Visiting The Bethlen-Haller Castle
Last week was my lucky week as I got to visit another beauty of the Transylvanian region, which is the Bethlen-Haller Castle, situated at Cetatea de Balta, Alba county, which is called Küküllővár in Hungarian. The castle is a real beauty, even though it has a very colorful past.
The Bethlen-Haller Castle was built in Renaissance style by the father of the chancellor of Transylvania, Miklos Bethlen, between 1560 and 1624. With four towers located in the four corners, the castle was built according to the model of those in the Loire Valley. It was intended as a hunting and leisure castle, not as a defensive residence, therefore the attestation in the documents of the time is quite poor. Over time, the castle went through numerous transformations: the construction of the current building was completed in 1624, and between 1769-1773, the castle was remodeled in the Baroque style.
Several castles in Transylvania are named after the Bethlen family. Miklos Bethlen was chancellor of Transylvania, and Gabor Bethlen, from another branch of the same Hungarian noble family, was prince of Transylvania. source
How To Get There
The best way to get there is by road and you'd better have GPS set up as road marks are scarce around there. We drove to the village and had to turn around as there were no indicators guiding tourists to the castle.
It is frustrating to see this passive attitude as attracting visitors is important for everyone here, but it looks like they still need to learn this lesson.
Anyway, the good news is the road to the castle is good and there's a nice parking lot in front of the main gate and parking is for free.
The whole place looks new as it has been renovated not long ago and they are continuously working on not only maintaining but improving all there's there.
The gate looked interesting from outside already, so I took a photo of it from inside, when the gate was closed and look at it. Have you ever seen such gate? I've been to quite a few medieval places over the past few years, but have never seen such a gate.
As soon as you step through the gates, your jaw starts to drop, literally. This is the first scene you see, with one of the round bastions that is part of the castle.
I suppose everyone's first instinct is to rush to see the front part of the castle and I can't blame them as I did the same.
Seeing this castle reminded me of those in fairy tales honestly. With its interesting architecture, it would stand out of any crowd and you haven't seen the inside yet.
As a door enthusiast (or addict?), obviously I could not get my eyes off this wonderful door or gate.
It is a real masterpiece, the king of doors I must say. If you look at the decoration, you may notice a few known elements, like the grapes. This is a wine producing region, there's a famous winery not far from here, called Jidvei. Some of you may know the brand as it's quite famous and good as well, but I'll tell you more about this later.
After taking these photos, we went to see where to purchase tickets. There's a wine shop next to the entrance (which I'm going to show you in another post), where tickets are sold. There are several options to choose from, depending on hat you'd like to do:
- tour of the castle - 25 lei (5 euro),
- tour of the castle + wine tasting (4 types) - 125 lei (25 euro),
- tour of the castle + wine tasting (7 types) - 175 lei (35 euro),
- tour of the castle + wine tasting (4 types) + lunch - 225 lei (45 euro)
- tour of the castle + wine tasting (7 types) + lunch - 275 lei (55 euro). source
We kind of new what to expect, so we opted for the tour of the castle, without lunch and wine tasting, because honestly, everything is overpriced, so we saw no need to throw away money like that.
There are guided tours and that's the only way to visit the castle. For me, this was a bit frustrating because as a photographer, I knew I had to be smart, move quickly, choose what I want to capture quickly and try to avoid the crowd, while still catch what the guide is saying. not an easy task and honestly I'm not used to it, but there's a first for everything and this was mine. Oh, I forgot to mention there's one tour almost every hour and one tour takes about 40 - 45 minutes.
This is a short history of the castle, that you can read at the entrance.
Before the tour started, we managed to go round the castle and see what it is like from behind.
This is the back part of the castle, with the added terrace that the description mentions. I'm just guessing here, but I think this terrace was added for entertainment purposes, most likely there were gatherings held here during communist times.
The terrace did not impress me at all, even though I see the use of it as you can serve a meal or have a drink there. The nice balcony however is a different matter. I love rounded, non usual balconies and this is a nice one for sure.
Before the tour started, we were gathered in front of the castle by the tour guide, who started telling us about the history of the castle. I'm going to quote what she said as I don't know where the information is coming from.
The castle was built for entertainment purposes, has never served as defense point, therefore there has never been surrounded by water, as usually happens with every medieval castles.
There was another castle not far from where the castle stands, built of stone and earth, but because the place was quite mussy, it was destroyed by the water, after which this castle was built.
The name of the place is Cetatea de balta in Romanian, which translated to English is The Swamp Fortress and got its name from the previously mentioned fortress.
Over the years, the castle had several owners, it was lost and won during card games. (You know, nobles liked to gamble and properties were won and lost this way)
The name of the castle represents the name of the first owner and the last one, this is how it has become Bethlen-Haller Castle.
The closed balcony on the second floor was added later and the entrance too.
There's a cellar below the ground floor, where there's an elevator, which served and still serves for sending down food from the kitchen. This elevator was electrified during communist years.
There was a lot of damage done to the castle during the communist years.
After stepping through the front door, we found ourselves in this hall, where you can see the original door. The stairs were added later and there were quite a lot of artifacts stored here.
This stone is from the facade of the castle. I'm not sure when exactly was this taken off but looks like after the renovation works, there was no place for the stone.
We were told that the crown symbolizes the social position of the family and as this one had 5 branches (not sure it's the right word though), this meant the family belonged somewhere to the middle. On the right there is the serf, as serfs were forced to work 155 days of the year, to pay their duty, which was more than half a year. The snake most likely represented health.
An old and ugly candle holder, that was necessary as electricity came only in the second half or the 20th century.
Latin text carved in stone and a year marked with Roman numbers. This time I'm not going to let you guess as last time no one knew or took the time and effort to figure it out.
Anno Domini MDCCLXX means 1780.
Another stone from 1773. Please note how well decorated this stone is.
Both stones mention Nicolaus Bethlen's name.
This is the first part of my post about the Bethlen-Haller Castle and I'm going to show you the rest next time.
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