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History of Gyula Castle

The castle has a regular floor plan and an inner tower. It was built in a well-defendable swampy-marshy area, in the floodplain of the Fehér-Körös River, on a long island. The settlement was born between 1232 and 1313. It was in 1230 that King Endre II donated the then uninhabited area to the brother of Archbishop Ugrin of Esztergom. He was Miklós of the Csák Clan, Chief Comes of Csanád, and later Bihar County.

The first recorded reference to Gyula was in a document dated 1313 which mentioned a monastery called Gyulamonostora. (It means „the monastery of Gyula”) By 1332 the settlement around the monastery was also called Gyula. The place was already listed as "Gula" in the papal tithe register of 1332-37.

The Transylvanian Voivode Losonczi László received it from King Sigismund in 1387. After László’s death, the manor was inherited by his son. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.

The earliest parts of the castle were the old tower with a square floor plan and the palace on the shorter side of the town, which were presumably built by the Losonczi family who owned it in the late 14th century. They were protected by a moat, a wooden palisade, and the surrounding swampy area.

The members of the Losonczi family were dividing their domains among each other in 1393, and the estate of Gyula was given to Losonczi János, son of László, Dezső’s grandson. Losonczi János sent a request to the Pope in 1398 in which he describes himself as the diocesan baron of Gyula and Várad.

After the death of János Losonczi János, this branch of the family was discontinued. As a result of this, the estate was inherited by the Crown. According to a document issued by King Sigismund in 1400, Gyula was donated to Maróthy János who was the Bán (Duke) of Macsó Region. His ownership was registered in 1404. The first castellans of the castle were Masters Vízközi Benedek and András, according to a document in 1405.

A high, closed brick wall with a rectangular floor plan surrounding the courtyard was erected in the first half of the 15th century. This construction took place around 1430, after the death of Maróthy János. Then his son, László, continued the work in 1435. There was a record containing the castles donated by King Sigismund issued in 1438 but it does not mention the castle of Gyula, yet the castle may have been ready on June 9, 1445, when its chapel was consecrated. The wing of the palace facing the tower was enlarged at this time, too. In 1445, there stood a chapel consecrated by Bishop Miklós.

Then, the castle was already surrounded by a 6-meter-wide wall gorge with an outer defensive wall reinforced with two square-shaped bastions. The brick wall going around the castle was broken only by a few small loopholes, but these were not made for cannons.

With the extinction of the Maróthy family in 1476, the great estate returned to the Crown. In 1482, King Matthias donated it to his natural son János Korvin, Chief Comes of Békés County. The new owner often stayed in this castle after 1493 with his wife, Frangepán Beatrix. According to tradition, the family jewels of the Hunyadi family were also kept here. After the death of János Korvin, it became the property of his widow, Beatrix. She also inherited the domains belonging to the castle.

However, Castellan Török András seized the castle because he had a claim of 12,000 gold Forints. He handed it over to its owner only in 1506, when the debt was paid. Beatrix married Earl George Brandenburg in 1509 and their wedding was also held in the castle. Beatrix died later this year, so all her estates were inherited by the Earl together with the castle of Gyula. In 1529, on the news of the approaching of the Turks, George of Brandenburg surrounded the castle with a double palisade.

During the Dual Kingship, this region was ruled by King Szapolyai, while the castle of Gyula stood on the side of Ferdinand. Gyula was not in Szapolyai’s hand so he donated it in 1529 to Bishop Czibak Imre of Gyulavarsándi on the condition that he would occupy it. Bishop Czibak besieged it, and after a one-year siege, he succeeded on March 16, 1530, when the castellans handed over the castle to him. It was how Gyula fell into the hands of King Szapolyai.

After Czibak died in 1534, it became the property of his brother Ferenc. King Habsburg Ferdinand acquired the castle from the widow of Ferenc in 1552. Then, the castle was in a quite neglected state. A Turkish unit wanted to take Gyula in October 1553, but the guards successfully beat back the attackers.

