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Two ruins

by DoDo 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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Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

The village of Nógrád has significant solar power installed. In addition to the on-ground ones below, several more panels were on the roof of a large agricultural building.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Mar 14th, 2015 at 08:23:55 AM EST
Thank for this, dodo. The whole of Middle Europe, but especially the Western Slavic areas, remain a major weakness in my historical awareness. This diary and also the historical geography and photos helps significantly.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Mar 14th, 2015 at 05:51:34 PM EST
Here is something tangentially related I read today: the changing view on the origins of the Hungarian tribes. The standard view (which was based mostly on written records and linguistics) was a wandering that took centuries and had four stations:

  1. "Magna Hungarica": an area between the Volga river and the southern end of the Urals, on the edge of the steppes. The proto-Hungarians must have moved here roughly two millennia ago, after the separation of the Ugrian branch of the Finno-Ugric language family. Here they slowly turned into a horse-riding nomadic people. Hungarian-speakers would survive here until the Mongol Invasion.
  2. "Levedia": around 750, part of the proto-Hungarians moved further south to the area north of the Caucasus mountains, and became subjects of the Khazar Kaganate and mixed with its Turkic population.
  3. "Etelköz": around 800, the proto-Hungarians moved further west, to the area that is now south-west Ukraine.
  4. Hungary: in 896, the entire Hungarian tribal alliance crossed the mountains into the Carpathian Basin, settled there and abandoned nomadic lifestyle over the next century.

Archaeological evidence discovered or widely publicised over the last two decades indicates a much faster wandering with only three stages:
  • The style of late-9th-century burial artefacts found in the areas long suspected as Magna Hungarica and Etelköz as well as Hungary is practically identical;
  • the same style is, however, totally absent at all of the earlier suspected locations of Levedia, which is now thought to have been a misinterpretation of a sub-area of Etelköz;
  • Etelköz was settled by this culture only around 840-850 (around the same time Byzantine sources first mention Hungarians);
  • in Hungary the first burials of this culture appeared around 860 already.

The elimination of Levedia leaves the linguistic problem of how and when the many proto-Turk words got into modern Hungarian. The most likely answer is the assimilation of Turkic populations in 10th-century (pre-Christian) Hungary. Now it would be nice if official national schoolbook history would start to treat assimilated populations as ancestors, but fat chance of that happening under any stripe of nationalists.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Mar 15th, 2015 at 02:18:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have also wondered about the relationship between the Hungarians and the various peoples-languages around the Baltic. There was such diversity in 1,000AD.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Mar 15th, 2015 at 02:30:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a so-called Baltic language family, which includes Latvian and Lithuanian (and mostly extinct other dialects like the pre-German original Prussian). This is thought to be related most closely to the Slavic family (though, again, the notion of a simple family tree ignores mixing). The main languages further north (Estonian, Finnish) are of the Finnie branch of the Finno-Ugric language family, thought to be the result of a wantering from the Urals across the far north. Though, again, there was probably substantial mixing, which is undeniable in the case of the also Finno-Ugric Sami [Lapps] whose genetic analysis shows a strong local component with at least 5,000 years of separate history.

BTW, Ukrainian nationalists like to emphasize that the Muscovite Rus assimilated a significant Finno-Ugric population, thus they believe Ukrainians as successors to the population of the Kievan Rus are more properly Slavic than Russians. (Which is also funny, considering all the nomadic people moving through the are of modern Ukraine from east to west who mixed with the Slavs there.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Mar 15th, 2015 at 04:03:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, from the age of the Scythians to that of the Mongols, the greatest diversity was doubtless among the nomadic people of the central Eurasian steppes: a succession of short-lived tribes moving great distances, changing alliances and marrying all over the place (also by robbing women), taking along the language and traditions of all the more settled people along its boundaries. There are literally dozens of these that reached Europe but quickly disappeared as a distinct group (like the Huns, the Avars, the Alans, the Pechenegs or the Cumans) for which historians' ideas of origins are at best speculative, but who are present among the ancestors of modern Europeans.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Mar 15th, 2015 at 04:33:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I love the vicarious sight-seeing.  Good work.

Visited Hungary once in March of 2000 and will perhaps visit sometime again.  Recently someone I met in Hungary then was visiting Massachusetts now and we met again.  Funny how that works.

Solar IS Civil Defense

by gmoke on Thu Mar 19th, 2015 at 07:06:33 PM EST

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