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The Royal Palace of Buda

The Palace during the Middle Ages and the Turkish era

The Royal palace of Buda in the 1390s - reconstructionThe first remnants of the palace that help to reconstruct its history of building were excavated at the southernmost corner of the narrowing plateau. It was a trapezoid block slightly widening from south to north, with its four wings embracing a narrow courtyard (the so called Kisudvar - Small Yard). On the southwestern corner of the enclosed block stood the sturdy "István Tower" - "Stephen's Tower", named most likely after Prince Stephen of Anjou, the younger brother of King Louis the Great. It had a quadrangular plan with an axis slightly turned aside from that of the main, trapezoid block. The chapel was most probably in the southern wing, which was attached to the eastern side of the tower. In the middle of the northern wing there was a gate with a long, vaulted gateway giving to the yard. The Royal Palaca of Buda - chapel, around 1366The prince's palace - mentioned by scholars nowadays as Istvánvár (Stephen's Castle) - was erected on a site that matched approximately the size of an average burgher's plot of Buda at that time. The building complex with its servicing establishments (stables, barns, warehouses, and probably workshops) seems rather modest for a princely court and household. Considering this and some other facts we can assume that a significant part of the plateau north from the block of buildings must have been the forecourt of the palace. The civilian part of the town, which was located to the north was separated from this forecourt by a cliff moat, the so-called Szárazárok (Dry Moat).

Following the death of Prince Stephen (1354), King Louis the Great (1342-82) began the building of a more splendid royal palace, mainly on the site of the aforesaid forecourt. This was later referred to in written sources as the Inner, Large or Ceremonial Courtyard.

The Knight Hall of the Royal Palace of BudaThe really large-scale development of the Buda Palace can be attributed to Sigismund of Luxemburg (1387-1437). Although Sigismund was regularly away from Buda and even often out of the country, he evidently kept an eye on the construction works that concluded in bringing the palace up to the European standards expected of a royal seat. He ordered drawings of several buildings - one of them was that of the Popes' Palace in Avignon - that could possibly serve as models for designing the palace. Throughout his trips abroad, he signed several contracts with different craftsmen for the construction work. The most significant part of the construction, carried out in phases, took place in the 1410's and 1420's. In the meantime, the royal offices were relocated from Visegrád to Buda, which was a major step towards the Buda Palace becoming a permanent royal seat.

Stove tile with the figure of a knight from the Buda CastleThe first phase of the construction effected most likely only the Anjou-palace complex. This time they built on the slope of the hill a multi-storied palace-wing at the southern side of the István Castle - partly replacing its southern wing. The renovated hall on the ground floor in the south-eastern wing (Southern Great Hall or Gothic Hall) is the sole example that remains of the imposing, secular premises of the medieval palace, and today serves as an exhibition hall. The extensive barrel-vaulted cellar beneath the hall is also reconstructed and is part of the exhibition area.

From the other wing, which was of similar distribution, but of a less refined design, built on the slope at the western side of the István Castle, only three barrel-vaulted cellars have remained. The two newly erected palace wings fully embraced the István Tower that used to stand out from the former building.

Sigismund of Luxemburg -  a painting by PisanelloThe two towers that secured the opposite sides (the north-eastern and north-western) of the Anjou palace-complex were most likely also constructed at the same time. The smaller, north-eastern tower later served the purpose of a gate-tower (North-eastern Gate-tower) and its remnants that stick out from the palace's terrace can still be clearly viewed from the eastern zigzag road.

The tower standing on the Northwest used to be of a more considerable size. Remnants of this construction that were circumscribed by very thick outer-walls could only be partially excavated. Its ground plan is depicted as red stripes on the stone floor tiles of the Oroszlános (Lion) Courtyard of the modern palace. Since the construction of this tower was never completed for some reason, it was referred to as the Turris Manca i.e. Incomplete Tower in medieval sources.

