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Vitány Castle

The pentagonal ruin of the small Vitányvár aka Vitány castle stands on the northern edge of the Vértes Mountains, east of the village of Vértessomló, above Körtvélyespuszta. The castle has an internal tower and a “three-cell” layout. The ruin is hidden near the 417-meter-high Nyerges Hill, at the very end of a wooded ridge. From there, you can take delight in a magnificent view of the surroundings, towards the villages of Vértessomló and Környe. Its ruins are worth a visit, as its walls have witnessed glorious battles against the Turks. Vitányvár is a typical example of 14th century castle constructions. Also, Vitány and Gerencsérvár, a small castle next to it, are famous for the most romantic medieval love story of the Vértes Mountain. In recent years, the enthusiastic members of the Vitányvár Circle of Friends have been trying to save the ruins through hard work. The first castle rescue day was organized in 2011 by the association formed to save Vitányvár. Since then, castle rescue days are held twice a year, in spring and autumn, to clean up the castle’s surroundings and help with excavation and conservation work. Anyone can join their castle rescue days. The Kuny Domokos County Museum in Tata is also involved in the archeological excavation and preservation of the castle.

History of Vitány Castle

No one knows who was the first builder of Vitány Castle, he may have been a member of the famous Csák clan. The member of this clan occupied the surrounding lands towards the end of the 13th century. Soon after the Mongolian invasion, they were joining in the great wave of castle-building project of King Béla IV. The outer wall surrounding the castle had been rebuilt at least three times. As for the first period of the 14th century, there was a wall only on the east side, in front of the inner gate of the castle. The castle is located at the end of a ridge but on the less defendable side it was fortified by a fore-fort and outer ramparts. Our diplomas first mention Vitányvár in 1319, when Mihály of the Gutkeled clan was the castellan until 1324. It was already a royal castle at that time, two years before King Károly Róbert had officially bartered the castles of the Csák clan in the Vértes Mountain. This is how Vitány, together with the Gesztes Castle, came under the control of the Comes of Győr castle.

The castle was listed in the documents written in 1379 as "Castrum Vitam, Vytam, Wyttam". King Zsigmond (Sigismund) pledged it to Frederick Hohenzollern in 1410. His castellan was called Erik Silstrang in 1417 who was also in charge of Gesztes castle. It is thanks to him that he drove away the robbers raging around Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg) and then hiding in the forests of Vértes Mountain. The castle was pledged by King Albert Habsburg to Rozgonyi István in 1439. Vitány was inherited by his son, János, the following year, but not undisturbed, because he had to fight a lot with his relatives for the ownership. (Please note, that I use the Eastern name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.)  (more in the History section)

What can we see in the castle?

When we discover the castle hiding at the end of the wooded ridge, we find the ruins of a fortress with an irregular floor plan. The main fort was protected from the direction of the southeastern ridge by a double fortification that was divided by ditches. These small moats were cutting through the ridge. The total length of the castle is 200 meters. The inner castle had a tower with 2.5-meter-thick walls, once surrounded by 6-meter-high outer walls.

We can see the remains of other smaller parts of the buildings that were located in the courtyard next to the defensive walls. There is not much left of the connecting walls, we can find only a 5-meter-high section of it on the southern side where the gate used to stand. There is also a 9-meter-high wall pointing towards the sky in the northern corner of the castle. The cellar and the prison were once built on the castle’s vaulted ground floor. There were stairs leading to the fist floor while the second level could be reached by a ladder.

Before, it was thought that two rectangular towers had stood there, one at each end of the castle. However, recent research has revealed that the second tall building may have been perhaps an economic or residential building and not a tower. That building must have been elevated in the late 14th or in the 15th century. The remains of these tall buildings were still 15 meters high at the end of the 20th century, and even some parts of the protective gable on top was intact. Fortunately, we can still see the large, stone-framed Gothic windows. The traces of the wooden slabs separating the floors and some of the vaults can also be observed. The inner castle was surrounded by a wall section with an average width of about 4.5 meters. There was a moat and an additional trench on the outside of the wall. Also, there was another moat and trench 15-20 meters lower from there, which is now almost completely filled. The gate of the inner castle used to be in the eastern part of the courtyard. It was restored during the preservation project in 2014. The outer castle gate is located in the northeastern corner of the castle, its location and dimensions were determined in 2015.

How to get there?

Vértessomló is 67 kilometers from Budapest, you can get there by car via Tatabánya. From there, we reach the resort of Síkvölgyakna. At the end of the resort, we drive to the left and get in the mountains. This road goes parallel to the green + sign. Taking 1.5 kilometers, you will have to pay close attention, because the sign unexpectedly turns to the left, in the east-southeast direction. From here, you can continue only on foot. After 200 meters, the dirt road opens into a path marked with a green sign, which leads all the way to the castle. Also, there is an alternative route: the castle can be approached by following the blue sign from Szárliget, from where you have to walk 7.5 kilometers. It is a nice but a bit harder path. If you do not want to walk that much but you do not have a car, you can also get from Tatabánya to Vértessomló by Volán bus. When you get off, you will only have to travel three kilometers to the castle. Vitány castle can be visited all year round, but let's take a good map with us, although the road is marked with signs everywhere all the way to the castle. Due to the risk of collapse, the castle should only be visited at your own risk.

Text by Gábor Szántai