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The Krásna Hôrka Castle

A Medieval Residence of the House of Andrássy

         A picturesque countryside of Gemer set in the heart of Slovakia had always been seen as little Europe or small-scaled Hungarian Kingdom. Its hills, valleys and towns formed the scene of both our own and European history. During World War II and especially the time after it, the cruel hand of fate and of the emerging era devastated the Slovak cultural and historical heritage. Fortunately, even the socialist regime was unable to completely destroy the rich culture of our ancestors. However, only a small number of almost fully preserved castles has been left to please our eyes, one of them being the Krásna Hôrka Castle. The exceptional collections in the castle museum and different types of architecture attract visitors from all over the world. Join us on our journey and get to know our history through the medieval castle of the House of Andrássy.

Hrad Krásna Hôrka Hrad Krásna Hôrka Hrad Krásna Hôrka

The Krásna Hôrka Castle in the Middle Ages, during the "reign" of the Bebek family

         The history of Krásna Hôrka estate goes back to early Middle Ages. The glorious period of the Misko family ended in the first half of the 13th century. According to a legend connected with this region, that King Béla IV fled through this territory with the help of two brothers, Filip and Detre Szárs from the Ákos family, in the time of Tartar invasion. In 1243, as a reward for their loyalty, the king gave the brothers extensive lands administrated by Gemer Castle. The village of Krásna Hôrka itself had not been mentioned among the donated estates yet. The property of the Ákos family remained undivided until the last decade of the 13th century when the family began selling it. The Máriássy family gained the Brzotín estate (which is today testified by a preserved Baroque manor house with the Máriássy coat of arms in the village of Brzotín). Later on, around 1318, Krásna Hôrka was sold to the Batisz family. Supposedly it was the Batisz family, together with the Máriássys, who initiated the erection of a castle in Krásna Hôrka. Clearly, it had not been a castle in the present sense, as it was only a fortified habitable Gothic tower (donjon) at the very top of a limestone hill. As time passed, the Ákos family changed their name to Bebek. The Bebeks soon discovered that properties they had sold were far more valuable, especially due to rich mineral deposits in the surrounding territory. Hence, a decades-lasting conflict with the Máriássys commenced concerning the restoration of the ownership of the Krásna Hôrka estates. Contemporary documents only scarcely noted the village itself, the castle was first mentioned in 1333. The Bebeks finally regained the estate in 1352. One of the most beautiful legends mentioned Bebek not as a rich landlord but a poor shepherd, who found a big precious stone. He gifted it to the king and asked for seven hills to build sheep farms on. However, he built seven castles: Krásna Hôrka, Štítnik, Brzotín, Turňa, Plešivec, Sádec and Sólyomkő. Nowadays, the Krásna Hôrka Castle is the best preserved among them, with the richest history and most impressive location. The Bebeks, who owned the castle until the second half of the 16th century, had the castle rebuilt and extended several times. The most significant reconstruction was carried out under the rule of the infamous Ferenc Bebek. The threat of Turkish invasion requested modernisation and a new fortification system. Construction works commenced in 1540s - a new fortification in the shape of irregular triangle with three massive corner bastions was built around the castle. The research of Ing. Dobroslava Menclová from 1950s pointed out the parallels with the fortification of Eger Castle in Hungary, designed by Alessandro da Vedano from Italy. It has not been proved however, whether this famous Renaissance architect worked directly at the Bebek castle.

         The period shortly after the large reconstruction was connected with legends about cruelty and ambiguous policy of Ferenc Bebek and his brother Imre, the administrator of Gemer County. Documents mentioned them as "thievish knights" who used to steal church bells and cast cannons from them. The Krásna Hôrka Castle (or Betliar Museum which administers it) has the largest collection of original bronze cannons in Slovakia. Visitors can see not only the Bebek cannons from 1547 (two of which were transported to Betliar in the 19th century, where they still stand in the park of the Andrássy manor house), but also the seized Turkish cannons and a beautiful massive cannon of the Emperor Maximillianus in front of the castle gate. The Catholic Church, threatened in that time by the Reformation movement, strongly disapproved of the acts of the two brothers. Bebek nevertheless found a way how to reconcile with the Catholic Church. Around 1540 (1539 or 1542), a protestant pastor, Ondrej Fischer, appeared in a nearby town of Rožňava, who had worked in Moravia, and the towns of Levoča and Smolník before. Ferenc Bebek captured him and had him executed: the pastor was thrown down from the highest bastion of Krásna Hôrka Castle.

         One of the rooms in the "upper or old" castle proves the existence Ferenc Bebek's secret mint. He forged coins together with Mathias Basso, the captain of Muráň Castle, who was executed for forgery. Allegedly, Bebek himself arranged for Mathias' death.

