Szekesfehervar Tourist Attractions
Hardly any other town is so closely linked with the beginnings of the Hungarian monarchy as Székesfehérvár. It can claim to be the oldest seat of the monarchy and also possesses (still present as ruins) the former sepulchral and coronation church of the Hungarian kings.
This town, situated between the foothills of the Bakony Forest and the Velencei Mountains, has a well preserved inner town, which is almost provincial Baroque in appearance with numerous places of interest. Székesfehérvár is the regional capital and important industrial center (aluminum, electronics, automobile manufacture).HistoryThe Magyars are said to have already settled in the region around Székesfehérvár at the time of the conquest. Prince Géza, the father of King Stephan I, erected a castle in 972 on a hill surrounded by marshes, where he was interred in 997. The town, which, under Stephan I, rose to be the second most important town after Esztergom, was first recorded as "Alba regia" (Latin: "white chair") in 1002. Around 1000 Stephan I commissioned the building of a Romanesque church in which Hungarian kings were crowned and interred until the 16th C. The town was spared the ravages of the Mongol attacks in the 13th C but not its capture by the Turks in 1543, who remained in Székesfehérvár almost 150 years (until 1688). At a time in which the Habsburgs and Ottomans were dividing up the empire between them and the seat of parliament had been moved to Bratislava the old royal town was compelled to forfeit its importance. Following its elevation to the seat of a bishop in 1777 it had expanded into a Baroque town by the end of the century with 12,000 inhabitants. In the 19th C the citizens drained the marshes and dismantled the town walls in order to extend the town outwards. Not until after the Second World War did the regional capital of Féjer develop into an important industrial center.
Around Városház tér stand the Bishop's Palace, the Town Hall, and the Hiemer House, all of which were built between the late 17th and 18th C.
Hidden behind the bishop's palace, is the archaeological site of the Romanesque royal basilica with its foundations which have been exposed in several excavations since 1936. The church, a triple-naved basilica with semi-circular apse in the east was founded by King Stephan prior to the year 1000 and rebuilt several times until the 15th C with the addition of a sepulchral chapel. It was of outstanding importance in the Middle Ages as the coronation church and place of interment of the Hungarian kings (altogether 11 kings are interred here). The Turks plundered the kings' tombs, used the basilica as a mosque and later as a munitions store. The ruins of the church which was badly damaged by an explosion in 1601 had to give way to the new bishop's palace in 1789. Triggered by the sensational discovery of the two intact sarcophagi of King Béla III and his wife Anna of Châtillon, which were transferred to the cathedral crypt (the relics rest in St Matthew's church in Budapest, the burial objects are preserved in the National Museum) work began in the middle of the 19th C on the systematic excavation of the area. Relics from the Romanesque church, especially building sculpture, tombstones, as well as a part of the red marble sarcophagus of King Louis I, are on show in the round arched hall in the east of the exhibition site (1936/38). Also to be found here is the notable marble sarcophagus, which was long thought to contain the remains of St Stephan or his father Géza. Recent research suggests that it is the coffin of Prince Imre, son of Stephan I, who died prematurely. This Roman coffin, with ornamental figures and reliefs was carved in the first half of the 11th C by a Venetian stonemason. At one end is an angel figure holding a babe-in-arms which symbolizes the soul of the deceased.
Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul
The best place to begin the tour through the southern part of the Old Town is at the Városház tér. From here the Arany János utca turns off south and on the left hand side and at the highest point in the town on the site of the former castle of the Árpáds rises the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul. Great Prince Géza, who instigated the affiliation of the Magyars to the Roman Catholic church, built a small church here (see markings on the pavement), in which he was interred. In 1235 it became a Gothic parish church which in turn gave way to the new cathedral when Székesfehérvár was elevated to a diocesan town (1759-78). The architect Martin Grabner retained the Gothic windows of the earlier church in the west towers of this mighty rather overpowering Late Baroque edifice. The interior frescos depicting scenes from the life of King Stephan (the Saint) and the paintings of the side altars are by Johann Cymbal from Vienna (1768). The choir and the high altar (1775) were the work of the Viennese architect Franz Anton Hillebrand; the altarpiece (King Stephan kneeling before the Mother of God) is by Vinzenz Fischer.
The inconspicuous exterior of the church(entrance through the former house, now a priests' home) bears no indication of the exceptionally impressive interior concealed behind it. The most important art treasure of this Rococo style church built in 1745-48 are the ceiling frescos (1768/69) by the Baroque artist Franz Anton Maulbertsch from Upper Swabia depicting scenes from the life of Mary: in the first bay "The birth of Mary" (with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David in the spandrels), in the second bay "Mary's Ascension" and in the choir the "Immaculate Conception". The paintings in the side altars (death of St Joseph and St Anna) are by the same artist. On the ground floor of the monastery there is a small museum of church art.
The Fo utca forms the main axis of the north Old Town. The Cistercian church and house was built 1745-51 by the Jesuits, later used by the Paulines and finally the Cistercians. Nowadays the house contains a branch of the István Király Museum. Behind the twin tower façade of the church the interior is less impressive but contains a few notable pieces, namely, the ceiling frescos by the Viennese Baroque artist Caspar Franz Sambach (1715-95) and the pulpit by Carlo Bebo from Óbuda. The artistic carpentry (pews, picture frames, etc.) are the work of the Jesuits, whereas the magnificent Rococo decor of the sacristy (entrance János köz) is by Pauline monks.
St Anna's Chapel
Szent Anna kápolna to the left of the cathedral is the only completely intact medieval building in the town. Built in 1478 as a cemetery chapel and used as a mosque during the Turkish period this small church was again Christian in the early 18th C and furnished with a Baroque altar; the roof ridge is a 19th C addition. A window rose crowns the narrow portal; the three narrow-arched windows display High Gothic tracery (foils).
Budenz House (Ybl Museum)
József Budenz (1836-92), who developed comparative Finno-Ugrian linguistics, was born in the charming Rococo building (1781). Nowadays it accommodates the Ybl Museum which has the art collection of Ervin Ybl and documents and personal items belonging to the architect Miklós Ybl. Ybl is the most significant representative of historical architecture in Hungary.
The inconspicuous two-story building with the inscription "Fekete Sas" over the entrance is the "Black Eagle" pharmacy. It houses the superbly crafted interior of the former Jesuit pharmacy which was completed in the order's workshop in 1758 and transferred to this building following their dissolution in 1776.
István Király Museum
In the northeast corner of the Old Town, a narrow building houses the extensive collections of the István Király Museum with numerous exhibits on the history and culture of the town and region. The Roman finds are particularly interesting, together with those from the Magyar empire and stonemasonry from the Royal Basilica.
No. 15 Kossuth utca was formerly the Pelican Inn where, in the 19th C, the town's actors used to meet and perform. A few yards on the road opens out (at the point where Táncsics utca joins) to a small square with a striking art nouveau house, almost oriental in appearance, and adjoining domed baths.
The old Serbian quarter lies in the west of the Old Town in the Rác utca. Some houses have been converted to an open-air museum, documenting the art and lifestyle of the Serbs. The Greek Orthodox church is a narrow Baroque building from the first half of the 18th C. It has a fine iconostasis and a 15th C Madonna icon.
Szent István tér
Arany János utca comes to a point at Szent István tér with the regional town hall (1807-12) by Mihály Pollack and Johann Tegl on the long right side. In the middle of the square is the equestrian statue of King Stephan by Ferenc Sidló in 1938.
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