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There was a new exhibition-opening on the 25th of August 2020 at the National Archives of Hungary, Budapest. It is called ‘Heritage of a Nation – Landmarks of Hungarian history’ and it shows Hungary’s thousand-year-old history with the use of 21st-century technologies.

The exhibition at the Archives consists of 14 cabinets with documents and a screen with further information. The 14 documents display 14 historical periods of Hungary, highlighting milestones of the past 1,000 years. Each document has its own video explaining the origins of the documents, its historical background, and importance. The visitors can view this clip or even read the full document, digitalized by the Archives.

The documents are the following:

  • Letters Patent from Veszprémvölgy (1099)
    • This letter is significant as it is the first sporadic evidence of independent Hungarian language. It refers to the founding period of Hungary, as it is commissioned by Saint Stephen. We do not know if it was indeed written by St. Stephen or his father Géza since they were both called Stephen after being Christianized.
  • Béla III Introduces Literacy in Administration (1181)
    • This document is the foundation of literacy in Hungary. The king ordered that an official charter must be issued each time a property is sold, which led to a new era with improved literacy and writing.
  • The Golden Bull (1222)
    • The Golden Bull remained important until the 19th century with both smaller and more significant adjustments and modifications. This is the first written constitution of Hungary. Recently, the tomb of Andrew II has been found, who was the king who issued this document.

The Golden Bull from the Archives, photo by National Archives of Hungary

  • The Law of Mathias I from 1464
    • This is the first law that is in a book format, which is a considerable reform compared to traditional charters. Its main aim is to secure the Holy Crown, without which Hungarian kings cannot rule legitimately.
  • Letter from István Brodarics of Syrmia to King Ferdinand (1527)
    • This year on the 29th of August, was the 494th year anniversary of the Battle of Mohács (1526). This is Hungary’s most memorable battle, as after this, the country was divided between two, later even three and four possible leaders. Afterwards, there were hundreds of years filled with chaos and war. István Brodarics remembers back to this battle and to other details from the period after.

The projection of Mohács, photo by National Archives of Hungary

  • The Treaty of Vienna (1606)
    • Bocskai, from Transylvania, revolted against Rudolf III with the aim of freeing and unifying Hungary again from Ottoman and Habsburg rule. This treaty was signed after the revolution and this is ‘the first document to proclaim denominational equality.’
  • Pragmatica Sanctio (1723)
    • In 1723 it was evident that King Charles III would not have a son as an heir; therefore, he issued this document which allowed his daughter Maria Theresa to inherit the throne. Hungary accepted this document, as well as inseparability and indivisibility of the two countries.
  • Charter of Privileges of The Grand Principality of Transylvania (1765)
    • This document acknowledges the independent state of Transylvania and gives it the rank of Principality within the Habsburg Empire. Recognizing the territory’s autonomy was important for Hungarians, as in a way they considered this to be an acceptance of Hungarian sovereignty. The Habsburgs needed to make compromises in order to be able to fully concentrate on their international wars, and not to spend time on inner conflicts.
  • The April Laws (1848)
    • During the Spring of Nations, Hungary tried to fight for its separation from the Habsburg Empire and got these laws accepted before the revolution. It is a success of Hungary’s 19th-century efforts to transform a feudal country into a more civilized modern state. After the fail of the revolution, these laws were abolished.
  • Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867
    • After the Revolution of 1848 and years of hard oppression and neo-absolutism, the compromise brought serious developments to Hungary. Not only socially, but economically, and culturally as well – most of Hungary’s iconic sites can be traced back to its Golden Age, following the Compromise.

The document of the Compromise, photo by National Archives of Hungary

  • Act 33 of 1921 on the Enactment of the Peace Treaty of Trianon (June 4, 1920)
    • Trianon is probably the most tragic event in Hungarian history. After the loss of WWI, Hungary was forced to sign this treaty, which resulted in losing 2/3 of its territory, the complete destruction of its infrastructure, and its army. Trianon is remembered every year and it is the country’s darkest event for many people.
  • Convention of Compensation Between Hungary and the Soviet Union (1945)
    • After WWII, Hungary had to pay compensation to the USSR. This document defines the amount (200 million USD) which they were never able to pay.
  • Convention on the Legal Status of the Soviet Troops in Hungary (1957)
    • During the revolution of 1956, one of the twelve points of Hungary’s was to send Soviet troops away from Hungarian soil. After the revolution failed, the troops remained. This document is the first legal paper dealing with the issue and limiting the number of Soviet forces in the country.
  • Minutes of the First Meeting of the Government of József Antall (1990)
    • After the regime change, the first meeting of the newly elected democratic government marked a new era, a period of democratic Hungary.

The Regime change’s projection, photo by National Archives of Hungary

At the end of the whole exhibition, there is a floating hologram of the Szent Korona (Holy Crown) which can be rotated and examined freely by visitors.

The exhibition is interactive and engaging. The videos use a variety of visual resources, but the texts contain more factual information and a clearer evaluation of the documents’ background and importance. On the walls, the most important dates and keywords are shown in chronological order, with music to match the sentiments (e.g.: war– fire effect and disturbing classical music) which is really captivating and adds extra value.

One of the visitors said:

“It’s was an incredible experience to see the documents that have defined our history’s significant moments. Today, with the possibility of accessing and producing endless information, we tend not to think about the past importance of these seals and papers. We understand the events and their impact, but we do not connect it to a written document, and this exhibition highlights this connection phenomenally.”

Excavators are 99% Sure Tomb of Andrew II Found
Excavators are 99% Sure Tomb of Andrew II Found

Hungarian and Romanian archaeologists have identified the royally founded Cistercian church’s layout in Egres (Igriș) Romania, saying they are 99% sure that the two excavated tombs from last summer are the final resting places of Hungarian King Andrew II and his second wife, Jolanta Courtenay, said Balázs Major, the executive of the excavation, to MTI. […]Continue reading

All the information is displayed in both Hungarian and English for visitors. The National Archives of Hungary’s total document collection reaches a length of 300 km. Thus, historians and curators had a challenging job choosing only 14 documents to tell the story of Hungary and make its citizens proud after visiting the exhibition, pointed out Csaba Szabó, Principal of the National Archives of Hungary. He also added that the exhibition is planned to be part of the Hungarian Pavilion Dubai World Expo, which was postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic. Pál Fodor, Principal of the Research Institute of Liberal Arts has said that the exhibition further provides us with the chance to understand Saint Stephen’s legacy on a deeper level, and strengthens the belief of never giving up on either constitution or sovereignty, inside and outside the country’s borders.

Featured photo by National Archives of Hungary