The Royal Palace of Buda in the 1420s - reconstructionDuring the next phase of construction, the area occupied by the palace increased significantly. In order to find room for the new palace wings, the walls were extended to the northern part of the plateau, where a new, larger courtyard (Sigismund's Courtyard or Second Courtyard) was formed. This extension required the part of the town that used to stand there be demolished. The new courtyard was separated from the town by a new, giant moat, the Second Dry Moat, which cut through the entire plateau.

There was only some archaeological investigation in the courtyard. However, it can be established that on the eastern side there were two, shorter wings with a north-south axis while a third, longer wing with an east-west axis was located on the courtyard's northern side. The southern wing of this east-west axis has been investigated extensively. Remnants of cellars have been excavated and partly restored in this area and can be seen today (Cellars of the Eastern Wing). As it is depicted on the first vista of Buda of around 1470 on Schedel's woodcut the southern wing had a rather modest design. Considering its roof with its characteristic chimney-stacks, we may assume that it was a kitchen.

The view of Buda in Hartmann Schedel's Word Chronicle, 1493

As regards the shape of the other building to the north, only speculative assumptions can be made, based on the Schedel's woodcut, since no archaeological excavations have taken place yet. Considering its external features the wing had to have residential and representational functions.

Stove tile with the figure of Sigismund from the Buda Castle, the first half of the 15th centuryThe third palace wing - standing roughly at right angles to the other two, - must have been the era's largest building. This wing, which is referred to as Sigismund's Palace in written sources, provided a site for the Ceremonial Hall, the immense sizes of which - 100 x 25 steps cca. 70/75 x18/20 meters - is mentioned later in connection with the wedding of King Matthias.

The main entrance of the courtyard, as well as that of the palace, used to open around the middle of the northern side, and a bridge lead to it over the Second Dry Moat. (Two streets going south from the town run into each other exactly at this point). Later, however, the main gate together with the bridge was relocated to the western side of the dry moat, which can hardly be explained by anything else but the construction of the Sigismund's Palace (hence the blocking of the original main road.)

The north-eastern facade of the Sigismund palace - reconstructionIn relation to the palace wings built by Sigismund, another building must be mentioned. This one was outside of palace-complex and was situated further to the north, i.e. within the town, but must nevertheless have been a royal property. It is most likely identical with the Friss Palota (Fresh Palace), which is often cited in written sources.

When speaking about the construction works of the Sigismund's era, one must draw attention to the famous Gothic statue-find unearthed during the archaeological excavation carried out by László Zolnay in 1974. While uncovering archaeological findings, at the Northern Forecourt of the medieval palace, (that was in fact formed after the reign of Sigismund), several hundred carved stone fragments of different sizes were dug up. As a result of the restoration of this large number of bits and pieces, the identification of 60 different statue-figures was made possible, the statues having very probably been part of some palace-wings or/and chapel embellishments of Sigismund's age.

A knight from the statue findings in the Buda Castle, 15th centuryMadonna from the statue findings of the Buda Castle, 15th centuryThe construction works performed in the Sigismund-era were meant not only to extend the palace with new wings, but also to improve and expand the fortifications. While the castle walls during the Anjou-era - at least according to our current knowledge - only lay along the plateau's edge, the new fortifications built in several phases also extended to the slopes facing out in westerly, southerly and easterly directions. The curtain-walls, which were constructed parallel with one-another but stood on different levels intercepting different size courtyards and wards, formed a well-jointed system of defence. The Eastern and Western Ward, Head of an apostle from the statue finding of the Buda Castle, 15th centurywhich can still be seen today, as well as the first southern fortification, were built around this time. In contrast to what was fashionable at the time, only few fortification-towers rarely protected the new outer curtain-walls. In the south-western corner of the Western Ward - so on a strategic point - stood the solid Mace Tower with a cirular ground plan, which still exists in its restored form. Similarly solid-structured but quadrangular plan smaller towers were erected at the south-eastern and north-eastern corners of the Eastern Ward. A stronger tower was only located at the southern corner of the triangular plan southern fortification block, however, this used to be a gatehouse.

