Sopianae – Early Christian Heritage
The Roman Catholic Bishopric of Pécs
Janus Pannonius Múzeum
During the 3rd century, a small native settlement evolved into a Roman town called Sopianae. In time, the significance of the town increased due to its location at the intersection of multiple major transportation routes. By the 4th century, Sopianae had become a thriving center of administration, economics, culture, and religion. However, with the emergence of a permanent Gothic threat towards the end of the 4th century, safety in Sopianae deteriorated, and the town’s importance dramatically declined. By the second third of the 5th century, Sopianae was already in ruins.
The excavations in Sopianae have uncovered a large number of graves, tombs, and chapels, along with several apse-closed tomb buildings and mausoleums, indicating the presence of a significant Christian community in the area. This Christian heritage inspired King Szent István (reign: 997-1038) to establish a bishopric in Pécs in 1009, which continues to play a significant role in the life of the city. Pécs had three remarkable bishops, namely Vilmos Koppenbach (c. 1300-1374), Janus Pannonius (1434-1472), and Ignác Szepesy (1780-1838). Vilmos Koppenbach, a diplomat and confidant of King Nagy Lajos, founded the first Hungarian university in Pécs in 1367. Janus Pannonius, besides being a religious leader, was a world-renowned humanist poet and a significant political figure in Hungary. He transformed Pécs into a center of culture and art and the city’s museum and university, until recently, were named after him. Meanwhile, Ignác Szepesy established a lyceum of law and philosophy with specialized libraries, contributing significantly to the intellectual development of the city.
During the Ottoman occupation from 1543 to1686, Pécs became one of the most important cities in Ottoman Hungary. The Ottomans converted the churches into mosques, established Quran schools and a Sufi monastery, and built Turkish baths and tombs. By mid-17th century, the city had a distinct Balkan bazaar atmosphere. The most notable remnant of this period is the Pasha Qasim dzsámi [Mosque of Pasha Qasim] located in the main square of the city.
In the second half of the 19th century, the process of industrialization accelerated significantly, and as a result, brands such as the Zsolnay porcelain, Littke champagne, and Angster organ gained worldwide recognition.
The city of Pécs caters to a wide range of interests, making it a truly fascinating destination. History buffs will appreciate the well-preserved early Christian cemetery, while architecture enthusiasts will marvel at the Ottoman-era monuments and beautiful cathedral. Art lovers will enjoy the city’s museums, which include exhibits dedicated to the expressionist painter Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry, the Op art painter Victor Vasarely, and the renowned Zsolnay porcelain. The porcelain, with its unique iridescent glaze and intricate designs, is an important part of the city’s cultural heritage. For those in search of a peaceful and natural escape from city life, the Mecsek mountain range offers a perfect retreat.
Sopianae – Early Christian Heritage
The excavated artifacts discovered in Sopianae provide a versatile representation of early Christian burial architecture and art in the northern and western provinces of the late Roman Empire. Notably, Sopianae’s Christian cemetery stands out for its exceptional abundance of stone-masonry buildings, including small family crypts, large community tombs, and other funerary structures that were not common in Roman cemeteries at the time. The interior of some tombs features murals depicting biblical scenes and Christian symbols such as the Christ monogram, which was one of the most commonly used symbols of early Christianity.
Two-story stone-masonry tombs were the resting places of wealthy families. The burial chamber (crypt) was located underground and the deceased were usually laid to rest in brick graves or occasionally in sarcophagi. Above this, a memorial chapel (mausoleum) was constructed. These edifices served a dual purpose, functioning as both burial and ceremonial sites. The two-story tombs in Pécs are excellent examples of the convergence of Eastern and Western traditions, with the Balkan custom of underground crypts and the Roman style of ostentatious above-the-ground mausoleums complementing each other. This is one of the peculiarities of the early Christian cemetery in Pécs. Today, for the most part, only the main walls of the upper-level mausoleums are visible, while the underground crypts have survived in much better conditions for posterity.
The excavation area can be visited at three separate locations: the Cella Septichora látogatóközpont [Cella Septichora Visitor Center], Ókeresztény mauzóleum [Early Christian Mausoleum] and Római Sírépítmények [Roman Tombs]. The Sopianae Régészeti Kiállítás [Sopianae Archaeological Exhibition], part of the Janus Pannonius Múzeum [Janus Pannonius Museum], can also provide some context. The Early Christian Necropolis of Sopianae was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. The recognition highlights the significance of the cemetery as an important cultural heritage site and helps to ensure its preservation for future generations.
