Kőszeg, lying in the north-west corner of Hungary – is regarded as one of the most charming small towns in Hungary. A myriad of historical and cultural treasures are to be unveiled. It is worth discovering the sights in the town of ‘honesty tills’.
It is a place where the bells toll also at 11 o’clock, treasuring the memories of the heroes of 1532, captain Miklós Jurisics and the defenders of the town.
Kőszeg possesses the distinguished fifth place in the ranking list of towns with the most listed buildings in our country. The several historical monuments in the downtown – while walking around in the smart zigzag streets – reveal the atmosphere of past ages.
The Jurisics or Esterházy Castle (1) with four turrets, built in the 13th century, was the most important part of the defense system of the medieval town. The castle got its current appearance after the great fire of 1777. The Museum of Local History in the inner castle offers a great collection of historical relics of the town, weapons from the time of the great siege and the unique ‘Book of Vine-shoots’ from 1740 as well as mementos of cultural groups founded in the 19th century. The enclosed courtyard of the inner castle houses the well-known open-air castle theatre every summer. Just turning right at the entrance of the gate of the inner castle we can find – following the charming odours of nature – the Nature Shop (2), the small garden which offers a great collection of typical medicinal herbs and spices of this area.
The biggest turret of the outer castle is called Zwinger or Old Tower (3), in which we can take a closer look at two permanent exhibitions, the history of local press development and that of viniculture.
In the middle of Jurisics Square (4) – once the centre of local markets and public events – stands the statue of Blessed Virgin Mary, erected in 1739, the costs of which were covered by the punishment imposed on Lutheran civilians who decried Mary. At the place of this statute had stood the pillory, a widely used humiliation device of the Middle Ages.
It is an excellent place to rest a little, sit down on a bench and breathe in the atmosphere of the downtown, to take delight in the surrounding historical buildings. The Town Hall (5) – bearing marks of almost all architectural styles – is probably the only building in the country that has been functioning as an administrational institution since its early construction in the 15th century. On its façade we can detect the coat-of-arms of the Jurisics Family, Kőszeg, and that of historical Hungary.
Under No. 7 we can find the Sgrafitto House (6), which has got its name after the special Italian-style ornamental decoration made by using the sgrafitto technique (sgraffire: scrape) from the 16th century. The Pharmacy to the Golden Unicorn (7) was opened by Matthias Svalla in 1777, who placed this magnificent furniture and equipment that he bought from the Jesuits. In the attic of the pharmacy museum, we can discover the atmosphere of an original drug-drying room.
Another two imposing buildings of Jurisics Square are St. Emeric Church (8), bearing marks of several architectural styles and St. James Church (9). It is a peculiarity that the two churches stand just a few metres away from each other. It was the result of a 17th-century religion fight between the German and Hungarian inhabitants of the town. On the western façade of St. James Church, we can discover the symbols of the Jesuits, Piarists and the Benedictine. Entering the church we should not miss the old frescos (St. Christopher, Robed Mary and the three Kings scene) as old as the church, built in the 14th century. The red marble tombstone next to St. Benedictine’s altar shows the place where the two children of captain Miklós Jurisics were buried.
St. Emeric’s Church with Gothic and late Renaissance elements was built in the 17th century. Above the main entrance we can find the statue of St. Emeric erected in 1722 as well as the impressive pulpit built in copf style.
The grand building opposite the churches houses the Post Museum (10). After taking a look at the smart exhibition we might enter the adjacent building in order to quench our thirst in the newly opened Borarium (Wine-house), where we can taste the traditional local wines and get information on the viniculture of the Kőszeg-Mountains.
The Heroes’ Tower (11), built for the 400th anniversary of the Turkish siege – standing at the place of the former Lower Gate-tower demolished in 1880 – was one of the crucial points of defense. By now one of the well-known symbols of the town, the tower can be reached through the General’s House which now gives home to a permanent exhibition displaying the relics of the town guilds and craftsmanship. The balcony of the Heroes’ Tower provides you with an outstanding panorama of the whole downtown, especially Jurisics Square, and the slopes of the surrounding mountains with vineyards and the Calvary Church.
Leaving Jurisics Square under the Heroes’ Tower we reach Main Square (12) – once a wood market – which gained its present shape after its renovation in 2006. Main Square is lined with houses showing clear marks of Baroque and Classicist styles. The Golden Ostrich Hotel has always been an inn since the 1590s. The Baroque statue of the Holy Trinity in the centre of the square was erected in 1713 as penitence for the pest epidemics.
Jesus’ Heart Church (13) – the highest building in Kőszeg ever – was built between 1892 and 1894 in neo-Gothic style. At midday, we can still hear a section of Händel’s opera, Sala, from the 57-meter-high bell tower. The interior of the church is decorated with a multicolour ceiling, wall and pillar painting technique and the coloured stained glass windows are really captivating especially in the afternoon.
It is high time we stopped our walking tour for a late lunch and get in one of the cosy restaurants offering local specialities. If you get thirsty and are interested in further relics of local viniculture, it is worth visiting the House of Kőszeg Wines (14), in which the permanent exhibition presents the history of local viniculture, and displays typical devices having used in the wine industry, and we should not forget about a fine wine-tasting there, afterwards.
’BORDERLESS NATURE – THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD CULTURE’
Nature Park Írottkő, the first one of this kind in Hungary, was established in 1997 in order to preserve and show the natural and cultural values of the Kőszeg-Mountains and the surrounding areas with 16 settlements including Kőszeg as the centre. Study paths, including the ones in Chernel Botanical Garden, in Királyvölgy (King’s valley) and in many other spots of the mountains help us to get familiarised with the natural and historical values of this nature conservation area.
Some of the most renowned hiking destinations in the mountains are Hétforrás (Seven Springs), Óház-kilátó (Old-house lookout tower), Stájer-házak (Styrian Houses), Írottkő (highest peak of Transdanubia) and St. Vid, a place inhabited for thousands of years.
In the newly built Bechtold István Nature Conservation Centre we can learn about the typical flora and fauna of the Kőszeg-Mountains and with the help of interactive exhibitions and tools both children and adults can meet nature in an entertaining way.
The town of Kőszeg and Nature Park Írottkő await its guests with versatile programmes offered throughout the year. During the events history, culture, sports and local products stand in the spotlight. The expressive titles: the ‘Book of Vine-shoots’, ‘Open-air castle theatre’, ‘Half Moon and Full Moon’ – Siege Days of Kőszeg, ‘Historical running race’, ‘Harvest Festival of Kőszeg’, ‘Tastes of Nature Park Írottkő’ – Gastronomical Festival and ‘Ursula Day Fair’, ‘New Wine Ceremony’, ‘Wine Ball of Kőszeg’ and ‘Advent in Kőszeg’ all tempt us to be part of a variety of experiences, cultural and culinary delicacies.
Nature Park Írottkő and Kőszeg, also called ’Pearl of Pannonia’ await you with a millennial culture and well-preserved hospitality.
These are only some impressive bits of the numerous sights – historical or natural – of the town of Kőszeg and the surrounding Kőszeg-Mountains. If you come to Kőszeg once, you cannot but return again and again, as it captivates your soul as soon as you take the first glance and step here.