When Baron Kerecsényi László of Kányaföld was appointed as captain of the castle in 1560, the fortifications were in a very bad condition, so he immediately set out to rebuild and modernize them. According to his plan, instead of the 9-bastion-palisade, he wanted to build a palisade with 6 new bastions: one bastion to the four corners and two bastions in the middle. Although he was given the taxes and human resources of six counties to these works, even this proved to be too little to carry out.

Due to lack of time, the Italian military engineer Paolo Mirandola could not build a hussar castle according to the plan, and thus he only fortified the old one. According to a contemporary historian called Verancsics, four to five thousand people worked on the restoration in 1561. The castle was remodeled, the old narrow gate was walled in, and a new entrance was opened on the southwestern side of the castle wall, while covered cannon-posts were created on the bastions.

In the summer of 1564, except for the hussar castle, the works were ready. The so-called hussar castles were invented and built in the 16th century because the mobile light cavalry units were needed to patrol the countryside. The riders needed quick access into the castles so lower castles were added to the forts of the Borderland. As it was anticipated, the Turks appeared soon before the walls. Pasha Pertaf surrounded the castle with an army of 70,000 soldiers in July 1566. However, according to the Turk historian, Evlija Cselebi the Pasha had 80,000 men but Count Zrínyi Miklós wrote that there were only 32,000 Ottoman besiegers and 40 cannons.

The siege of the castle lasted for 9 weeks but no reinforcement was coming from the Habsburgs, The defenders ran out of water and food, and the guards surrendered on the condition of free retreat. As it was, the Turks did not keep the agreement and attacked the retreating warriors. They captured Captain Kerecsényi and dragged him into slavery, where he later died.

After the occupation of the castle, the Turks immediately began repairing the damaged walls. Later, they always took good care of the walls’ condition. For more than a century the castle controlled the area between the Kőrös and the Maros Rivers. Gyula became a center of an Ottoman administrational district, a Sanjak. It was divided into four parts: the Nahije of Arad, Békés, Zaránd, and Bihar. The Bey of Gyula ruled over these territories. The town had a mixed population of Turks and Hungarians. Using the stones of the surrounding areas’ Christian churches as building materials, the Muslims erected two mosques, a ceremonial bath, and a "turbe" (tomb).

This town was well documented in the writings of Evlija Chelebi, the Ottoman traveler between 1664-1666. He was on the Sublime Porte’s errand and had mustered almost all places of the Ottoman Empire during his forty years of service. He wrote of Gyula that it had “…two hundred shops and three churches in the outer town…it is a peculiar spectacle that everybody uses a boat when they visit each other from house to house, from the garden to the mill.”

As the tax-paying Hungarian population was severely decreasing, the Ottomans tried to fill the numbers up with settlers from the South-Slavic areas, giving them the abandoned villages, as they did it elsewhere. The town remained part of the Ottoman Empire for 128 years, until 1695 when the combined Christian troops led by General Heister liberated the area from Pasha Mehmet. Due to the wars, the native Hungarian population fled from Gyula, and Békés County became nearly uninhabited.

At the time of the reconquest, 200 Germans mercenaries, 250 Hajdú soldiers, and 50 Hussars were left in the castle, led by Captain Nothagel János. The Military Council tried to repair the castle and equip it properly, but it failed due to the lack of money. During the War of Independence of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc, the Kuruc (rebel) troops led by General Károlyi Sándor surrounded the castle on May 31, 1705, but withdrew after 24 days of unsuccessful siege.

The castle of Gyula lost its military significance and was controlled by the commander of Arad castle until 1720. Then, it was bought by the Court Councilor Jan Harruckern for 24,000 gold Forints. Jan Harruckern invited German, Hungarian, and Romanian settlers, who re-established the town in the early 18th century. Later, it became the property of Count Wenckheim and Count Almássy. The useable parts of the castle were still used for economic purposes but the buildings have become permanently uninhabited by 1904.