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According to research, the present is the calmest period in its history. Never have so many people had access to health care, never have life expectancy been so long, never have been so few wars.
Watching the history of Esztergom there might be some truth in this. One of Hungary’s prettiest located border cities exchanged owners more times than your average Hungarian used car and changing ownership of a used car comes with slightly less blood sacrifice.
Esztergom, the big survivor carries within itself the footprints of blood-shed eras and happy, peaceful times. These shaped and formed it to this bubbly, cultural and artistic centre, popular tourist pilgrimage spot which is loved by many, and is sought out by people from home and abroad.
The eventful past of Esztergom
At the foot of the Pilis mountains, laying on the right shore of Danube, Esztergom, which can be approached from Budapest by an hour long train ride, can thank its location that even in pre-historic times people lived here.
The Romans established a holiday village disguised as a soldier camp here, and in 972 Prince Géza chose it as his headquarters – in a non-judgemental way.
This is where they christened, then crowned Hungary’s first king, Stephen the First. This is also the area where Hungary’s first cathedral was built. In the 13th century, the Tatars – with the exception of the citadel – destroyed the city. It became a truly important cultural centre in the 15th century, greatly contributed by the rich court of Esztergom’s Archbishop János Vitéz.
In the 16th century the Turkish appeared with ownership needs, which they enforced in a less diplomatic, more blood-shedding way. During the 15 years of war we managed to take the city back from the Ottoman troops, but only to get it back under Turkish rule in 1605.
Then in 1683, after a pretty controversial land protecting campaign (today we remember it as the battle of Párkány), Esztergom finally ended up in Hungarian hands.
During the Rákóczi War of Independence, the Kurucians and the Labanians (Austrians) passed the key to the city around, during the 1848-49 War of Independence, Hungarian armies had a significant victory here over Austrians.
In 1895, they handed over the Mária Valéria Bridge connecting Esztergom with Párkány, which was blown up in 1927 by Czech troops.
Following its rebuilt in 1927, it was destroyed by retreating Germans at Christmas, 1944.
While waiting for the international situations to calm down to warrant a somewhat longer operating life, they rebuilt the structure in 2001, and it hasn’t been blown up since.
All for the eye
As you can see from above, there are plenty less historical places than Esztergom, but in exchange the person can watch in awe the attractions provided by the city, which surely would be much less colourful if it shared the history of a retirement home.
A real mouth-wide-open, wow-ing experience even without the all kind of historical context, the obvious symbol of the city, the largest Hungarian religious structure, one of Europe’s largest Basilicas, the Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and St Adalbert, commonly known as Esztergom Basilica.
The church that was once in its place was built by Stephen I, but there is no amount of higher mercy that could have protected the city from the many disasters.
The construction of today’s church began in 1822, but the spirit of the location made its presence here as well, and after many vicissitudes, it only finished completely in 1869. Nevertheless, it was already ordained in 1856. The church is big. Not just a little, a lot.
Its 5660 square meter covering dome is exactly a 100 meter from the crypt, making it the tallest building in the country.
The walls holding the dome are 17 (!) m in width. I had a primary school classmate who couldn’t even throw the medicine ball that far. 🙂
In this Basilica is the world’s largest and one and only canvas-painted altar painting, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the work of Michelangelo Grigoletti, Venice artist.
The interior is made even more spectacular by many wonderful columns, stuccos, statues and paintings. Mentioning spectacular: the one of a kind view from the round balcony of the dome can’t even be described by other words.
But, just like any other treasure, it is not given for free: in lack of an elevator, we can take in the not-everyday view after battling over 400 steps, but it would easily worth twice as much.
Not many estates had the same desire for enthusiasm as the Esztergom Castle.
The country’s first palace was built by Prince Géza during the 10th century, which burnt in 1188. It was rebuilt and extended by Béla III. during the 12th century.
It was in its prime in the 15th century. Its history from the 16th century is filled with it being conquered then taken back, sometimes by troops led by the Turkish, sometimes the Habsburgs.
