Plans for the rehabilitation of the Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc) Citadel were presented at a public forum debate on Thursday, the Székelyhon.ro news portal reported. The Szekler city of Székelyudvarhely had won a European Union tender of EUR 5 million to restore the remains of the former 16th century fortification, commonly known by the name Székelytámadt vár, which can be translated as “Szekler attacked citadel.”
As Árpád Gálfi, the mayor of Székelyudvarhely emphasized at the forum organized at City Hall that the objective of the EU-financed project is to restore the walls of the fortification and rebuild one of its bastions. Sámuel Szabó, the head of the development and investment directorate of the mayor’s office, noted that they are already thinking ahead and outlining the next steps, as the areas surrounding the citadel walls will have to be considered within a comprehensive territory management plan.
The reconstruction of the so-called Hajdú (Macer) bastion is one of the key points of the project, lead architect and monument-renovation specialist Szabolcs Guttmann said when presenting the plans. The four-story building would gain new exhibition spaces, and its attic would have a viewing platform from where visitors would be able to see the historical city center of Székelyudvarhely. The other three bastions would house open-air community spaces, and an open-air stage would also be built using parts of the former moat. At the moment, archaeologists are researching the areas where the largest works are planned, and the project is awaiting construction permits. The rehabilitation of the citadel should be complete by 2023.
The citadel of Székelyudvarhely was built in the northern part of the medieval town, on the left bank of the Nagy-Küküllő river. The former stronghold is colloquially known by the name Székelytámadt vár, “Szekler attacked citadel.” The fortification is also mentioned in sources under the name of Csonkavár, “Truncated Citadel,” because after the Peace of Szatmár in 1711 (following the Rákóczi War of Independence signed between the Hungarian nobles and the Habsburgs), its walls were partially demolished.
The earliest mention of the citadel of Székelyudvarhely dates back to the last decade of the 15th century. According to historical records, in 1492, István Ecsedi Báthory (1479–1493), the voivode of Transylvania and Count of the Szeklers, repeatedly asked for teams of carpenters, weapons and ammunition to build and equip the castle.
The Szeklers of the Seven Chairs [editor’s note: the administrative units of Szeklerland at that time] strongly objected to the establishment of any fortifications. They complained to King Ulászló the II (1490 –1516) that István Báthory had violated their specific prerogative of managing their territory. The king then removed Báthory from his office and most likely stopped the building of the castle. The unfinished stronghold probably did not play any protective role between 1493 and 1561. In the middle of the late 15th century, a Dominican monastery was established in its place.
The construction work restarted though in 1562 as a retaliatory measure following the Szekler uprising in the same year. Transylvanian Prince János Zsigmond, who was in conflict with the Szeklers, was determined to strengthen his control over SzékelyUdvarhely with the help of a new fortification and a citadel captain loyal to him. For a similar purpose, he had built another castle in Várhegy (Chinari) that same year, Székelybánja, to control the Szeklers of the Háromszék region. The names of these two fortifications are in fact cynical reminders of the failure of the Szekler uprising, which resulted in tragic bloodshed: Székelytámadt and Székelybánja mean, respectively: “Szekler attacked” and “Szekler regrets.”
In 1599, in the hope of regaining their old freedoms, the Szeklers severely damaged the two castles, the main symbols of their grievances. After the brief Transylvanian rule of the Wallachian voivode Mihai Viteazul, in the autumn of 1600, the Transylvanian nobility ordered the reconstruction of the castles.
Eventually, the citadel of Székelyudvarhely was restored during the rule of Prince Gabriel Bethlen (1613–1629).
In 1621, the prince pledged the stronghold to Ferenc Kornis, the chief judge of Udvarhelyszék who had previously undertaken the obligation to renovate the establishment. By that time, the vaults of several chambers had collapsed, and the roof structure had to be completely rebuilt. After the death of Kornis in 1625, the castle was returned to the property of the princely treasury. In 1657, Georgius Rákóczi the II pledged it again, to Mrs. Boldizsárné Kemény, née Zsuzsanna Bornemisza for 5,600 Hungarian forints. The castle was later owned by aristocratic families: Bornemisza, Gyulai and Kornis. Eventually, the city of Székelyudvarhely bought the stronghold from the Kornis family in 1852.
With its walls partially demolished after the Rákóczi War of Independence against the Habsburgs, the citadel remained in a degraded state until the end of the 19th century, when the still-standing school was built on the site of the inner fortification, between 1889 and 1890.
Recent research suggests that the princely citadel was built on the site of the Roman castrum of Udvarhely. In the Árpádian period (early Middle Ages), a royal mansion was erected above the Roman ruins, and then the 15th century Dominican monastery was established on the site. The partially reconstructed buildings of the monastery complex survived until the second half of the 19th century.
Parts of the 16th century fortress, with a square-shaped floor plan (105 x 120 m), have remained standing, with canon towers at each of the four corners.
Title image: Part of the remaining Székelyudvarhely citadel. The “pair” of the stronghold is in Várhegy; their names were given as an ironic reminder of the defeat of the Szekler uprising of 1562.