          In September 1556 Ferenc Bebek supported by Turkish armies fought against the emperor and all of a sudden became a defender of protestants. No wonder he was declared a traitor and deprived of all titles and functions, and he was most likely murdered in 1558. Since those events, the fate of the Bebeks had been rather unclear. There had been scarce records of Gyorgy, Ferenc's son, who was an eager supporter of anti-reformation. He even became the administrator of Gemer County, however, he had probably never managed to get rid of his father's bad reputation. Gyorgy died childless in 1567. His death meant the end of important, but little known and researched family, who played a significant role not only in the medieval history of Gemer, but also of the whole Hungarian Kingdom.

Four Centuries of the Rule of Andrássy Family

          After the last of Bebeks died, the castle returned to the imperial court and was administered by castle captains. Seven captains exchanged during the following eight years, including Peter I Andrássy, the very first Andrássy at Krásna Hôrka Castle and in Gemer itself. His arrival marked the beginning of almost the four-hundred-year period in the history of the castle, Gemer and, with a little exaggeration, Central Europe, closely connected with the influential House of Andrássy.

         The character of Bebek castle remained almost unchanged during the Andrássy period, for several reasons: the castle was built on a steep conical hill which prevented further extension of fortification; also, the modernisation was unnecessary due to the decrease in importance of the castle, as it had lost its strategic position in the following centuries, and due to a rather stable political situation. The new landlords mostly paid for the maintenance of the already existing castle premises, new objects began to be built only later on, in the 17th century. However, the Andrássys were just the hereditary castle captains, not the proper owners of the castle. Peter I Andrássy already tried to gain the castle estates in his possession, but he was unable to persuade the imperial court, even though he was a supporter of Caspar Békessy, an ally of the Habsburgs against István Báthory. Only Mathias II, a grandson of Peter I, was donated the Krásna Hôrka castle estates to hereditary ownership in 1642 by Emperor Ferdinand III. Mathias II married Anna Monoky, the Andrássys thus obtained not only the Monok, but also the Štítnik (Csetnek) and Drnava (Derno) estates.

          The castle was added new buildings in the 17th century - the late-Renaissance palaces. It was the so-called Lower Castle, with stucco vaults in its rooms, and the Central Castle that probably served representative purposes. A small pleasant courtyard between the old Bebek building and the new Renaissance palace was thereby created, where stone cantilevers holding a balcony with a forged grid have been preserved. The extensive construction works of the 17th century were connected with Miklos I, who became the administrator of Gemer County and a royal counsellor. In 1676, he received baronship from Emperor Leopold I for his bravery in fights against the Turks. During his era, the castle became the seat of Gemer County, which justified the construction of new representative and habitable premises. This period is represented by several items in the castle exhibition, one of the most beautiful being a Renaissance tile stove with blue-white glazing, most likely a work of Upper Hungarian masters; there are also several pieces of furniture from the 16th and 17th centuries and, of course, a large number of castle garrison armaments.

         In 1883, the Andrássys received in their Betliar manor house an eminent guest - Mór Jókai, a romantic writer, who collected facts for his new historical novel. His work, published in many editions and translations, made famous not only Krásna Hôrka, but also the town of Levoča and numerous personalities of Hungarian history. The novel "Levočská biela pani" (The White Lady of Levoča) presented Julianna Korpony, the White Lady, and the Andrássys as main characters, and the Krásna Hôrka Castle as the scene for a story of love, hatred, betrayal and faithfulness. The plot was set in the period of the last uprising of the Estates led by Ferenc Rákoczi II, joined by two Andrássys, brothers István I and Miklos II, also called "the Dervish General". Jókai created a legend that is still alive within the old castle walls and lures visitors to the glass sarcophagus of Zsofia Seredy, the wife of István I. She died at the very beginning of the 18th century and was buried in a tomb in a village church beneath the castle. Limestone water and draught preserved her body almost untouched. The Andrássys had her body moved to castle chapel in the 19th century. Interestingly, her right hand remained lifted, probably because the Bible was placed there which decomposed as time passed. This explanation contradicts Jókai's legend saying that Zsofia raised her hand to grasp her son's heart and thus him to commit patricide. The identity of the mummy has also been questioned. In 1960s, Professor Jozef Novák wrote about the apparent similarity between the dead woman and the portrait of Countess Terézia Dory, the wife of István III Andrássy, who lived two generations later than Zsofia Seredy. Had the legend of good-hearted Zsofia and her miraculously preserved body been totally made up? No matter who lies in the glass sarcophagus in the castle chapel, Jókai's novel remains nonetheless significant and romantic.

