Corvin Castle was laid out in 1446, when construction began on the orders of Voivode of Transylvania John Hunyady who wanted to transform the former keep built by Charles I. The castle was originally given to John Hunyadi‘s father, Voyk (Vajk), by Sigismund of Luxembourg, king of Hungary and Croatia, as severance in 1409. It was also in 1446 that John Hunyadi was elected as the regent-governor by the Diet.
Built in a Renaissance–Gothic style and constructed over the site of an older fortification on a rock above the smaller Zlaști River, the castle is a large and imposing structure with tall towers, bastions, an inner courtyard, diversely coloured roofs, and myriad windows and balconies adorned with stone carvings. The castle also features a double wall for enhanced fortification and is flanked by both rectangular and circular towers, an architectural innovation for the period’s Transylvanian architecture. Some of the towers (the Capistrano Tower, the Deserted Tower and the Drummers’ Tower) were used as prisons. The Buzdugan Tower (a type of mace after which it was named) was solely built for defensive purposes and it had its exterior decorated with geometric motifs. The rectangular shaped towers have large openings to accommodate larger weapons.
The castle has three large areas: the Knight’s Hall, the Diet Hall and the circular stairway. The halls are rectangular in shape and are decorated with marble. The Diet Hall was used for ceremonies or formal receptions whilst the Knight’s Hall was used for feasts. In 1456, John Hunyadi died and work on the castle stagnated. Starting with 1458, new commissions were being undergone to construct the Matia Wing of the castle. In 1480, work was completely stopped on the castle and it was recognised as being one of the biggest and most impressive buildings in Eastern Europe.
The 16th century did not bring any improvements to the castle, but during the 17th century new additions were made, for aesthetic and military purposes. Aesthetically, the new Large Palace was built facing the town. A two level building, it hosted living chamber and a large living area. For military purposes, two new towers were constructed: the White Tower and the Artillery Tower. Also, the external yard was added, used for administration and storage.
The current castle is the result of a fanciful restoration campaign undertaken after a disastrous fire and many decades of total neglect. It has been noted that modern “architects projected to it their own wistful interpretations of how a great Gothic castle should look”.
Tourists are told that it was the place where Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia, was held prisoner by John Hunyadi, Hungary’s military leader and regent during the King’s minority. Later, Vlad III entered a political alliance with John Hunyadi, although the latter was responsible for the execution of his father, Vlad II Dracul. Because of these links, the Corvin Castle is sometimes mentioned as a source of inspiration for Castle Dracula in Bram Stoker‘s 1897 horror novel Dracula. In fact, Stoker neither knew about Vlad’s alliance with Hunyadi, nor about Hunyadi’s castle. Instead, Stoker’s own handwritten research notes confirm that the novelist imagined Castle Dracula to be situated on an empty top in the Transylvanian Călimani Mountains near the former border with Moldavia.
In the castle yard, near the 15th-century chapel, there is a well 30 meters deep. According to the legend, this fountain was dug by 3 Turkish prisoners to whom liberty was promised if they reached water. After 15 years they completed the well, but their captors did not keep their promise. It is said that the inscription on a wall of the well means “you have water, but not soul”. Specialists, however, have translated the inscription as “he who wrote this inscription is Hasan, who lives as slave of the giaours, in the fortress near the church”.
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