Thursday Top Ten: Early Modern Buildings And Architectural Sights In Hungary
Tamás Székely 2016.11.24.
In Hungary Today’s weekly series “Thursday Top Ten” our readers can learn about the most interesting things one can find about Hungary in connection with a concrete topic. Following last week’s rather extraordinary article about “famous fake Hungarians”, this week we continue our series about the amazingly rich architectural heritage of the Carpathian basin from the ancient times to today. Our third target is the early modern architectural sights of Hungary, namely those historic churches, castles and palaces that were built in the country between the era of renaissance and classicism (15th-18th century.)
1. Renaissance palaces of Buda
Although the first royal residence on the Buda Castle hill was built as far back as the 13th century, the castle enjoyed its golden age in the 16th century during the rule of King Mathias (1469-1490). After his marriage with Beatrice of Naples in 1476, Italian humanists, artists, and craftsmen arrived at Buda to turn the Hungarian capital the first center of Renaissance north of the Alps. The King rebuilt the palace in an early Renaissance style, decorating two rooms with golden ceilings: the famous Bibliotheca Corviniana and a passage with the frescoes of the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The king also started the construction of a second Renaissance palace named after him, however, only fragments remained of both palaces. (picture: Woodcut of Buda from Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle – 1493)
2. Castle of Visegrád
While Buda was the royal seat, the Castle of Visegrád, known for the congress of kings in 1335, still played an important role as country residence in the 16th century. The historic Upper and Lower castle was completely refurbished and expanded with a Royal Palace in late Gothic and Renaissance style under King Matthias. The Italian Renaissance architectural style was used primarily for decoration, the first time it appeared outside Italy. At present, the castle houses museum exhibitions that present the reconstructed Gothic fountains, the Renaissance sculptures as well as the history of the castle.
5. Gül Baba’s Turbeh
The turbeh of Gül Baba in Budapest, one of the westernmost holy shrines of Muslims, is named after a dedicated Turkish dervish, who introduced rose gardens in Hungary in the 16th century. Gül Baba was a poet and soldier, who took part in several campaigns with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent before he died in 1541. The tomb, built by Mehmed Paşa, beylerbeyi of Buda, between 1543 and 1548, has a shallow dome covered with lead plates and wooden tiles. It was left undamaged when the Christian armies led by the Habsburgs recaptured the area during the siege of Buda in 1686, but was converted into a Roman Catholic chapel by the Jesuits, who renamed it “St Joseph’s Chapel”. The site, owned today by the Republic of Turkey, was re-discovered in the 1960s and is currently undergoing large-scalre refurbishment funded jointly by Turkey and Hungary.
4. The fire tower of Sopron
Sopron’s 60m-high tower, from which trumpeters would warn of fire, mark the hour and watch for salespeople trying to smuggle in non-Sopron wine, is a true architectural hybrid. The 2m-thick square base, built on a Roman gate, dates from the 12th century, the cylindrical middle and arcaded balcony from the 16th century, while the baroque spire was added in 1681. A narrow spiral staircase of 116 steps leads to the summit, where you get an all-encompassing view of the hills and the Inner Town. Sopron’s Firewatch Tower is the symbol of allegiance as a result of a referendum held on 14 December 1921, when citizens of Sopron and eight neighbouring villages expressed their wish to remain part of Hungary instead of Austria.
5. Castle of Sárospatak
The Castle of Sárospatak is one of the greatest landmarks of the Hungarian Renaissance. The oldest part of the castle, the five-storey Red Tower, dates from the late 15th century, while the Renaissance-style Palace Wing, connected to the Red Tower by a 17th-century loggia called the Lórántffy Gallery, was built in the 16th century and later enlarged by its most famous owners, the Rakóczi family of Transylvania. Today it contains the Rákóczi Exhibition devoted to the 1703–11 uprising and the castle’s later occupants. The Castle’s great hall, decorated with sculpted figures, and the fireplace room are magnificently preserved as well as the bedrooms overflow with furniture, tapestries, porcelain and glass. In the corner tower, another room boasts a fine keystone with rose design, under which Hungarian conspirators in the struggle for national independence met in secret in 1670.