         At the turn of the 18th century, the family property was divided between two brothers: István I. and Gyorgy II. István moved to Betliar and thus established the Betliar, older, familial branch. Gyorgy remained at Krásna Hôrka and founded the younger branch of Monok, or Hosszúrét.

         The last extensive reconstruction of the castle was carried out in 1770s. The majestic south-eastern bastion called Dobogó was rebuilt to a chapel. The reconstruction was ordered by István III, who was granted countship in 1766. His decision was most likely influenced by his brother Antonius who became the bishop of Rožňava in 1780. The beautiful chapel combines both Baroque and Classicist features. A single nave smoothly changes into a shrine with rounded enclosure. The altar table elevated on a three-stepped platform is decorated with the Andrássy coat of arms and Classicist festoons. The retable is formed by a symmetric architectonic structure of fluted columns with Ionic capitals and two separate sculptures of worshipping angels on pedestals. Remarkable is an assumedly early-Baroque large lambrequin canopy with cascade-pleated drapery held by two flying angels. Both the canopy and the angels were probably created by Joseph Gode, a student of Raphael Donner, who received several contracts in Rožňava at that time as well. The altar picture of the Black Madonna of Krásna Hôrka, a patron saint of the Andrássys, had been placed in the canopy centre. According to records, this icon (the so-called Eleusa) dates back to 1793. However, its origin is unknown as is the reason why it became the patron saint of the family. The chapel vaults had been covered by Baroque frescos that were painted over in the 19th century. The western part of the chapel had also been modified in the 19th century - the choir had been rebuilt under which three tall arcades and an entrance to the tomb were created. In this period, the Renaissance epitaphs of the first Andrássys at Krásna Hôrka - those of Peter I and his son Janos were fitted in the chapel walls.

          The old fortress gradually ceased to provide a sufficient comfort for its owners, Countess Mária Andrássy-Festetich, a widow of István III, therefore decided to leave the castle at the beginning of the 19th century. The Andrássys owned several manor houses both in Hungary and Austria. At the turn of the 19th century, they had a Classicist manor house built in the village of Dlhá Lúka, a short way from Krásna Hôrka, where they probably stayed after having moved from their family castle. In 1817 the castle burnt out after a flash of lightning and that time owner felt the responsibility to have the symbol of the family repaired. Only the inevitable maintenance work was carried out - the old castle was roofed, else it remained in ruins until 1860s. Mária Festetich and István III had a son, Gyorgy IV, who became an outstanding person of economic and cultural life in Hungary. He was a contemporary and a friend of Count István Szechenyi and they both contributed to the development of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Hungarian National Museum. In the first half of the 19th century they went on a study visit to England and Gyorgy IV presented products from his Drnava iron works near Krásna Hôrka in London's Crystal Palace in 1851. Shortly before that, the iron works received an important contract to build the construction for the famous Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd) in Budapest. One part from this construction, displayed at the castle courtyard, reminds the industrial development period of the region.

          It was Gyorgy IV who first considered establishing a family museum at the most suitable place, the Krásna Hôrka Castle. The existence of a small castle museum was recorded in the newspapers of 1857. Krásna Hôrka therefore belongs to oldest museums in the territory of Slovakia. The Orava Castle became a museum only in 1868, the year when Bratislava City Museum was also established. Unfortunately, we do not how the castle was open to the public. We do know, however, that the first official tour of its historical rooms and collections was held on 19 August 1867, as is reminded by a stone plate placed over the third castle gate.

         At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century the castle underwent reconstruction initiated by Count Dénes, the son of Count Gyorgy IV Andrássy and Countess Franziska Königsegg von Aulendorf. The reconstruction was designed by a Budapest architect Győző Czigler, and supervised by a Munich builder Eduard Schmucker. A new spacious family tomb was created in the ground-floor premises of Central Castle, with dual neo-Romanesque windows. The reconstruction also concerned the small burial chapel under the current cannon terrace, which had originally been built by Gyorgy IV and dedicated to his mother in 1828, as witnessed by a large iron panel inscribed with CINERIBUS OPTIMAE MATRIS MDCCCXXVIII (To Best Mother 1828). Rooms above the third gate had been renovated where Count Dénes Andrássy established a museum to commemorate his beloved wife Franciska, née Hablawetz. The life of generous Dénes and kind Franciska was covered by a veil of secret. They lived abroad and were childless. Dénes Andrássy was the last male descendant of the Dlhá Lúka (Hosszúrét) branch of the Andrássy family.