Man's heaf from the statue findings in the Buda CastleNo construction work of any significance can be traced to the two decades that followed Sigismund's death incorporating the reigns of Albert, Wladislas I and Ladislas V. The next flourishing period of the palace construction undoubtedly took place during the reign of King Matthias (1458-1490). It seems that Matthias' efforts were mainly to reconstruct and modernise already standing buildings. Although during this time the characteristic features of Gothic style were still prominent, any real significance can be attributed to the blossoming out and the flourishing of the Renaissance.

The mace tower of the Buda CastleReconstruction work in the Renaissance style effected the entire building complex, but according to written sources it must have been specifically significant in the Anjou-wings of palace, that surrounded the Inner Court and in the chapel. This was the time when the buildings of the court were given a uiform architectural character by placing a concatenation of two-storied arched loggias in front of the inner façade on all three sides (east, south and west). However, the reconstruction in Renaissance style influenced the palace-wings themselves, especially their interiors - ceilings, floors, door- and window-frames. The western wing, where the throne-room was most probably located, was given a second storey at this time. Matthias' famous Corvina library was housed in the eastern wing next to the chapel. The chapel must have gone through major reconstruction to such an extent that its building was attributed to King Matthias by Bonfini, a Humanist historian of that age. The construction works carried out here are related to obtaining the relics of Saint John in 1489, and the chapel is often referred to by this title. The Renaissance image of the Inner Court was emphasised by the "Pallas" Fountain erected in the middle, with a bronze statue set in the marble basin.

Portrait of King Matthias with a laurel wreathLarger scale construction is also assumed to have taken place at the north-eastern building of the Sigismund's Court. Another supposition is that King Matthias rebuilt it from almost the foundation. In lack of archaeological excavations this question can not be answered.

From the remaining buildings however, only one, the Cisterna Regia can be truly attributed to Matthias. The large, cellar-like cistern was constructed in the narrow court situated west from the western wing of the István Castle (today an exhibition hall in its restored form). Its top, which has been converted into a terrace, was formerly covered with hanging gardens.

Missale.King Matthias' Renaissance construction work in Buda had more than local importance. This assertion is supported by the fact that the new style, which originally came from Italy, was the first of its kind to appear north of the Alps in its original and pure version, after which time it spread rapidly. This can be mainly attributed to Matthias marrying the Aragonese princess Beatrix, in 1476. Beatrix came from Naples, and many Italian artists and craftsmen followed her to the Hungarian royal court. Most of the construction works took place at the end of the 1470's and in the 1480's.

Besides the construction work carried out on the buildings of the palace, the curtain-walls and gardens are also worthy of note. In regard to the castle walls, new fortifications were not so much newly constructed, but rather the existing ones were "dressed up". The making of wooden structure, covered wall-walks crowning the walls turned the entire panorama of the palace into a picturesque one. This is included in the vista of the Schedel's woodcut, (the first known view of Buda) the original sketch of which was prepared around 1470.

Majolica floor tiles from the Buda CastleMajolica floor tiles with a shield of crow, Buda CastleEven though the palace gardens already existed during the reign of Sigismund and even Louis the Great, their large-scale development must be associated with King Matthias and the Renaissance garden culture. The gardens situated in the valley west of the palace-complex are separately mentioned in written sources. Although their true appearance is not known, assumptions can nevertheless be made based on the Erhard Schön print depicting the siege of 1541. The print illustrates two enormous gardens, which reach as far as the stream that runs along the bottom of the valley. High walls separately sealed off the two gardens.

Fragment of a ceiling with angel heads, Buda CastleRenaissance construction works did not come to an end after King Matthias' death. Although written sources only vaguely refer to construction that took place during the reign of Wladislaw Jagiello - crowned as Ulászló II. (1490-1516)-, the carved stone archaeological finds are helpful in putting the picture together. The time period of their production can be concluded from several unearthed stone carvings embellished with his coat-of-arms and initials, as well as from other objects. The quality of these is in no way inferior to those dating from the reign of Matthias. It is highly probable that basically the appearance of the palace complex did not change during the reign of King Louis II (1516-1526).

