Hunedoara (Hungarian: Vajdahunyad) is an industrial city situated on the Cerna River in Transylvania, Romania. Currently, there are around 80 thousand inhabitants, and the city attracts tourists mainly with a Gothic castle dating from the 14th century, regarded to be one of the most beautiful castles in Transylvania.
The first written mention of the city, called Hungnod then, dates back to 1265 and we know from it that already in those times there was a small castle here. In the 14th century Hunedoara changed hands and the Angevins became the new owners, and in 1386, after the death of the last of them – King Charles III – it became the property of King Sigismund of Luxembourg, who in place of the old castle built a new, Gothic stronghold. In 1409, in recognition of his merits for the Hungarian crown, Sigismund of Luxembourg passed the castle, together with surrounding estates, to a Romanian nobleman, Voicu Hunyadi. One of the versions has it that it is rather Voicu's wife, who was delivered of Sigismund’s baby son – Johnny – out of wedlock, that merited for the Hungarian crown. How it really was – I don't know. I will only add that those were the days of the battles against the Turks, and Hunedoara became famous for, among other things, the fact that weapons were produced here; after all, in Roman times already the region was renowned for production of iron.
Rich deposits of this mineral caused also the rapid industrialisation of Hunedoara and the increase in the number of its inhabitants in the 19th century. After World War II the communists, who – as it is known – loved industry very much, took power in Romania, and Hunedoara became the biggest steel producer there. The city was practically changed into one large factory, and the chimneys still can be seen probably at each point of the city.
In the centre of Hunedoara we should quite easily localise the dome of the St Nicholas Church dating from 1634. On the exterior the form of the temple reminds me somewhat of the one hundred older church of Master Manole in Curtea de Argeş, though it isn't so beautifully decorated. I've read somewhere that the church of Master Manole had inspired other architects for many years, so maybe this similarity is indeed not accidental, but I've nowhere found confirmation of my conjectures. Inside the temple one can see 17th century frescoes and iconostasis. Curiously enough, in spite of the fact that when we entered it, the church was almost empty, it reverberated with the sound of a choir anyway... maybe humble, because one-man... but reverberated with it and the sound filled the temple with an appropriate atmosphere. A small thing, but how missing from Catholic temples.
When I was visiting the castle, I paid attention to a characteristic raven with a golden ring in its beak. One of my favourite poets – Jan Kochanowski of Korwin – had the same raven in his coat of arms. Unfortunately, I haven't managed to establish whether there is a kinship between the masters of the castle in Hunedoara and our poet. Anyway, the history of the members of this noble family is surely worth mentioning while visiting the castle which had been their residence for several generations.
As I have written before – at the beginning of the 15th century the Hunedoara castle fell into Voicu’s hands. Legend has it that his wife Elizabeth, a noblewoman from Hunedoara, had a romance with King Sigismund of Luxembourg. The result of this innocent affair was pregnancy, and its maker, in order to protect Elizabeth against disgrace, married her to one of his knights. He was to give Elizabeth a golden ring for his illegitimate son, too, to be able to recognise him with it one day. It just doesn't hold water a bit, since knowing the surname of his son, he would do without the ring anyway, but a legend can never be entirely true, after all. Turning back to our story – when John of Hunedoara grew a little, he set off on a journey during which he stayed in some random inn. During a meal, for an unexplained reason, he decided to take the ring off his finger. The trinket enticed a raven, which flew up to the ring and stole it from Johnny. He, without thinking much, reached for his bow quickly and shot down the flying petty thief.
A couple of years later John of Hunedoara got to the royal court, where he was recognised by his father, and when he told the story about the raven, the king decided that a raven with a ring in its beak was going to be the coat of arms of the family. Since then John of Hunedoara (Hungarian: János Hunyadi, Romanian: Iancu de Hunedoara) became John Corvin (Latin: Ioannes Corvinus) as well, and a raven with a ring in its beak has been gracing proudly the castle walls up to this day. A slightly different version, with a raven pierced with an arrow, can also be found in the coat of arms of Hunedoara.
John Corvin extended the stronghold, and in his time two rings of defensive walls, among other things, were built, and the typical military fortress changed into a rich, family mansion. John was Voivode of Transylvania, and during the wars against the Turks he made himself known as a great commander. In 1444, together with our King Vladislaus, he commanded the army at Varna. After a lost battle he redeployed his troops and organised an effective defence in his country. In 1448 in the Battle of Kosovo (fought at Kosovo Polje, i.e. “Field of Blackbirds”) he was captured by the Turks, but since the times were then still civilised, then John was ransomed from captivity. Surely the Turks kicked themselves for that afterwards, because eight years later they suffered a shameful defeat by his hand. The Turkish army besieging Belgrad numbered around 150 thousand soldiers; John Corvin together with a Franciscan, John Kapistran (King Ladislaus V the Posthumous ran off to Vienna!) could have merely 50-60 thousand people at their disposal, a great part of whom constituted townsmen and peasants, who must have been far inferior, in terms of combat training, to the Turks. In spite of that, it is said that at night on 13/14 July they managed to defeat a group of 30-40 thousand Turkish soldiers! Then they destroyed the Turkish fleet on the Danube and forced their way into the besieged town. By order of Sultan, Belgrade was bombarded by three hundred cannons, and in the breaks the assaults were repeated. On 21 July, during a decisive attack, picked infantry troops forced their way through the fortifications and encroached into the gorge separating Old from New Belgrade... and they fried alive, for by order of John Corvin, the ravine had been covered with straw and tar, and after the Turks entered it, it was set on fire. 60 thousand Turks are said to have lost their lives that night, and in the morning the angry Christians charged the astonished, though still strong, Turkish camp once again... and, surprisingly, they won! Sultan’s defeat was complete, and John Corvin earned among the Turks a new name – Cursed Johny. Unfortunately, in besieged Belgrade there was an epidemic of typhus: John Corvin died merely three weeks after his greatest triumph.
After the sudden death of infamous Ladislaus the Posthumous, John's fifteen-year-old son – Matthias Corvin came to the throne; during his reign Hungary was at the height of its power! The king extended the residence of his family as well – the Hunedoara castle, and since he studied in Italia, where he was fascinated by the ideas of the Renaissance, then also the castle gained a Renaissance character.
The last owner from the family of Hunyadi was an illegitimate son of Matthias, John Corvin. Later on, the castle frequently changed its owners. In the reign of Gabriel Bethlen next extension was made, this time in the baroque style, adding, among other things, the White Tower and the Gate Tower. In 1724 the castle changed hands, falling into the ownership of the government of Austria, later on Austria-Hungary, to become the property of Romania after World War I. Currently, there is a museum within the castle walls.
One more legend is connected with the castle. In its area there is a well which John Hunyadi ordered three Turkish prisoners to dig, promising them freedom in exchange for it. The prisoners cut through a massive rock for 15 years, getting at water at the depth of 28 metres. However, John died in the meanwhile, and his wife didn't keep her husband’s word. What is interesting is the fact that very similar legends are told in many other castles, in which there are wells. Please compare, for example, with a legend from Râşnov or at least from Polish Smoleń.
The castle admission ticket for adults costs 8 lei, and for children – 4 lei.
In Hunedoara we managed to find only one hotel, the three star Maier Hotel with restaurant. For a room with three beds we paid 170 lei. A very nice hotel, but more expensive than our plans predicted, so anyone knowing a more economic solution to the issue of accommodation in the Hunedoara area is invited to send information to the editor.
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