Eastern-Hungary can’t fall behind the rest of the country, when you’re craving relaxation, education, or just doing sweet nothing. Debrecen is a large survival city attracting visitors with its diversity, and its rich cultural heritage and active presence give it its distinctive bouquet. This is a taste of Hungary that would be a shame to miss.
Hungarian folk healing
Lift your hands if you’ve had a stye on your eye before! It’s really uncomfortable, isn’t it? Not even mentioning the treatment. For example, I got fairly annoyed, before the operation, when the doctor ordered me not to blink while 300,000 lumens lit in my eye directly to avoid getting the local anesthetic in my eye instead of my eyelid.
Of course, it was funny that the people stared at my eye wrapped in several meters of bandage, but if I had wanted this kind of attention, I would have just taken my pants off. Even that would have been a less uncomfortable procedure. And if I had known I could get rid of it without actually torturing myself, then I wouldn’t have turned to a doctor for help.
And there is a procedure like that. You don’t need anything else other than a stye and a shadoof. Yes, that unique, wooden, water-fetching mechanism.
All we have to do is grab a piece of barley (stye and barley are the same word in Hungary, so in this case an actual piece of barley) in your hand and go around the well three times saying: “Stye! Stye! I’ll reap you! I’ll throw you at the bottom of the well!”
After the third round, throw the piece of barley into the well and spit in after it three times. Isn’t it much better than being butchered at the operating table? Thought so! That’s all about the Hungarian folk healing.
So where can we find a shadoof (gémeskút in hungarian)? Well, this symbol of the Hungarian fields can most commonly be found in Hungarian fields, and these fields can be found in Debrecen in large numbers.
History of Debrecen
It’s not only worth visiting the country’s second-largest city based on this field in the health tourism.
The largest city in Tiszántúl (beyon Tisza) has been an attractive destination for a long time now, as it’s been inhabited since ancient times by different ethnic groups – for example, groups of the descendants of the Vandals still live in the city, typically wearing DVSC soccer jerseys. (DVSC is the soccer team of Debrecen.) 😀
In 1218, King Andrew II gave it town rights, and in 1361, it became a market town. Due to it being an important trading hub, as well as due to the openness of its citizens, it had the potential to culturally develop, and become a more important location in the region.
As a result of this, in 1693, it became a free royal city. In 1894, this is where Lajos Kossuth announced the dethronement of the Habsburg house.
After the First World War, Debrecen, which suddenly became a city near the country’s border, got through the economic crisis with the help of science and tourism.
The Second World War didn’t pass through without destruction here either, 70% of the buildings were either completely destroyed or seriously damaged.
In the decades following the war, it became an important commercial and cultural center of the country.
Things to see in Debrecen
Reformed Collegue of Debrecen
The culture of open literacy is topmost on the history of Debrecen. This is how the city, for example, became the “Calvinist Rome”.
In the 16th century, the Reformed doctrines imported to the city found such a welcoming crowd that the Catholic congregation disappeared from the city for a long time.
The main source of the waves of new ideas became the Reformed College of Debrecen (Debreceni Református Kollégium) built in 1538. This is Hungary’s oldest continuously operating educational institution. The predecessor of its iconic building perished in a fire in 1564. The construction of the present building began in 1803 and was completed in 1816.
In addition to education, the Classicist building also runs a museum, where periodic and permanent exhibitions introduce us to the city’s history on religion, education, literature, and we can also take a look at the oldest piece at the museum, the kabai meteorite.
By the way, they say that in 2057, two hundred years after its impact, it will turn the city to ash so the sooner the better to visit this celestial phenomenon.
Reformed Great Church
Right beside the Reformed College is the obvious symbol of the city, the Reformed Great Church. This reformed church with the largest area in Hungary was built between 1805 and 1824, in a Classicist style.
Even in the Middle Ages, there was a church here, but it got burnt down. This is where Lajos Kossuth read the Declaration of Independence in 1849, in which he announced the dethroning of the Habsburgs. Kossuth’s chair can be found at the church to this day.
With the help of the modern elevator designed during the renovation we can go up to the eastern tower, from where we can view the inner structure of the roof. From here we can walk to the western tower to get to the lookout room, from where an unmatched panorama can be seen.
An exhibition based on the church’s history awaits visitors at the church.
