The castle from Keresd
If we leave at Daneş the country road connecting Sighişoara and Mediaş, and we go southward, then, after driving on a road winding among hillsides, we arrive to Criş (Keresd in Hungarian, Kreisch in German). Criş is known as the property of the Bethlen family, first being witnessed by a document issued by the chapter of the collegiate church in Alba Iulia in 1305, when all of the family assets were subjected to division, the estate and the residential building passing over into the ownership of a certain branch of the family – subsequently known as the branch of Criş. Due to its rather lucky geographical setting, the castle, founded by Mark Bethlen (around 1468), has been entirely preserved during several centuries.
Regarded as the most beautiful piece of Transylvanian renaissance dwelling and defence castle architecture, the castle in Criş is a monument providing an outstanding value to the Romanian architectural heritage.
The buildings of the castle, along with the walls of the fortress, enclose an almost rectangular square.
The oldest building is the levelled old tower dating back to the medieval ages, its highest level facade being decorated by the painted high reliefs of figures showing warriors dressed in the Hungarian garment of the epoch, wearing the specific Hungarian fur cap known as „süveg”, carrying halberds or shields in their right hands, their left hands resting on their waists. The 5th level of the tower comprising of eight arched windows is known to be used as a look-out. The secret turret case has been inserted into the thick tower walls.
The old tower was provided with renaissance doorway and window frames during the 16th and the 17th centuries.
In 1559, councillor Georgius Bethlen and his wife, Clara of Nagykároly completed the old tower with a vaulted building and loggia. Their son, Michael Bethlen, continued to bring further ammendments to the castle, the new buildings bearing the marks of renaissance.
The wing connected to the cylinder-shaped donjon has still preserved several loggia used to serve various household-related purposes. The row of bolted rooms above of it but behind of the verandah were used as dwellings. The master of the epigraphic doors must have most likely been a trainee of the Italian school.
The rooms of the two-storeyed eastern wing duly built across of the old tower and the building with a loggia are brick-arched on both levels, a free staircase running up on the southern end. The rear facade of the old tower faces a small yard, as well as the western walls of the fortress. The levelled building on the eastern side, along with the southern and western walls of the fortress enclosesculptured window- and door frames. The arched loggia and its banistered flight of stairs built upon the 15 bulky stone pillars and architraves were erected in the very same epoch, somewhat cheering up the implacable image of the castle. The open, arched and vaulted rooms on the ground floor of the arched a square-shaped courtyard. The entrance is placed on the forth side, limited by the tall fortress wall on the west, as well as by a shorter „end” of the two-storeyed wing. And there, on the ground-floor, we can see the chapel of the fortress – one of the most beautiful spaces of the building complex. With its vaulting in late gothic style, the sarmentous and clustered stuccowork are yet bearing renaissance features. The carved stone pulpit decorated with floral motifs can no longer be seen today. Therefore, the decorating elements of the gothic and the renaissance seem to have lived together in perfect harmony here.
We may assume that the northern building, with the main gate in it, may also date back to the 16th century.
In the 17th century, Alexius (Elek) Bethlen, the shire reeve, consolidated the corners of the fortress with multangular and heightened bastions. The construction works went on between 1675 and 1691, their memory being preserved by stone plaques, of which several have disappeared in the past decades.