The Cella Septichora is currently the largest known building of the early Christian cemetery. The central part of the building is octagonal and it is oriented in an east-west direction. It has three apses on both the south and north sides and a single one on the east side. Based on the unplastered walls, the absence of a horizontal floor, and the lack of roof tiles found in the debris, it is suggested that the building was never completed.
The Korsós sírkamra [Burial Chamber with a Jug], which is part of the Cella Septichora látogatóközpont, is a well-preserved example of a two-story stone-masonry tomb found in the cemetery. The crypt features a fresco depicting a wine pitcher. Pitchers and glasses were common pieces of grave furnishings in Late Roman funerals. They are the symbols of the funerary feast.
The walls and vault of the Péter-Pál sírkamra [Peter and Paul Burial Chamber], also located in the Cella Septichora látogatóközpont, are decorated with paintings that serve as outstanding examples of early Christian murals from the 4th century. Unfortunately, the paintings of the antechamber have mostly perished. In the center of the composition on the north wall is a Christ monogram, symbolizing the resurrected Christ, flanked by two male figures, Peter and Paul. Meanwhile, the east and west walls are decorated with various protagonists of the Bible, including the Virgin with the Child and Noah.
The Ókeresztény mauzóleum [Early Christian Mausoleum] is among the largest structures found in the early Christian cemetery. The walls of the burial chamber are decorated with figurative and ornamental motifs. Adam and Eve, as well as the Prophet Daniel in the lion’s den are depicted on the north wall. The mausoleum also contains a carved stone sarcophagus.
The Roman Catholic Bishopric of Pécs
The Dóm Square provides a remarkable example of the stratification of various historical eras. The 1,600-year-old early Christian tombs, concealed beneath the surface, and the medieval and modern church buildings above ground, which were erected on the former Episcopal Palace site, are all testament to Christian spirituality spanning over centuries.
King Szent István (reign: 997-1038) founded the bishopric of Pécs in 1009 by establishing a medieval settlement in the area of the early Christian cemetery. During the reign of his successor, King Péter (reign: 1038-1041), a cathedral and an episcopal palace were constructed. However, a devastating fire in the Easter of 1064 destroyed the cathedral and surrounding bishop’s buildings. In the 12th century, Bishop Mór initiated the construction of the Romanesque-style episcopal palace and the cathedral that still stands today. Following the destruction caused by the Mongol invasion in 1242, a fortification was erected around the cathedral and episcopal palace, which was subsequently reinforced over time. The building complex underwent numerous renovations and reached its final form by the first half of the 16th century. Despite the Ottoman occupation, the state of the episcopal complex remained largely unchanged, except for severe damage caused during two Christian sieges of the city in 1664 and 1686.
The Szent Péter és Pál székesegyház [Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul], currently standing, has undergone several reconstructions throughout the centuries in different styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque, from its original 12th-century predecessor. During the Ottoman occupation, the church served as a Turkish place of worship. In the 19th century, the cathedral underwent a renovation that resulted in its current Neo-Romanesque architectural appearance. The chapels of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Corpus Christi are decorated with seccos by Károly Lotz, while those of the Virgin Mary and Saint Mór are adorned with the seccos by Bertalan Székely. The nearby Dóm Kőtár [Cathedral Lapidarium] houses some of the early carvings from the cathedral. This is one of the most significant collection of sculptures from the medieval and Renaissance periods in Hungary, although, only a few artifacts from this era survived in the country.
The Püspöki palota [Episcopal Palace], which serves as the residence of the bishops of Pécs, was also initially established in the 12th century. Similar to the cathedral, the palace underwent multiple reconstructions throughout the centuries, and it was renovated in the 19th century to acquire its present appearance with Neo-Renaissance architectural characteristics. The Püspöki Kincstár [Episcopal Treasury] offers valuable insight into the religious treasures of the region. The highlight of the collection is the relic holder of King Szent István.
