Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Esztergom
Esztergom is one of the oldest towns in Hungary. It lies about 60km (37mi.) northwest of Budapest, on the terraces of the right bank of the Danube at the place where the river breaks through the Hungarian Central Uplands ("Hungarian Wachau"). The old residence of the Hungarian Princes and Kings has, since 1715, been the seat of the Catholic Prince Primate of Hungary and, thanks to its many historical buildings, an important tourist center.
HistoryThe castle hill was inhabited back in Neolithic times. After the Celts, the Romans settled here and maintained the military camp of Solva Mansio. In the 9th C the Magyars occupied the region. Grand Prince Géza chose it as his place of residence and built what was probably the oldest stone castle in Hungary. His son Vajk was born here C. 973 and some 25 years later, in 997, was crowned King Stephen I, the first King of Hungary, in the church founded by Géza and dedicated to St Stephen. Esztergom, together with Székesfehérvár, became the most important palatinate in Hungary, and it was here too that the archbishop had his see. Contrary to the normal custom among western European rulers, it was in Esztergom that King Béla III (reigned 1172-96), who had been brought up in Byzantium, established his seat of government and had the castle made into a magnificent residence. Among the guests he received there was Emperor Frederick I. Barbarossa, who stayed in Esztergom on his way to the Third Crusade in 1189. In 1241 Mongols destroyed the flourishing town, the royal court moved to Buda and the palace became the property of the archbishop. After having been captured by the Turks in 1543 the town became the scene of constant attacks and sieges during the 16th and 17th C; the castle palace was filled with rubble and covered over by a military fort. Many houses in the town were destroyed. Having been won back in 1683, Esztergom became the archbishop's residence in 1715 and also the seat of the Prince Primate of Hungary, where after it blossomed into a spiritual center. In 1856 the newly-erected Cathedral, the largest and most magnificent church in Hungary, was consecrated. After the Second World War a number of large industrial firms established themselves here.SightsThe most important historical buildings in Esztergom are concentrated on the Castle Hill, along the Danube and on Széchenyi tér.
A distinct landmark in the skyline of Esztergom, the imposing Cathedral is a striking sight. The entrance way to the Cathedral is marked by two tall towers and several Corinthian Columns.
Located in the 1882, Palace of the Primate of Hungary is the Christian Museum with a reputation for its works of Hungarian Italian Renaissance artists. The main attraction is the Picture Gallery.
Hungarian Royal Palace
The ruins of the Hungarian Royal Palace date to between the 10th and 12th C. It was destroyed by the Turks but is today open to the public for tours.
An excursion into the Pilis Mountains (Pilis-hegység), which lie between Esztergom and Budapest in the loop formed by the Danube Bend, is recommended. This chain of mountains, an official nature reserve, covers an area of some 23,000ha (90sq.mi.), with the coffin-shaped Pilis teto being its highest point (757m (2485ft). There is little in the way of lakes or other waterways, but there are large numbers of caves with fossils and other signs of life from the geological past. Mountain slopes covered mainly in forests of beech and oak mingle with steep and picturesque chalk cliffs. Because so many wild animals roamed the region and it was close to the royal residences at Esztergom, Visegrad and Buda, it was a favorite hunting-ground with the Hungarian kings, who built a number of hunting lodges (such as that at Pilisszentlászló). Today the beautiful Pilis Mountains, being so near to the town, are a popular spot with day-trippers. Favorite places from which to set out on walks include the villages on the narrow chain of hills between the Pilis Mountains and Visegrad Hills, especially Pilisszentkereszt, where the road leads up Dobogó-ko, which is 700m (2300ft) high and offers a superb view of the Danube Bend. The health resort which is also named Dobogó-ko is popular in both summer and winter (winter sports).
Former Jesuit Church
Close to the Archbishop's Palace stands the pretty Baroque church in which Jesuits worshipped between 1728 and 1738. The towers were not built until the end of the 18th C, the spires being added in the 19th C. The Baroque interior was destroyed in the Second World War. After having been spared the ravages of plague in 1740 the citizens of Esztergom gave thanks by paying for a Lady Column to be erected in the square in front of the church.
Esztergom's former market place, surrounded by a number of 18th and 19th C buildings, is still the very hub of the town's life. The building styles range from Baroque and Late Historicist to colorfully painted more modern houses, all combining to give this wedge-shaped open space its graphic appearance. On the south side of the square stands the arcaded Town Hall (Városháza; 1770) with its particularly fine Rococo façade.
The Esztergom baths have been well known since Roman days. Adjoining the Hotel Fürdo, an imposing early 19th C Classical building, are a thermal bath and outdoor baths, recommended for the treatment of rheumatism and gynecological disorders, etc. They occupy the same site as the country's first public baths, opened by the Knights of St John in the 12th C.
St Anne's Church
St Anne's Church on Hosök tere (Heroes' Square) was built between 1828 and 1835 to plans by János Páckh. The artist had in his mind the great model of the Roman Pantheon. His church served as a model for the new Cathedral of Esztergom. The interior of the main building with dome above is clad in Carrara marble. The Classical church in Balatonfüred and others elsewhere are clearly based on that of St Anne's.
Bálint Balassi Museum
This museum is named after Bálint Balassi, the Hungarian poet who fell while fighting against the Turks near Esztergom in 1594. It houses an interesting collection of archaeological and local historical material illustrating the history of Esztergom, including finds dating from the Middle Ages and the Turkish era.
The island of Alsó-sziget, which is linked to the mainland by three bridges over the Kis-Duna, has in recent years been developed as a recreational park. Landing-stages, sports grounds, an open-air theater and the well-known inn, the Halász-csárda, provide for all kinds of leisure activity.
József Hild, the architect who designed the Cathedral, also drew up the plans for the Diocesan Library (1853), which stands near the river not far from the Archbishop's Palace. The valuable collection of books is in two rooms which are open to visitors.
Built during the 1760s, the so-called "Old Church" (Öreg templom) (City Parish Church) replaces a 13th C Franciscan church. The reredos of the High Altar by the Hungarian painter János Vaszary (1867-1937) is exceptionally fine.
St Thomas' Hill
From St Thomas' Hill (Szent Tamás-hegy), the second highest hill in the town, there is a fine view of Esztergom and the Danube.On the hill stands a chapel dating from 1823, which contains a notable "Way of the Cross" with 18th C statues.
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