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National Cohesion Day: Székelyudvarhely, Transylvania’s “Most Hungarian Town”

Zsófia Nagy-Vargha 2021.06.04.

Even after the Treaty of Trianon of 1920, in which Hungary lost more than two-thirds of its territory, and with it a large portion of its population, and the number of Hungarians living in the various states has been steadily shrinking, Székelyudvarhely, with a Hungarian population of over 90 percent, has been able to remain a “small Hungary” in the middle of Romania. The small town has been called the “most Hungarian town” in Transylvania, seemingly unaffected by centuries of Romanian rule and the rapid modernization of the 20th century.

The beautiful town is located east of the Transylvanian Basin, in the western foothills of the Harghita Mountains, a mountain range of the Eastern Carpathians. The town is crossed by the Nagy-Küküllő River, and nearby are the remarkable peaks of Szarkakő and the legendary Budvár.

The first documented reference to the town, found in a papal register of duties, dates back to 1330, but the area is said to have been populated since the Stone Age.

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According to legend, Attila, ruler of the Huns, also settled in Székelyudvarhely before establishing his seat of power on the Tisza River. Local legends also attribute the building of Budvár to the Huns, to the brother of Attila, the great ruler Buda – Bleda. The legend says that even after Attila’s death, who had to leave the Carpathian Basin, the Szeklers did not leave Transylvania.

According to historical reports, the Szeklers living here repeatedly refused to build a fortress, seeing it much more as a threat to their freedom than a means of protection.

Consequently, during the turbulent centuries of Hungarian history, the town was burned and plundered several times by the Ottoman and Tartar armies invading Transylvania. Despite its frequent destruction, the town managed to maintain its central role for a long time- not only as the administrative center of the Udvarhelyszék region, but also as the gathering place of the Szekler National Assemblies.

The tradition of the “Szekler freedom” never disappeared however, even when Transylvania was merged into the Habsburg Empire after the expulsion of the Turks.

In 1762, before the tragic Madéfalva massacre, a feud broke out about the stationing of imperial troops in Szeklerland. These “traditions” were also very much alive in the autumn of 1848- thousands of volunteers from the city joined the newly-organized homeland security forces.

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During the Dual Monarchy, the town was able to further develop, but did not attain the position of an industrial center. Most of the citizens lived off of agriculture. Between 1869 and 1910, the population of the town doubled to just over 10,000. More than 97% of the citizens (9,888 people) declared themselves native Hungarians in the last census of the monarchy.

Although the new state power wanted to “re-Romanize” the Szeklers after World War I, the citizens of Székelyudvarhely were able to elect a Hungarian mayor several times between the two world wars, and in 1935 they made up four-fifths of the local civil service.

Despite several violent attempts by the communist Romanian government during the decades of Socialism, the city, as one of the most important bastions of Transylvanian Hungarians, managed to retain this role.

The preservation of Hungarian identity was also helped by the dance house movement, whose Transylvanian core also arrived in the city in the 1970s.

Photo: Facebook page of Székelyudvarhely

Although the population is declining (34,257 in 2011), the percentage of Hungarians was still almost 92.5% in the last census.

Sights in the city

Although the importance of Székelyudvarhely has steadily decreased, it remains the cultural center of Szeklerland. The town has preserved its 19th century image with its charming townscape, renowned schools, and vibrant cultural life.

Photo: Facebook page of Székelyudvarhely

It is often called the “city of schools and bookstores.”

Every fourth inhabitant of the city is a student. There are 15 kindergartens, seven elementary schools, ten secondary schools, four vocational schools, three colleges, and four correspondence schools. The first grammar school was founded in 1593 and the reformed college in 1670. The House of Culture, the Tomcsa Sándor Folk Theater, the Municipal and Scientific Libraries, the Museum and Gallery, and musical events are nationally and internationally known for their public cultural achievements.

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Thanks to the establishment of numerous schools in the history of the city, it became a cultural center of great importance for both major denominations (Roman Catholic, Calvinist). Thanks to these institutions, which are still operating today, Székelyudvarhely boasts famous personalities such as the writer and folklore researcher, Balázs Orbán, world-famous painter, Miklós Barabás, as well as the writers/poets, Elek Benedek, Áron Tamási, and Sándor Kányádi.

Photo: Facebook page of Székelyudvarhely

The city consists of patinated historical buildings, romantic and picturesque streets, colored with cobblestone streets, flower markets, and charming stairs leading up to the main high school. There is also a breathtaking panorama of the city. The recently-restored Old Castle is also worth visiting. They all have a “real Western European flair.” The promenade on the bank of the Küküllő, the imposing Tomcsa Sándor Theater, the Sculpture Park with its statues of the nation’s greats, the pretty mansions of the Sombatfalvi district, and the modern but tasteful buildings of the Malom street district also strengthen the city’s magical image.

It is important to mention that the city celebrates a number of Hungarian festivals and programs throughout the year and celebrates every national holiday with dignity.

Every year a “gallop” takes place in the city. The “Széki Vágta” is a horse riding convention and a skill competition at the same time.

Photo: Nándor Veres/MTI

Székelyudvarhely also celebrates “National Cohesion Day” every year, just like the motherland, Hungary. On this day we not only “mourn” the lost territories, but also celebrate the fact that Hungarians living in the Carpathian Basin are still connected by a strong bond after 101 years.

Children with Hungarian flags in their hands commemorating the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848/49. Photo: Facebook page of Székelyudvarhely

Photo: Facebook page of Székelyudvarhely

Photo: Facebook page of Székelyudvarhely

The city in 1903. Photo: Fortepan/Hungarian Geographical Museum

Town hall 1941, photo: Fortepan/Zoltán Aszódi

Tomb of Balázs Orbán, photo: Fortepan/Zoltán Aszódi

Main square, 1963, photo: Fortepan/Tamás Németh

Featured photo via the Facebook page of Székelyudvarhely