an ancient lookout tower. Here was the glory of chivalry, the home of the famous King Matthias and the knights of Visegrad. Although the Romans built an advance outpost here, and the citadel itself was standing before the construction of the palace (1245-1255), its true fame began after Charles Robert (1301-1342), constructed the palace high on the side of the hills overlooking the town and the river.

Visegrad would reign as a famous city of the Middle Ages. King Mátyás (Matthias) lavished his treasure to expand and upgrade the palace whose panoramic views over the romantic Danube are without peer. In 1488, in the height of its glory, when King Mátyás and Queen Beatrice reigned here, János Thuroczy wrote of the place that its upper walls were stretching to the clouds floating in the sky, and the lower bastions were reaching down as far as the river. It was the protected enclave for the Hungarian crown, with the cross of the Holy Roman Empire kept in a locked and guarded room inside the east wing of the upper castle walls. In the early 1440s Alzbeta, daughter of King Sigismund, stole the crown jewels and surreptitiously (one wonders which of the castle guards were paid off, or which lost their heads as a result) took them to Székesfehérvár to crown her baby son Laszlo as the king.

So it was that the castle and the court of Visegrad were centers of power and intrigue.

Unfortunately, much of the glory is gone, but a hint of it can be seen in the King Matthias Museum, Fö út 29. This is about five minutes farther on Fö útca after it joins the highway once again. Continue on and you will come to Salamon torony utca. Go through the Budapest gate of the old castle fortifications. The museum, which is a part of the restored Solomon’s Tower, houses portions of the restored palace. It is a marvelous five-story, 13th century edifice and has most of its original fountains and statues. The Tower was built on top of an even older Roman lookout. It is considered one of the best preserved and largest of the Romanesque Towers surviving in all of Eastern and Central Europe. The tower is part of the 13th-century water bastion defensive system for the castle. Before the construction of the palace, in 1316, it was the defensive center and residence of the royal house, which was forced to flee Buda when the Turks invaded.

The towering Castle Citadel is itself a tourist attraction, of course. Today it houses a museum of the history of Hungary and its knights and heroes, where you can range across the moat and visit the embattlements, walk in the knights’ hall and kings’ throne room, visit the kitchen and the residences as well as see an eye-opening exhibit of ancient torture equipment.

Although most local activity is centered around the ferry and the church at the shoreline, the three main historical sites lie to the north of the city center. All the city sites are easily accessible by walking, but it is a steep hike to the Castle walls above and, if your time is short, consider the bus instead. If you walk, get off the bus at the Hajoalomas (the boat stop, or dock) near the Solomon Tower, and take the trail to the castle. It will take an hour to two hours. Otherwise, the steep hills are definitely for hardy hikers, for all-day treks, or pony trekking.

Three sites are worth considering in the surrounding hills:

1) The site of an ancient Roman camp, Sibrik hegy (Sibrik Hill) from 330 AD, a triangle-shaped fortress north of Visegrad. After Prince Géza moved the capital to Esztergom, he renovated the walls of the ancient fortress and turned it into one of the first county seats of Hungary. It was the headquarters for the bailiff of the region, and consequently held stables, housing for troops, workshops, storage rooms and a prison. Astone building was erected for the bailiff and for high-ranking guests. King St. Ladislas held king Salamon prisoner here in 1083. The seat declined in importance with subsequent reigns, and in 1083 it was destroyed in the Mongolian invasion.

2) Feket hegy (Black Hill) is a few minutes farther up, southwest from the castle to the adjoining summit (it is also the location of the Hotel Silvanus), and it is crowned by the Nagyvillám (big lightning) lookout. The Nagyvillám melds into Mogyoró hegy (Hazelnut Hill). Sometimes the Nagyvillám is identified with Mogyoró hegy (Hazelnut Hill), so don't get confused.

3) Mogyoró hegy (Hazelnut Hill) has a bobsled run, restaurants, camping, and a year-round game preserve. Alternatively, you can drive or bike by following our route around Esztergom, and back down on the other side of the Pilis mountains to the same spot, a lengthy and circuitous but beautiful route. Trails lace the area and interconnect at the Nagyvillám and Mogyoró hegy.

Last updated January 19, 2008
Posted in   Hungary  |  Western Bank of the Danube
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