All this of course, thanks to the precision military equipment at the time, didn’t disappear without proof. The last battle event happened during the Rákóczi war of Independence at the castle, following this, its remains gradually disappeared.
The archaeological excavations that began in the early 20th century was the base of its rebirth, which was completed in 2015. Today the magnificently restored building can be freely visited.
You can view the renovated Kinght hall, the castle bath, and the kitchen, and of course the castle prison. From the White tower lookout we can see the area and understand what the monarchs who lived here looked over so proudly.
Uzicseli Hadzsi Ibrahim Mosques
The Turkish didn’t only leave permanent imprints on the castle, there are mementos left from their culture from the time they stayed here. One of these is the over 400 years old Uzicseli Hadzsi Ibrahim Mosques, located the farthest from the formal north-west centre of the Ottoman Empire.
The chapel functions today as a museum, serving as the home of temporary exhibitions. The Turkish garden behind the building greatly adds to the original, authentic environment.
Besides the large amount of cultural and historical sights, the area itself is also worth to explore, as here we are at one of the country’s prettiest locations.
Accordingly, we will find hiking trails both in the city and the area, that won’t only take our breath away due to the physical exertion.
The first is the expedition aiming at the nearby Vaskapu mountain, which set its goal at the beloved tourist house on the mountain towering over the city. Our path is surrounded by wine cellars, novel like paths, wide meadows, springs, many times distracting us from the one of a kind panorama expanding with the distance climbed.
The highlight of the tour is the Brilli Gyula Chalet fully renovated in 2014, on its balcony we can enjoy the delicious food from the place’s kitchen with a truly, painting-worthy view.
Mária Valéria bridge and the local sztrapacska
As a gastronomic tour we can take a walk departing from the Danube promenade through the eventful Mária Valéria bridge to the neighbouring Slovakian Párkány.
A famous dish of this town still occupied by many Hungarians is sztrapacska, which origin is still part of lively debates, but whether it is Hungarian or Slovakian, huge crowds visit Párkány for the local sztrapacska.
The worthy ending of this hike to another country is the enjoyment of this tasty dish, and the road back over the Danube together with the beautiful view of Esztergom is the most pleasant way to digest the experience. And let’s not forget: you never know with this bridge, how long it will stand…
Cultural events in Esztergom
Esztergom Historical Festival
Not only buildings and monuments preserve the past of Esztergom, thanks to the locals, the pages of history books comes to live as well.
Such an event is the yearly Esztergomi Történelmi Fesztivál (Esztergom Historical Festival), with its maiden name ESZTÖR.
In addition to bringing important events from the history of the city to life, we can also try many medieval weapons and tools, to the joy of the on-scene ambulance doctors providing medical assistance.
There is also a horse show, falconers, archery, contemporary ceremonies, dancers, flag wavers, hand crafters and God knows how much more other attractions. One thing is for sure: ESZTÖR brings interactive history education to new heights.
St. Stephen’s Day Music Festival
At the end of the summer they organize the area’s largest musical event, the Szent István Napi Zenei Fesztivál (St. Stephen’s Day Music Festival).
The name can be misleading, as it isn’t just one day long, exactly 5 times that awaits visitors at the Esztergom Festival island, during the weekends between the 10th and 20th of August. In addition to the unlimited concerts many cultural programmes await the guests.
Mária Valéria Bridge run
The more sporty travellers can also stay in shape while visiting Esztergom, a great option for this is the Mária Valéria Bridge run.
The distance between Esztergom and Párkány has to be done through the bridge, within 45 minutes if we want to avoid disqualification.
This isn’t easy, especially as the view is pretty effective in interrupting the focus of pace. This run is completed by many people each year, where primarily the participation is the most important, but the places in different categories can fill the joy with different medals and trophies.
Is this all? Not quite. This is only the appetizer, a quick taste on a toothpick, which hopefully send you in for a full meal. Esztergom is an all-diet fine dining place for both the eyes and the soul, which won’t lead to bad digestion. Let’s get to tasting!