During the Communist regime, the entire episcopal residence and garden were swamped with bugging devices. The bishop at the time, József Cserháti (1914-1994), had a daring personality and used the tunnel that connected the episcopal palace to the cellars as a location for ‘dangerous’ conversations. No one could have imagined that a bishop would spend time in such an unsuitable environment.
The structure wedged between the cathedral and the city wall was originally part of the Gothic episcopal palace. Presently, the building is referred to as the Középkori Egyetem [Medieval University] as it is believed to have been one of the structures that housed the first Hungarian university. Nevertheless, it is uncertain whether it was specifically allocated for educational purposes, as it was not customary during that era to have separate buildings dedicated solely to education.
Vilmos Zsolnay (1828-1900) and his porcelain are among the most significant sources of pride in Pécs. From his father’s modest pottery workshop, Vilmos developed the leading ceramics manufacturing plant in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, with the most extensive product range and workforce. Zsolnay ceramics decorate many public and private edifices and spaces in Pécs, thus contributing to the city’s unique urban landscape. Notable examples include the architectural elements of the Megyeháza [County Hall] and the fountain on Széchenyi Square.
The concept of establishing a permanent exhibition emerged early on for Vilmos. He handpicked the most valuable pieces from a technological or artistic perspective, as well as those that represented significant stages in his experiments. The factory’s museum was first mentioned in a 1979 inventory book. The current Zsolnay Múzeum [Zsolnay Museum] of the city, which is located in Káptalan utca [Collegiate Street], was opened in 1955. It is part of the Janus Pannonius Múzeum [Janus Pannonius Museum] and showcases pieces that remained from the family’s private collection after the expropriation under the Communist regime. The exhibition features the factory’s ornamental pieces in chronological order, arranged according to style trends and designers. The Zsolnay Memorial Room is also part of the exhibition, and is furnished with the family’s furniture and decorations, as well as paintings and photographs of family members.
The Zsolnay Kultúrális Negyed [Zsolnay Cultural Quarter] was established on the grounds of the Zsolnay ceramics factory, featuring unique exhibitions that showcase the Zsolnay heritage. The Zsolnay család- és gyártörténeti kiállítás [Zsolnay Family and Factory History Exhibition] is located in the former residence of the family, offering visitors and overview of the prominent figures and events in the factory’s history, as well as insights into ceramics production and the inventions of Vilmos Zsolnay. Meanwhile, the Manufactory Visitor Center provides visitors with a glimpse into the actual manufacturing process through glass partition walls. The Zsolnay Shop is also available, providing a wide selection of contemporary items to purchase, including tableware, small trinket boxes, vases and more intricate decorative pieces.
The Kezdetben volt a rózsaszín… [In the beginning was the pink…] exhibition showcases consumer goods produced in the early days of the Zsolnay factory. The focus point of the exhibition area is a large ensemble of pink wine jugs and lard pots that offer a visually striking sight. The pink glaze, which was developed in the 1880s, was used to coat large quantities of various objects for many years, and its quality was continually improved. Each pink Zsolnay ceramic was handmade, resulting in each piece having slight differences in shape and color. Over the years, these pink consumer goods became popular items in kitchens, dining rooms, bathrooms, and studies. As the manufactory developed, the initial, completely smooth shapes slowly became increasingly ornate while still retaining their signature pink color.
The Zsolnay Aranykora [The Golden Age of Zsolnay] exhibition features about 700 ornamental pieces from the Zsolnay factory, primarily from the ‘golden age’ period spanning from the 1878 Paris World’s Fair to 1910. Dr. László Gyugyi, a Hungarian engineer residing in the United States, donated this collection to the city of Pécs. Gyugyi spent decades collecting artifacts from various parts of the world, guided by his excellent taste, expertise and love for Zsolnay. The exhibited pieces, which were originally created for world exhibitions and foreign markets, are remarkable creations from both technological and artistic viewpoint. The exhibition presents the most exquisite and extensive collection of Zsolnay porcelain, of unparalleled value.
