The Nitra Castle was built on the site of an older elevated Slavic fortified settlement, originally surrounded by the meandering Nitra River. The first written reference to the settlement dates back to 871. In the document, the construction activities of Prince Pribina are mentioned along with the specific reference to the consecration of his Church in the year 828. During the Great Moravian period, Prince Svätopluk stayed in Nitra and the settlement also played a role in the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius. In the year 880, the Diocese of Nitra was established here.
After the collapse of Great Moravia, at the beginning of the 10th century, the castle stopped fulfilling its function. The Árpád dynasty incorporated it into the territorial organization of the newly established Kingdom of Hungary. In the 1170s, Nitra became the seat of a Duchy. During this period, construction of sacral architecture was resumed and the castle became the centre of a county (župa).
Svorad Andrew and Benedict
At the beginning of the 12th century, information about the Nitra Bishopric, which has persisted since the Great Moravian period, increase again. At that time, the castle occupied an area of nearly 8,5 hectares, making it one of the largest in medieval Hungary. The complex served not only the needs of secular power and the castle garrison but was used also by the canons of Chapter of Nitra and the Bishop of Nitra, who administered the county. In times of military threat, even people from a wide area could find a refuge here. The Episcopal Cathedral of St. Emmeram, Svorad Andrew and Benedict became the largest stone building in the complex. The Cathedral is also mentioned in a legend written by Maurus in 1064 – 1070 as the site where the remains of St. Svorad Andrew and St. Benedict were put to rest. The present-day Bishop’s palace is believed to stand on the place of the 12th century stone Romanesque episcopal palace, used also as the residence of the county governor. The warehouses for storing supplies were located in the castle as well. The construction of wine cellars probably started around this period. Here the episcopal and chapter wines, produced in Nitra and its surroundings, were stored.
In the years 1241 and 1242, the Nitra Castle withstood a Tatar invasion. Due to that, in the year 1248, King Belo IV granted Nitra privileges. Thus, a self-governing community led by the mayor and the town council was established. In the year 1273 the castle, along with the town, was burned down. Many valuables, parchment documents and codes got destroyed in the Cathedral. At the beginning of the 14th century, the castle was burned down and destroyed by the troops of Matthew Csák, who ordered to demolish all standing remains of buildings and fortifications. The site was gradually restored and the original 12th century fortifications were expanded by the new masonry, which is visibly preserved even today.
The castle faced more rebellions again in the 15th century. That led to further fortification activity, which continued also in the 16th century, during the Turkish raids. At that time, a Renaissance palace and a new inner castle gate were built. Bishop John IV Telegdy’s reconstruction in the years 1622 – 1642 brought a radical change in the church appearance. During the uprisings in the first half of the 17th century, the castle became the centre of military operations. In the year 1663, it even fell for a short time into the hands of the Turks, who destroyed the Cathedral. After the damage removal, the entire defence system of the castle was rebuilt according to the requirements of modern fortifications in the years 1673 – 1674.
The Bishop’s palace
Another large construction and restoration activity followed only after the suppression of the Francis II Rákóczi’s rebellion in 1704. Bishop Ladislav Adam Erdödy reconstructed the so-called Upper Church and built a new Bishop’s palace. Renowned artists were invited to Nitra to decorate the church. After this reconstruction, the castle acquired its present form.
At the end of the Second World War, on the 26th of March 1945, the Nitra Castle was bombed. The cathedral tower was destroyed and a fire broke out on the site. During the Communism period, the Institute of Archaeology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences resided here along with the Nitra Bishopric. Individual premises were used for offices and storage. Today the heart of the site consists of the Cathedral of St. Emmeram and Bishop’s palace, his residence and administrative headquarters of the bishopric. Even nowadays, the Nitra castle, as a historical episcopal centre, still serves the needs of the Roman Catholic Church – the Diocese of Nitra as the seat of the Bishop.