1. Overview
  2. From the Romans to the Renaissance
  3. A Royal and Princely Residence
  4. Property of the Banffy Family
  5. Barcsay-Banffy Property

A Royal and Princely Residence

Thanks to the Turkish occupation of the Hungarian capital in 1541, Gyalu castle unexpectedly became a royal residence. Forced to leave Buda, Queen Isabella - the twenty-two year old widow of King John I - sought refuge in Transylvania together with her infant son. The Transylvanian Diet assigned the bishop's properties - Gyalu among them - for her use. Peter More de Galacz, the castle commander, was instructed to make appropriate repairs to the building. A renaissance plaque, commemorating the completion of this work in 1543, can be seen on the wall of the north-west tower. The queen took up residence in the castle in the middle of 1542 and used it during the summer months until her death in 1559.

A few months before Queen Isabella's arrival at Gyalu, her advisors met in the castle with representatives of King Ferdinand I, her late husband's rival for the Hungarian throne. The outcome of the negotiations was the Treaty of Gyalu, signed on December 29, 1541, whereby the queen promised to abandon her son's claim to the crown and accepted Ferdinand as sole ruler of a re-united country. This treaty, like others before it, was destined to be broken as soon as the ink was dry.

After the death of Prince John Sigismund, Queen Isabella's childless heir, the castle passed through various hands before being acquired by Prince Christopher Bathory. During his tenure the castle was the scene of a grisly event: On September 12, 1594, two leading Transylvanian nobles accused of treason were put to death at the Prince's orders. One was strangled in a room above the north gate, while the other was beheaded near the north-west tower. Their headless, manacled skeletons were found by workmen doing restoration work in 1838.

After turbulent times and a succession of owners, Gyalu was acquired in 1633 by George I Rakoczy, Prince of Transylvania. This marked the beginning of a new phase in the castle's history. An ambitious building programme, lasting several years, was begun in 1638. Three new wings were added to the former episcopal residence to create a large square with a tower at each corner. Stone carvers from Kolozsvar (Cluj) supplied new window frames and balustrades for a balcony. Like many contemporary Transylvanian castles, the west wing was to have had an impressive gate tower in the middle. Alas, the foundations were poorly laid and it collapsed shortly after construction, to the prince's consternation and rage. The inept builder was imprisoned, but the tower was never rebuilt.

Inside, separate apartments were created for the prince and princess and several spacious halls were constructed for feasts and receptions. The most striking feature of the interior must have been the princely audience room, whose walls were entirely covered with colourful Turkish tiles, especially ordered from Istanbul. The one at Gyalu has perished, but a similar tiled room in another Rakoczy castle - at Sarospatak , in Hungary - has been recently reconstructed in all its splendour.

The last Rakoczy to own Gyalu castle was the ill-fated Prince George II. Defeated by a Turkish force on May 22, 1660 near Szaszfenes (Floresti) - only a few kilometres from Gyalu - the severely wounded prince was taken to the castle garden to rest under a tree, before proceeding to Varad (Oradea) where he was to die two weeks later. That particular tree - known as "Rakoczy's tree" - apparently survived well into the 1940's.