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Hollókő, the “Living City”  

By Fanni Kaszás // 2018.04.16.

In our column dedicated to Hungaricums, we wander the hidden depths of Cserhát, where 380 inhabitants reside in the World Heritage village of Hollókő. The unique town in Hungary is one of the last where traditions, folk customs, arts and crafts and traditional Palóc foods are part of everyday life to this day.

Central Europe’s best-preserved, integrated village built in accordance with Palóc tradition, Hollókő, is located 95 km from Budapest, in Nográd County, among the hills of Cserhát. Its history dates back to the 13th century, after the Mongol invasion, when a castle was built that towered over the village , which according to legend, is how Hollókő got its name.

The castle changed masters several times, and, among others, was owned by Máté Csák, Róbert Károly, Tamás Széchenyi and the Hussite leader, János Giskra, before Habsburg King Lipót I destroyed it in 1711, after the conclusive peace treaty in Szatmár for the Rákóczi War of Independence. Only in 1996 was it deemed fit to be visited after decades of restoration work. Today it is home to a wax museum, exhibition and castle tournaments.

The heart of the Old Village of Hollókő is comprised of a small, wooden-steepled Catholic church and 55 Palóc-style farmhouses, that are characteristically built of pise bricks, complete with wooden verandas, and are whitewashed. They are built according to Palóc custom: the houses are lined up on either side of the main road; families always lived together and if new members came along, then they constructed a new house behind the original. In this way the characteristic Hollókő-style emerged: the so-called “dead-end” village.

The characteristic pise brick, whitewashed farmhouses, now museums, give home to exhibition halls (photo: hungarikum.hu)

The church, which has become a symbol of Hollókő over the years, was built in 1889 from money that was raised collectively. In 1909, almost every house in the historic old village was lost in a fire, but was also the reason why Hollókő later prospered. The houses were rebuilt according to traditional Palóc customs, and were made with a more secure brick base.

Today, many of them are craft workshops, museums or show houses – visitors can try out the old trades such as weaving or pottery, and they can even stay a night in one of authentically furnished rooms. There are no shortages of traditional Palóc flavours either. Family recipes that have been passed down over several decades are still around and can be tasted in delicious palóc soup, tócsni (potato pancake), rétes (strudel) and the famous milk pie, görhe.

Hollókő’s charm comes mainly from the fact that, unlike the open-air museums (of Szentendre, for example), there are also houses that can be found here, where the people preserving the folk traditions still live. One of the most exciting parts of this is the special Palóc folk costumes, which the people of Hollókő still wear during holidays and family events. The Easter ceremony held in the village has thousands of tourists visit every year, and during this time even the youth will return to the village, wear Palóc clothes and participate in the traditional festivities.

The boys wear black patent boots, tight black pants and a linen shirt, they tie a ribbon to their waists, and pull Palóc hats onto their heads. The girls wear petticoats – historically two were worn on weekdays, whereas up to eight were worn on holidays- with embroidered aprons (szakácska), a lace bodice and a shawl embellished with fringes. The girls’ heads are richly adorned by a headdress decorated with pearls and ribbons, while the married women wear fringed, beaded bonnets.

Hollókő represents a bygone culture that has become vulnerable as a result of changes caused by the modern world; young people are moving away, and today 70 percent of the village population consist of pensioners, and the average age of residents is over 50 years old.

This year, the village is celebrating its 30th anniversary of it having been placed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and it’s also unique in being the first village in the world to do so. Moreover, in December of 2013, due to the initiative of Minister Sándor Fazekas, Minister of Agriculture (formerly Rural Development), it was represented also in the list of the then 24 Hungaricums, thus highlighting the cultural importance and ethnographic value of the settlement, and the common goal of the village being able to continue to maintain its traditional character.

featured photo: The center and focal point of the Old Village of Hollókő is the wooden-steepled church, in front of which young people dance in traditional Palóc costumes (photo: hungarikum.hu)

Translated by Gergely Edward Nagy