This is not the only place where we can travel back in time. At one of Hungary’s most important museums, the Déri Museum, visitors can relive numerous exciting events in universal and Hungarian history.
Interactive archeological exhibition, authentic samurai house, gallery, an arms history exhibition and besides many other permanent programs, various periodic exhibitions try to entertain those fascinated by the past.
The most popular section of the museum though is without doubt the Munkácsy-trilogy exhibition hall.
The three monumental paintings showcase the suffering of Christ. The unique thing about this exhibition is that even Mihály Munkácsy has never seen his three works together.
The MODEM Centre for Modern and Contemporary Arts is at the closer end of the artistic timeline to us, which chose its goal to showcase masterpieces of domestic and international contemporary art.
In addition, it provides an opportunity to see the visual culture’s current trends. This is where the country’s largest continuous exhibition hall can be found. They also considered the youngest art admirers; they deepen their interest in fine arts through museum pedagogical exercises in a playful way.
Words yelled in nature – What to do around Debrecen?
There are times that a person feels overwhelmed by the numerous stimuli and would like to relax their senses for a while. This is when it comes in handy, that Debrecen lays near Central-Europe’s largest grassland, the Hortobágy.
Not many hills or mountains will interrupt your gaze here. The huge steppe is the country’s largest and oldest national park, and is a World Heritage Site.
Hortobágy – Nine-arched bridge
It’s worth starting the adventure at the Hortobágy National Park Visitor Center. On the one hand, we can get information about current programs, on the other, there are many sights nearby. Right away, this is where the symbol of the park is, the country’s longest stone bridge, the Nine-arched Bridge.
Inaugurated in 1833, the bridge replaced a much less durable, wooden bridge that was there for centuries. Right beside the bridge is the Hortobágyi Inn, which awaited visitors for over 300 years.
In the guest room, they established an exhibition about the people exploring this land, but besides this, it also keeps its original function: along with traditional shepherd meals, we can try different things made from the ingredients found in the grassland.
At the Shepherd’s Museum opposite of the inn, we can get to know those a bit better, who frequently visited the inn in the past 300 years. We can learn where and how they lived, how the animal herding shepherds spent their everyday lives, all this with realistic figures, authentic composed images, sound samples and presentations. We can also get to know ancient Hungarian herding dogs who help with the shepherds’ work at Hortobágy.
Hortobágy Wildlife Park
Departing from the museum, you can reach the Hortobágy Wild Life Park, where we can get to know the original habitats of the land, who due to human activity gradually got pushed out of their homes, such as wolves, jackals, wild horses or vultures.
We can also meet those who still live here, such as wildcats, white-tailed eagles, common kestrel, deer or ferrets. We also have the opportunity to take a real safari, where we can get closer – literally – to Hortobágy’s animals, by vehicles specifically made for this.
Nagyerdő – Big forest
If we aren’t in the mood to leave Debrecen, but still want to spend a bit of time in nature, Big Forest in Debrecen is a great choice.
The country’s first nature reserve provides a breathtaking view of its unique, protected fauna and flora, and infamous, gigantic 120-150 years old trees. Around 800 plants are recorded in this area. You can stroll through the cozy walkways lined with trees to reach the playgrounds, sport fields, botanic garden or the boating lake.
Check this out! Recommended events and festivals in Debrecen
As you can see, Debrecen doesn’t lack in attractions, however the most spectacular one isn’t a building or an exhibition piece.
Debrecen Flower Carnival
The annual Debrecen Flower Carnival held at the end of every August is a unique event of its own kind, and is the only thing, that is a strong competition against the fireworks on the 20th of August. It has fascinated visitors for over 50 years.
The representative data is the fact that during the time of the carnival, the population of the city doubles. This once one-day long event has now become a weeklong, where visitors can watch theatrical performances, take part in children’s programs, or go to concerts.
The main event is the parade which takes place on the founding day of the state, where over 5m tall, 10m high compositions created by hundreds of thousands of flowers go through the city, accompanied by cheerleaders, traditional groups, as well as domestic and international dancers.
To finish the day a huge show is held at the Nagyerdei Stadium with thousands of dancers and other performers. The carnival week ends with a street party that lasts until dawn.
And if we are talking about Debrecen, it is the home of the largest domestic pop music festival, the Campus Festival.
As per normal on these festivals, domestic and international performers pass each other the microphones, but movie screenings, gastro- and wine villages, and many other programs await those who like to party.