         An agreement between Győző, Sándor and Július Andrássy, declared while Dénes was still alive, stated that they would together look after the castle as the symbol of their family. However, one of the most significant European aristocratic families had to leave our country as a result of the events of August 1944. The castle and its whole estates had been nationalised in 1945 by the decrees of President Beneš, declared a natural cultural property in 1948 by the National Cultural Commission, and listed as a national cultural monument thirteen years later. Since 1996, the castle has been administered by the Slovak National Museum, as part of Museum Betliar.

The exhibitions of the castle

         As we have already mentioned, Krásna Hôrka is one of the few profane historic sites in Slovakia that had escaped the wartime and post-war plundering. Its historical collection is based especially on armaments that were exhibited in the castle in the 19th century already. Of exceptional value today are the contemporary photographs of furnished castle premises coming from the break of the 19th/20th centuries that document the design of the old exhibition.

         The tour round castle begins in the Lower Castle where an original castle kitchen with a picture of the Divine Eye, which was intended to prevent theft, based on the principle "God's eye sees everything" attracts most of attention. Also unique are the so-called basset horns displayed in the small musical lounge. They were made by Theodor Lotz, a native from Bratislava and the royal instrument-maker. There are 8 such horns in the world, three of them at Krásna Hôrka.

          The tour continues in the Upper Castle and north-western bastion, where a remarkable funeral carriage of Countess Franciska, wife of Dénes Andrássy, is exhibited. The art nouveau carriage was made by the Munich master, Karl Weinberger, in 1904.

         The old Bebek (first owners) objects and the Gothic tower follow, where armament and armours mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries are placed. The Gothic Palace documents the 16th and 17th centuries, i.e. the period of Turkish occupation in Hungarian Empire. A small room in the palace houses a Renaissance armchair of extraordinary value, dating back to 1450 and coming from Rimini, from the Sigismond Malatesta residuary.

         A tiny passageway leads us from the Gothic Palace to the so-called Rákoczi's wing (the Central Castle), where precious collections of historical furniture, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries, are displayed. An outstanding position in these collections belongs to an early-Baroque wardrobe from the outset of the 18th century, allegedly Ferenc Rákoczi's wedding gift to Zsofia Seredy. The otherwise austere rooms are enlivened with familial portraits and genre scenes. There are paintings by Zsigmond Vajda, Andor Borúth, Stefan Dorfmeister, Carl von Sales, Francesco Nocile, and others. A most valuable work is a panel painting, the portrait of Anglo-Saxon king, martyr St Oswald, the patron saint of weather, painted by Italian Renaissance master Jacopo Barbari in 1500. An oil painting dating back to 1823, painted by Joseph Czauzik, a Classicist painter from Levoča, may be deemed a rarity, not so much for its artistic quality as for the theme depicted. The picture titled "The Rare Example of Long Living in Hungary" shows Janos Rovin and his wife Sara. The Hungarian text under the picture states that Janos had lived for 172 years, his wife for 164 years and they had lived together in a happy marriage for 147 years!

         The following rooms witness the life of Countess Franciska. Her husband Dénes collected all the items she had used or liked and placed them in a reverence museum established in 1903, one year after she died. We would find there priceless works of applied art from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, clothes, accessories, as well as bed where countess died in Munich on 26th October 1902

         Crossing a small courtyard we proceed to the ground-floor premises of Central Castle, rebuilt into a family crypt by Dénes Andrássy. Sixteen members of the Andrássy family had been buried in the crypt, the last burial ceremony taking place in 1991, when the remains of Countess Ilona Andrássy (1917 - 1990), who had lived in exile in Budapest, were put there for eternal rest. Two remarkable ancient Roman sarcophagi dating back to around 200 AD are placed in the crypt. One of them, where Karoly IV who died aged 22 in 1910 was buried, is decorated by an inscription in-between the figures of putti. The other one is empty and bears no decoration. The 19th century also left the crypt with some monuments in the form of marvellous epitaphs and sarcophagi. Rather interesting is the monumental marble relief created by an outstanding sculptor, Gyorgy Zala, originally intended for the tombstone of Count Július Andrásy senior. The Count, who was the Prime Minister of Hungarian government and the Hungarian Palatine, crowned Emperor Franz Joseph I for Hungarian king, and his wife Elisabeth, aka Sissi, for Hungarian queen. He later became the Foreign Secretary of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, he was buried at his estate in Trebišov.

         The exhibition finishes in castle chapel, where the body of Zsofia Seredy is displayed. Both northern and southern walls carry large, richly decorated polychromatic burial coats of arms of the Andrássys and the Pálffys.

         In order to create a comprehensive picture of the history and extensive heritage of the Andrássy family, it is almost inevitable to visit the art museum and the mausoleum in Krásnohorské podhradie, as well as the manor house with a far-spreading English park in Betliar.

© Július Barczi


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