We found Mr. Andras on the internet via Private Guide in Hungary, but you can find him recommended on Viator, TripAdvisor, and many other websites. He is a wonderful guide, full of information about Hungary and its history and he also provides a very personal insight having lived in Hungary all his life. I can’t recommend him more highly!
Technically, the “Danube Bend” actually starts at the town of Visegrád, but our tour began just before that in the town of Esztergom, the seat of the Catholic Church in Hungary, where we visited the largest cathedral in Hungary and burial place of the most famous Hungarian cardinals.
It is the largest cathedral in Hungary and 18th biggest cathedral in the world and there has been a church on this site since the year 1001, when the first cathedral in Hungary was built there. As with most of the churches in Hungary, the cathedral was destroyed and rebuilt many times over due to centuries of turmoil including Mongol invasion, Turkish occupation and even internal royal conflict.
The final restoration was completed between 1822 and 1856. That is what you now see when you visit the basilica, with the exception of the Bakocz Chapel from 1507. The chapel was carefully disassembled in about 1600 pieces and moved 20 feet to be attached to the new cathedral.
The chapel is Italianate in style, while the rest of the basilica was completed in the Classical style.
What brought Visegrád into prominence was the decision by King Charles I of Hungary to make it his hometown and the royal seat of Hungary in 1325. The king held a two month long summit at the castle in 1335 and again in 1338 and invited the Bohemian King, John of Luxemburg, and the Polish King Casimir III. The purpose of the summit was to create peace and an alliance against Hapsburg Austria.
There are actually three parts of the castle, the Upper Castle, Lower Castle and Royal Palace. We started exploring at the Royal Palace.
While the first Royal Palace was built in 1325, later in the last third of the 14th century, King Louis and his successor Sigismund of Luxembourg had the majority of the earlier buildings dismantled and created a new, sumptuous palace complex. These extensive ruins are still visible today.
Between 1477 and 1484, Matthias Corvinus had the palace complex reconstructed in late Gothic style and the interior was decorated in the Italian Renaissance style. This was first time the Italian Renaissance architectural style was seen outside of Italy.
The reconstructed royal residence building is open to the public, and houses exhibitions on the history of the palace and reconstructed historical interiors. We really enjoyed exploring the palace taking in views from the windows that surely the royal family had admired centuries before.
The Lower Castle is the part of the fortification system that connects the Upper Castle with the Danube. In its center rises the Solomon Tower, a large, hexagonal residential tower dating from the 13th century.
The Tower displays exhibitions installed by the King Matthias Museum of Visegrád. The exhibitions present the reconstructed Gothic fountains from the Royal Palace, Renaissance sculpture from Visegrád, and the history of Visegrád.
After the Mongol invasion, King Bella IV of Hungary had a new fortification system constructed in the 1240-50s near the one that had been destroyed. The first part of the new system was the Upper Castle on top of a high hill. The castle was laid out on a triangular ground plan and had three towers at its corners. Over the centuries, as it became a true royal residence, it was enlarged and further fortified with additional curtain walls.
Around 1405-1408, Visegrád lost its importance when Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Croatia and Hungary moved the royal seat to Buda. It continued to be used as fortified, royal country residence though.
Serbians fleeing from the Turkish occupation settled here in the 17th century in large numbers, giving the city its Baroque Mediterranean character, which is preserved to this day. The architecture, cobblestone streets and the city's picturesque location have attracted many artists throughout the years creating somewhat of an “Artist’s Colony”. There were lots of shops filled with Hungarian foods, beautifully embroidered clothing and handicrafts and galleries and museums displaying beautiful original art as we strolled down the main street.
Just outside town is also where we encountered our first STORK! I was so excited.