Visiting the interior of Gyula Castle was not nearly as awe inspiring as viewing it from outside the walls had led me to believe. My first look at it across the reflective pond fronting the castle had left me in psychological limbo, somewhere between inspired and intimidated. This was as much fortress as castle. A stolid, squared off expression of Gothic martial architecture that had managed to survive for over 600 years. It was unlike anything else historic in Gyula, where all the other architecture dated from post-Ottoman times. The closer I got to the entrance, the easier it was to see why it was likely to stand another six hundred years, this was a structure that defined the phrase “built to last”. The solidity of the castle was impressive, its walls thick, rigid and all but insurmountable. It would have taken a siege of historic proportions to conquer Gyula Castle, as happened courtesy of the Ottoman Turks in 1566. As for what might lay inside, that was something I looked forward to discovering.
Interior Designs – A Semblance Of The Past
Before we entered, my mother-in-law begged off an umpteenth visit to the castle. In true Hungarian style, she brusquely told me there was nothing to be gained by another of what I suspected had been countless visits to the castle. She then promptly disappeared across the road into a coffee house. Thus, my wife and I were left to explore Gyula Castle on our own. It was less than a week before Christmas, which meant we pretty much had the castle to ourselves. Entering through a large wooden door, we found ourselves inside the old powder tower. It was here that we paid our entrance fee to a cashier which was quite reasonable by western standards, costing 1800 forints (equivalent to five Euros or six dollars). The ease of access was a reminder of just how much changes when a castle goes from making history to becoming part of it. Armies fought numerous battles to get inside these walls, while present day tourists do little more than open their wallets to gain access. That is exactly what we did.
The interior of the castle was in top notch condition, to the point that I wondered whether it could possibly have looked this nice during the Middle Ages. I sincerely doubted it. The castle lacked a sense of life. The sounds of people and animals, as well as the odor of food, that would have been so prevalent in the past were missing. Silence was pervasive. Everything was super clean and refined, only the austere furnishings hinted at a time when the medieval held court. Everything at Gyula Castle was kept in immaculate condition. There was a sterility to this history that was lacking in authenticity. This was not just a problem at Gyula Castle, but almost every castle I had visited in Europe. When it comes to history, tourism is both savior and enemy. Savior, since tourists visiting Gyula Castle pay fees that assist in its preservation. Enemy, because mass tourism only markets a semblance, rather than the reality of history. It is unlikely that many tourists could stomach what life had really been like in the castle. Death was a constant threat, peace was precarious and a rigid class hierarchy with a chasm between nobles, servants and peasantry governing daily affairs.
Revered Rather Than Feared – A Contemporary Medievalism
The twenty-four exhibition rooms at Gyula Castle only gave a hint of what life and death at the castle was really like. There was the usual range of medieval rooms with the lord and lady of the castle’s quarters, areas for cooking, baking and storage, in addition to a knight’s hall. Every castle seems to have a room set aside with armor and weaponry, Gyula Castle was no different in this respect. The sabers and swords shined in the exhibit cases, knight’s armor gleamed, all the weapons were polished as though they had been prepared for a dress parade. This presentation made these medieval accoutrements look like what they were not, benign. In truth, these were the tools of a horrific brand of warfare, where soldiers committed acts of extreme ultraviolence that would cause present day visitors to recoil in horror. Fighting was done at close quarters and was literally a fight to avoid enslavement or death. The armor and weapons’ stylized placement made them look like objects to be revered rather than feared. I began to suspect that the way each one was presented had less to do with history and more to do with contemporary interpretations of the Middle Ages.
The knight’s suit of armor was a fitting example. Polished and sparkling, it was there for the viewer’s admiration. This was a not so suitable stand-in for what was once a medieval weapon of mass destruction. Knights have a reputation for chivalry, the product of Arthurian legends and Sir Walter Scott novels, but the men hidden within these iron suits were the enforcers of their lords. They broke rival armies and if need be, entire populations of principalities. This was a world where might made right. That interpretation was not just missing from Gyula Castle, but every other medieval castle I have managed to visit in my travels.
Gothic Greatness – The Descent Into Perfection
The exhibits and interior at Gyula Castle were professionally done, but pretty much unmemorable. It was as though all the reconstruction, restoration and refinement had stolen the soul from this place. Gyula Castle largely lacked for drama unless one stood outside its walls, looked across the pond and up at this stern Gothic wonder. Conversely, drama could also be detected from on high. After I had ascended several flights of stairs, I found myself looking down into the courtyard. The arches, edges and angles of Gothic architecture gracefully descended towards the courtyard. This sight was worth the price of admission, here was a window looking out onto a past that had been preserved and perfected. It may have been sterile, but it was also stunning. The interior life of Gyula Castle flowed for centuries along each level of these glorious galleries. That symmetry had a beauty and style that left me with a lasting impression of Gothic greatness.