6. Mosque of Pécs
Standing at the highest point of Pécs’s main square, the Mosque of Pasha Qasim is the greatest example of Turkish architecture in Hungary. The symbol of Southwest Hungary’s biggest city was probably built in the second half of the 16th century. Although number of changes had been made on the building between the 18th and the 20th centuries, the main square part remained of the original structure with the octagon drum covered by a dome. Inside the church, in the remaining plaster parts the Turkish decoration and inscriptions of the Qur’an are still clearly visible. The mosque was converted into a Catholic church in 1702 after the Habsburg-Hungarian troops recaptured Pécs from the Ottomans. The building is called Downtown Candlemas Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary today.
7. Minaret of Eger
The Minaret of Eger is the northernmost historical building of the Turkish era in Europe. It was built shortly after the Turks victory in 1596 and it used to belong to the Djami of Kethuda. The 40-metre-high minaret was made of red sandstone, and it has a fourteen-sided ground plan. After Eger was recaptured in 1687 by imperial forces, the people of the town tried to demolish the tower with 400 oxen, however, it seemed tough enough to resist this euphoric reveal of sudden freedom. Reaching the narrow balcony of it requires climbing up 97 small but high steps, however, it is well worth the effort as there is a unique panorama of the town from up there.
8. Bishop’s palace of Szombathely
The most beautiful Baroque palace of Szombathely was built according to the plans of Melchior Hefele at the end of the 18th century. Situated on the ground floor of the Episcopal Palace, the Sala Terrana is open to visitors. In the first museum in Hungary, stones from the medieval castle and inscribed rocks from Roman times are on display that were once also admired by King Matthias. The walls of the room are ornamented with frescos by Dorffmaister depicting the antique memories of Savaria. The first Bishop of the Szombathely Episcopacy, János Szily, choose St Martin and St Quirinus to be the town’s patron saints. The depictions of both saints are on display in the rooms of the Bishop’s Palace. The Cathedral next to the palace boasts St Martin’s relic given to Szombathely by the Archbishop of Tours in 1913.
9. Esterházy palace of Fertőd
The palace of the historic Esterházy family in Fertőd is Hungary’s grandest Rococo edifice. The magnificent palace, also known as ‘the Hungarian Versailles’, was built by Miklós Esterházy the ‘Glorious’ between 1763 and 1766. The 126 rooms, including the famous Banquet Room and grotto-like Sala Terran, have marvellous interiors and are richly decorated with almost every ornamental element of the Baroque style. The famous Gallery of the castle, with its 348 paintings, provided a basis for the collection of the Hungarian National Gallery. The Esterházy family’s large library holds almost 22,000 volumes and is graced with the letter ‘E’, standing for the family surname. The arch-shaped castle complex surrounds a magnificentl courtyard built in the Baroque–Rococo style. From 1766 to 1790, the estate was the home of the celebrated composer Joseph Hayd, who composed a large number of his masterpieces here.
10. Grassalkovich palace of Gödöllő
The Royal Palace of Gödöllő, located 20 kilmoteres east of Budapest, is famous for being a favourite place of King Fracis Joseph, Queen Elisabeth (Sissi) and later Regent Miklós Horthy. One of the largest monuments of Hungarian palace architecture, the building was owned originally by the one-time Grassalkovich family but after the family died out in the middle of the 19th century it was bought for the crown. The palace’s builder, Count Antal Grassalkovich I (1694–1771) was a typical figure of 18th century Hungarian aristocracy and one of the confidants of Empress Maria Theresa. The construction of the palace began around 1733, under the direction of András Mayerhoffer (1690–1771) a famous builder from Salzburg who worked in Baroque and Zopf style. After the Second World War the abuses gradually led to the deterioration of the building for almost half century, however, in recent years the palace of Gödöllő has regained its late splendour as a result of a complete refurbishment.