Banffy Castle

Banffy Castle


Location: Bonţida, Cluj County   Map

Original owner: Katalin Banffy

Constructed: 1437- 1890

Destroyed: by the Germans during WWII


Description of Banffy Castle

Bánffy Castle from Bonțida (in Hungarian Bonchidai Bánffy-kastély), which was known as the Versailles of Transylvania, is an architectural complex built by the Bánffy family in Bonțida commune, Cluj county. The core of the edifice complex is Renaissance, further extensions and modifications were made in the 18th century in the Baroque style, and in the 19th century in the Neoclassical and Romantic styles (the Neo-Gothic gallery from 1855).

Old Photo of Banffy Castle

The castle in its better days (1935)



The Bonțida domain came into the possession of the Bánffy de Losonc family in 1387, when King Sigismund of Luxembourg donated it to Dionisie, the son of Toma Losonci. Before the construction of the current complex, there was a noble residence (mansion) built in the XV-XVI centuries on this site, this building being documented after 1640.

Dionisie Bánffy II (1638-1674), Comite of Dăbâca and Cluj, brother-in-law and adviser of the Prince of Transylvania Mihai Apafi I, was the one who initiated the construction of the current ensemble, between 1668-1674. The original L-shaped mansion was fortified with rectangular enclosure walls, circular towers at the 4 corners and a tall gate tower at the entrance. After the beheading of Dionysius, the works were continued by his heir, the future governor George III. The Renaissance ensemble is known from an inventory drawn up in 1736, which describes the buildings before the Baroque modifications.

Between 1704 and 1711, the Renaissance castle was damaged in the war of independence led by Francis Rákóczi II, requiring reconstruction and repairs in several places.

In 1735 the domain was inherited by Dionisie Bánffy IV, who was 12 years old at the time. After some time spent at the Court of Vienna, he returned to Transylvania in 1747 as Grand Commissar of Empress Maria Theresa, after which he initiated the reconstruction of the castle in Baroque style between 1747-1751. In the first phase, the court of honor in front of the gate building was built, taking inspiration from Viennese baroque architecture. The court of honor with a "U"-shaped plan consisted of: the stable, the stable, the draw and the servants' quarters. The gallery of statues that decorated this body of the ensemble was made by the sculptor Johann Nachtigall, who translated Ovid's "Metamorphoses" into grandiose stone statues. Dionisie was also the one who initiated the modification of the current main building. During this period, the park that surrounded the castle (designed by Johann Christian Erass) was also created, in the spirit of the French Baroque, characterized by clear, geometric, strict forms, with alleys, a lake, statues and artesian fountains.

The north wing of the residence (the main building) was finished by Dionysius' son, George V, attested by an inscription above the balcony of the entrance from the courtyard, where the year 1784 appears.

The next Bánffy descendant, József Bánffy, will demolish the gate tower in 1820, and from the resulting material a water mill will be built, made available to the villagers. Through these changes, the current appearance of the Miklós building was achieved, and the western and eastern palace buildings of the complex received a re-facade in the neoclassical style. Also at the disposal of József Bánffy, in 1855 the architect Anton Kagerbauer modified the western facade of the complex (the main building and the kitchen building being affected) in a romantic, neo-Gothic style, in accordance with the remodeled park at the disposal of the same owner, by redefining the sober baroque forms with other more free, romantic, specifically English.

In 1858 József Bánffy sold the castle to Baron Miklós Bánffy, Comte of Alba de Jos County, grandfather of the writer and politician Miklós Bánffy, the last owner of the castle before nationalization. In 1935-1937 he restored the western facade and the north-western tower.

During World War II, the castle was used as a military hospital. In 1944, the building was seriously damaged, when the retreating German troops attacked, looted and set fire to the entire complex. All the furniture, the well-known portrait gallery and the library were destroyed. Count Nicolae (Miklós) Bánffy, the owner of the castle at that time, had initiated a negotiation between Hungary and Romania for both countries to switch sides and turn their weapons against Germany, the destruction of the castle is supposed to be an act of revenge by the German government against the baron .

The Communist period
In a still functional side of the castle, the Bonțida Agricultural Production Cooperative ("C.A.P.") was installed in the 1950s. The nationalization and the lack of any maintenance of the buildings and the park led to the serious deterioration of the castle. The villagers used the castle bricks as building material. The Cluj-Napoca Art Museum managed to save the statues from the former baroque park, storing them within the institution (donations section, I. C. Brătianu str.), where they can still be found today.

During the 60s, the Directorate of Historical Monuments tried to rehabilitate the castle, but due to lack of funds, it could not carry out any concrete action in this regard. The castle was further used as a warehouse for building materials, and the park gradually turned into pasture, the trees becoming firewood. In 1963, the castle was used as a set in the making of the film The Hanged Man's Forest, directed by Liviu Ciulei. The film included a brief scene with a fire, for which the set designers set fire to one of the buildings, causing massive damage.

The post-communist period
After the fall of the communist regime, due to its state of disrepair, in 1999 World Monuments Watch included the castle on the List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World, at the proposal of the Transilvania Trust Foundation. The start of the rehabilitation works was possible thanks to the agreement signed in 1999 by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage of Hungary. The Ministry of Culture also supported the partial rehabilitation of the framework of the main building. In 2001, the Specialization Program in the Rehabilitation of the Built Heritage begins under the auspices of the Foundation, within which the kitchen building is restored, the foundation ensures the security and administration of the building, as well as the attraction of funds for the restoration, and in 2005 the Center for Specialization in the Rehabilitation of the Built Heritage is inaugurated, which operates in the Miklós building. For the activity carried out at the castle, in 2008 the Center was awarded the Europa Nostra Grand Prize of the European Union.

In 2007, Princess Margareta of Romania assumed the role of Spiritual Patron of the Center for Specialization in Heritage Rehabilitation built in Bonțida.

In 2008, Countess Bánffy Katalin, daughter of Bánffy Miklós, the current owner of the castle, who lives in Morocco, concluded a 49-year concession contract with the Transylvania Trust Foundation, according to which the Foundation will rehabilitate the castle and establish a cultural and specialization.