On the two stone plaques placed on the wall of the old tower, one may read the inscriptions as follows:
DEO AUXILIANTE DEO AUXILIANTE
PROPUGNACULUM HOC PROPUGNACULUM HOC
EX FUNDAMENTO EX FUNDAMENTO
CURAVIT EXTRUI CURAVIT EXTRUI
ALEXIUS DE BET ALEXIUS DE BET
HLEN ANNO DOMINI HLEN ANNO DOMINI
(with all the due completions to the abbreviations)
The castle covers a vast surface of land. The storeyed wing connecting the eastern side corner bastions hosts a range of inter-connected rooms, with a total length of 50 m. Wolfgang (Farkas) şi Alexius (Elek) Bethlen have come to finalize in the 17th century the accomplishment of the building works performed on the eastern wing. Access into the protocol halls has been ensured by a richly decorated exteriour entrance. The differences in level between the protocol halls have been bridged by interiour stairs. The defence corridors along the reverse side of the tower walls are multi-levelled as well. The vaulted ceilings also bear the marks of the gothic and the renaissance spirit. The casetted ceilings and the stuccoworks in some of the protocol halls date back to the late 17th century. The „golden palace”, and the „day bastion-tower” have been decorated with „ornamented paintings and inscriptions”. As for the „day bastion-tower”, one could also admire the „pictures” that embellished the walls from among the three windows above the frieze. The latter, running along the „rainbow”-vaulted ceiling of the third level, has also been adorned with painted and carved motifs. The family shield showing the crowned snake has been provided in the very middle of the ceiling. According to the inventory, the plates of the casetted ceilings have been guilded, the hall itself being named as „the golden room.”
The heating of the protocol halls was facilitated by stoves of which glazed tiles were overwhelmingly decorated with yellow and green profiles. The interiour of the castle never failed to preserve its authenticity. The splendour of the salons was enhanced by the exquisitely painted and polished pieces of furniture, as well as by the inbuilt chests of drawers, carpets and rugs. Portraits of family members were lined up along the walls. The library and the family archives was set up on the first floor of the old tower.
In order to have his book printed, Wolfgang (Farkas) Bethlen, the historian, set up a printing shop, as well. However, due to the ongoing wars, his brother, Alexius (Elek) relocated the printing shop to Sighişoara, where he, actually, had Wolfgang’s (Farkas’) history book printed in 1683.
In the courtyard of the tower there used to be a flower garden, the castle being surrounded by a vast „English park”. And there was the pentagonal summer pavilion, the walls of which were decorated with painted pictures.
The castle had been dwelt until the day of nationalization that occurred on March 3rd, 1948, and there had not been anything missing from its original interiour as the pieces of antique furniture, the tapestries, the carpets, the china-, glass-, crystal- and silver wares had all been at their proper places. But large trucks drove into the courtyard on the day of the nationalization, and were busily involved in the carrying away the valuable objects for days on end. They emptied the rooms, and devastated the interiours. Subsequently, they set up a fire and burnt all the objects they had failed to carry away. As of that moment, the People’s Council in Daneş took over the management of the castle. The buildings of the castle were constantly decaying, and the park was ransacked.
The authorities in charge with the protection of historical monuments had already made two attempts to launch building restoration activities (once before 1977, and then in the ’90s) but the activities ceased after 1 or 2 years, the dishevelled beautiful gothic door- and window frames, the glazed tile stoves, the shields, inscripted stone plaques, as well as the building materials and stone carvings to be mounted were all carried away with no control whatsoever. The fully destroyed ensamble of the castle offers the viewer a shocking image. Nationalization, human malevolence, and the theft of the construction and building materials have all ruined and destroyed this outstandingly beautiful monument of the Transylvanian renaissance.
After many years of legal suits, the Trasylvanian branch of the family was officially given back the castle and the park – the entire estate being in a deplorable condition. The restoration works commenced in the ’90s must be continued as the castle has to become dwellable again in order to become part of the cultural tourism.
Due to the fact that the restoration is rather expensive, and the family financial possibilities are quite modest, we would like to apply for financial support. Therefore, we have founded the „Pro Castellum Bethlen” Association with the due purpose and aim to accomplish the full rehabilitation of the building .
- dr. Imre Lukinich: A bethleni gróf Bethlen család története („The History of the family Bethlen de Bethlen”)
- Gyula Keresztes: Maros megyei kastélyok és udvarházak („Castles and Mannors in County Mures”)
- Marianna H. Takács: Magyarországi udvarházak és kastélyok („Mannors and Castles in Hungary”)