THE LAST CRUSADER

THE LAST CRUSADER

Fri, 10/30/2020 - 12:04

A site in Varna commemorates the most important medieval battle you never heard of

knight.jpg

Hidden among the firs of a park by the busy Władysław Warneńczyk Boulevard in Varna is one of Bulgaria's strangest and most moving museums. There, inside one of two ancient Thracian burial mounds is the stone effigy of a sleeping medieval knight.

This is the symbolic grave of the Polish-Hungarian King Władysław III, who died in 1444 in a battle during what is considered to be the last Crusade in Europe.

The enemy was the then young Ottoman Empire. At that time, Constantinople was still Byzantine, but a great part of the Balkans was under Ottoman control, and the threat to Middle Europe was imminent.

On 10 November 1444, the armies of the 20-year-old King Władysław and General Jan Hunyadi, supported by smaller regiments of Walachians, Bosnians, Moldavians, Lithuanians, Croatians, Teutonic Knights, rebel Bulgarians and soldiers of the Pope were waiting for the enemy in the fields to the northwest of Varna, on the Black Sea.

The Christians were outnumbered, yet they considered their chances to be quite good. Jan Hunyadi was a seasoned and talented warrior and had often won battles against the Ottomans. The fear of a Christian victory was so strong that the 14-year-old sultan, Mehmet II, aware of his own inexperience, forced his father, the retired Murat II, to lead the army.

mound

The mound from which Sultan Murad II supposedly watched the battle

At Varna, Hunyadi's offensive tactics proved effective. After initial losses, the Christian armies gained advantage. Sultan Murat, who was commanding the battle from the top of one of two Thracian mounds, was already considering retreat.

Suddenly, in breach of Hunyadi's orders, Władysław III gathered his knights and attacked the sultan directly.

Historians have pondered over Władysław's decision. Was he too young and too attracted by tales of knightly valour? Was he too eager to show the opposition at home that he was a capable ruler and not a boy? Had he overestimated the power of heavy cavalry against the infantry Janissaries, who were protecting the sultan, or was he jealous of Hunyadi's military successes?

Whatever the reasons, here is how it ended.

Władysław fell into a pit and was killed. Most of his knights died in the melée. The Christian army retreated with heavy losses. The king's body was not found among the heaps of dead warriors.

The repercussions of the Battle of Varna, which was later dubbed "A Memorable Battle of the Nations," is still a matter of debate. Some see it as the tipping point in history when heavy cavalry was defeated by better organised infantry. Others speculate that even if the Christians had won at Varna, the Ottoman westward advance might have been postponed but would hardly have been halted.

However, the battle reshaped the politics of the day. The Ottomans strengthened their grip on the Balkans and nine years later captured Constantinople. Their push to the west continued all the way to Vienna.

The Christians never attempted to organise such a broad coalition against the common enemy. Chivalry was dead, too.

The symbolical mausoleum of King Władysław III

The symbolical mausoleum of King Władysław III

The battlefield near Varna received its first real monument in 1855 when, during the Crimean War, a group of Polish soldiers placed a memorial on the top of one of the Thracian mounds. In 1924, this part of the battlefield was turned into a park and a new memorial of Władysław replaced the older one. In 1935, the mound was transformed into a symbolic mausoleum. Two Bulgarian sculptors carved the stone effigy after the one the king had in Wawel Cathedral.

According to lore, the other mound was the place from which Sultan Murat II watched the battle, holding a spear on which the peace treaty broken by the Christians was impaled. In the 1930s, it also received a monument, albeit a peculiar one – the upper part of a stone water fountain erected by Sultan Mahmud II in Varna a century earlier.

The museum was completed in 1964, for the 520th anniversary of the battle. The exhibition hall houses a humble collection of medieval cuirasses and weapons. Most of them were not actually discovered on the battlefield.

Today, the place where the Memorable Battle of the Nations unfolded is the only quiet green spot in this part of Varna. Locals now come here to stroll and walk their dogs between the mounds that witnessed the end of the Crusades. If you look carefully enough, you can make out among the firs the moat dug by the Janissaries to protect Murat II. 

effigy

Some say that after the battle Władysław's head was severed and taken by the Ottomans. Several years later, other rumours appeared – that the king had survived and was living a quiet life as a monk in Salamanca, or as an aristocrat in Madeira. Officially, however, Władysław was dead and in the nave of the Wawel Cathedral, in Krakow, an ornate, but empty sarcophagus was installed. The effigy at Varna's museum has been modelled after it


us4bg-logo-reversal.pngVibrant Communities: Spotlight on Bulgaria's Living Heritage is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners


Issue 169 Bulgarian history Museums Bulgaria

Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

0 comments

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

The Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis
WELCOME TO THE BISHOP'S BASILICA OF PHILIPPOPOLIS
If you have visited Plovdiv in the past couple of years, you might have noticed a grey, modern building in the city centre, right in front of the St Ludwig Roman Catholic Cathedral.

strange rocks belogradchik
NATURE MEETS CULTURE AT BELOGRADCHIK ROCKS & MAGURATA CAVE
Abandoned villages, depopulated towns, potholed roads: signs that things have gone horribly wrong in the recent past define the Bulgarian northwest, officially the poorest region in the EU.

community centre bulgaria
WHAT IS CHITALISHTE?
Travel outside Bulgaria's big cities and a particular building will attract your attention. Prominently located in the central square of villages and towns, usually with a grand staircase, a heavy colonnade and a decorated pediment, it radiates importance.

wild peonies
PEONIES OVER BLACK SEA
Endangered, rare and ephemeral; wild peonies are to be found in just a few locations across Bulgaria. At Yaylata Plateau, if you are lucky enough to visit in late spring, you will find scores of them.

whitewater rafting bulgaria
WHITE WATER RIDES IN BULGARIA
City fatigue is one of the most acute consequences of the Covid-19 travel restrictions. For the weary Sofianite, there is somewhere in Bulgaria that offers rapid relief.

rock city bulgaria air
RHODOPE'S CITY OF GODS
Deep in the heart of the Rhodope, Perperikon is an ancient town that over the course of millennia perched, Machu Picchu-like, atop a rocky hill.

abandoned hospital bulgaria
BULGARIAN HORROR
As you drive up the progressively deteriorating road through the Balkan mountains the scenery changes.

sofia at night
BULGARIA'S MANY CAPITALS
Over the centuries after Bulgarians settled in the Balkans, they moved capital more than once – sometimes for political reasons, sometimes for strategy, sometimes out of despair.

In Bulgaria, no Easter is for real without coloured eggs and aromatic kozunak
BULGARIAN EASTER EATING
In 1956, Chudomir, one of Bulgaria's finest satirists, wrote in his diary: "Sunday, 6 May. Both Easter and St George's Day, but there are neither roast lamb nor red eggs at home.

buzludzha.jpg
MESSAGE FROM THE TOP
Visual propaganda was key to promoting the Communist regime in Bulgaria between 1944 and 1989, and large-scale monuments on prominent heights played a crucial role.

291219-24381-Edit.jpg
THE GIRLS OF RIBNOVO
They call it the Valley of Pink Pants. But this affectionate nickname of a toponym refers to just one village, set inside a pocket of the western Rhodope: Ribnovo.

sofia central synagogue.jpg
WITNESS OF TIME
The largest Sephardic temple in Europe is situated in a central Sofia street, in an area where a mosque and several churches of various denominations "rub shoulders" with each other.