The relief portrait of Matthias and Beatrix, Buda Castle

A well with the shield of King Matthias and Queen Beatrix, 1480sThe palace and the surrounding fortifications as they looked towards the end of the Middle Ages, are well illustrated by the earlier cited Schön-print from 1541. This clearly indicates that by this time, the basic area of the palace complex had significantly broadened towards the north. The newly established huge court - the Outer Court or the Northern Forecourt - was most probably developed over several phases. Some of the civic buildings that used to stand in the direct foreground of the second Dry Moat might have been demolished even during the reign of King Sigismund. According to the Schedel-woodcut prepared under King Matthias, the foreground area of the Sigismund's palace was rather spacious even though a few houses were still scattered around in the northern section. As a last step in developing the unutilised space outside the palace into a court, - probably in the 1530's - a massive partition wall was erected on the northern side (Northern Curtain), which from this point onwards served the purpose of blocking the palace area from the civilian town, right until the middle of the 19th century. An earlier townhouse and another, bigger building - mentionend above as Fresh Palace - were incorporated into this wall around the middle, of which the latter hereafter served as a gate-tower.

Fragment of a marble frieze - depicting a naked young child, Buda CastleAnother important element of the fortification development was carried out on the southern section of the complex. The triangular plan defences and the gatehouse from the Sigismund era that were situated on the southern part of the gently sloping hill were pulled down to make room for an enormous round bastion ("Rondella"), a common feature of the time. This new redoubt was designed to be a lot flatter and thicker than before, and for greater stability its inner part was packed with soil. This improved its efficiency in standing up to artillery assaults launched from the side of the Gellért Hill and also enabled it to retaliate more effectively with the fire of cannons mounted in it.

Red marble gable with the shield of King Matthias, Buda CastleLooking to the southern fortifications, another round bastion that used to stand on the south-eastern corner of the Eastern Ward, (Vízirondella, Waterrondella) ought to be mentioned. However, lacking excavation work the time of its construction is still in dispute: some experts link it up with King John Szapolyai, others with King Matthias. Since it cannot be identified on the Schön-print and its authentic form is only known from Turkish age views, it is possible as well that the Turks built it.

Stove tile representimg King Matthias, Buda CastleDuring the Turkish occupation that began in 1541, and lasted for 145 years, the royal palace completely lost its previous role and glory. The building complex that was used as military barracks, warehouse and prison was otherwise barely maintained, and only the fortifications were strengthened. As indicated earlier, the Water Rondella is also thought to have been built around this time. The origin of Karakash Pasha's Tower, which stands at the north-western corner of the Western Ward was - despite of its name - also initially dated to the Middle Ages, but this view has been modified recently in favour of the Turkish era. At the southern part of the Western Ward - which during the Turkish occupation was called the Yeni Mahalle (New Town) - the Turks even erected a djami. This fact can be established based on contemporary views and layouts.

Erhard Schön: The Siege of Buda, 1541 - wood engraving, detailErhard Schön: The Siege of Buda, 1541 - wood engraving, detail

The Buda Castle, southern rondellaAs a result of the sieges and gunpowder explosions, the architectural complex of the palace was severely damaged by the end of the Turkish occupation. The Sigismund Court was the most damaged, and judging by the views it was reduced to a derelict space scattered with rubble. As a result of a gunpowder explosion, all of the glorious palace wings were destroyed, and cellars worth of restoring were only found at the southern wing of the eastern side. Similarly, the south-western palace wing that used to stand at the southern end of the palace and behind it the western wing of the István Castle was also raised to the ground. The south-western wall of the István Tower collapsed along its entire length, and the upper part of the Mace Tower also collapsed. Finally, the southern section of the southern Rondella also suffered severe damage. As contrasts to these the eastern side of the Inner Court with the chapel, but especially the western wing with the Incomplete Tower remained relatively intact.

M. Merion: Buda and Pest from the west - with Turkish  buildings, copper engraving, 1638