The collection represents three major periods: historicism, the millennium and Secession (Art Nouveau). The early pieces of the exhibition were designed by Teréz, Vilmos’ older daughter, who favored decorative motifs inspired by nature and local folklore. The items created during the historicism period (1878-1855) were characterized by the revival of artistic styles of past ages. The defining designer of this period was Ármin Klein, who favored Altdeutsche [Old German]-style portraits and scenes depicting Hungarian life. The exhibition’s artifacts from the millennium period display the unique richness of eosin variants. Vilmos introduced eosin, a new glazing technology based on the lusterware technology used in the Middle East, at the 1896 National Millennium Exhibition. The exhibition was organized to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyars’ settlement in the Carpathian Basin. In honor of the jubilee, Vilmos named his innovation ‘millennium technology’. The exhibition also includes impressive pieces created for the 1900 Paris World’s Fair. In the 1890s, new style aspirations appeared in ceramic art with the Secession movement, which aimed to completely transform the aesthetics of people’s material environment through the expressive means of the fine and applied arts. To embrace this new style, Miklós, Vilmos’ son, hired young Hungarian sculptors and painters. The highlight of the exhibition is two huge and richly decorated vases designed by Júlia, Vilmos’ younger daughter. She started working in the Zsolnay factory’s decorative art at a young age, and her works are characterized by delicately painted birds and flowers.
The Zsolnay mauzóleum [Zsolnay Mausoleum] was built in1900 by Miklós on the hill adjacent to the factory after his father’s death. This small hill was one of the founder’s favorite spot, where he enjoyed spending some time contemplating the factory below. The promenade leading to the mausoleum is adorned on both sides by 42 pyrogranite lions, creating a striking sight.
Janus Pannonius Múzeum
The Janus Pannonius Múzeum [Janus Pannonius Museum], which is the largest museum in Hungary outside Budapest. Its collection is not housed in a single exhibition space, instead, the different collections are displayed in various buildings. Some of the museum’s collections are clustered around Káptalan utca [Collegiate Street], also known as Múzeum utca [Museum Street], including the Csontváry Múzeum [Csontváry Museum], Martyn Ferenc Múzeum [Ferenc Martin Museum], Sopianae Régészeti Kiállítás [Sopianae Archaeological Exhibition], Reneszánsz Kőtár [Renaissance Stone Collection], Vasarely Múzeum [Vasarely Museum], Mecseki Bányászati Kiállítás [Mecsek Mining Exhibition], The Zsolnay Múzeum [Zsolnay Museum], and Modern Magyar Képtár [Gallery of Modern Hungarian Art]. Whereas, others are scattered throughout the city, including the Néprajzi Múzeum [Ethnography Museum], Szerecsen Patika Kiállítás [Szerecsen Pharmacy Exhibition], Természettudományi Múzeum [Natural History Museum], Várostörténeti Múzeum [City History Museum] and Vasváry-ház [Vasváry-house].
The Csontváry Múzeum [Csontváry Museum] is one of the most popular permanent exhibitions featuring some of the major works of the Hungarian painter, Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry (1853-1919). He was a lone painter whose unusual expressionist style was not understood by his contemporaries. He was also considered an eccentric due to his vegetarianism, anti-alcoholism, anti-nicotinism, pacifism, and latent but increasingly obvious schizophrenia. The highlight of the exhibition is the ‘Magányos cédrus’ [Lonely Cedar], which is Csontváry’s most emblematic painting and a metaphorical self-portrait that is well- deserved.
The Modern Magyar Képtár [Gallery of Modern Hungarian Art] mainly encompasses Hungarian fine art of the 19th and 20th centuries. The works range from impressionist paintings to contemporary installations, and collection includes works by prominent Hungarian artists such as László Mednyánszky, József Rippl-Rónai, Károly Ferenczy, István Csók, Oszkár Glatz, and Amerigo Tot.
The Martyn Ferenc Múzeum [Ferenc Martin Museum] houses a collection of works by Ferenc Martyn (1899-1986), a Hungarian sculptor, painter and graphic artist. Martyn spent several years in Western Europe before World War II, where he gained in-depth experience in the latest avant-garde movements. After the war, he became one of the most significant representatives of Abstract art in Hungary.
The Vasarely Múzeum [Vasarely Museum] provides an overview of the art of Victor Vasarely (1906-1997), the pioneer and foremost representative of Op art. Although born in Pécs, Vasarely created most of his work abroad after emigrating to France at a young ag. The exhibition also includes works by the artist’s wife, Claire, and their son, Yvaral (Jean-Pierre Vasarely), who continued the Op art tradition.
The Mecseki Bányászati Kiállítás [Mecsek Mining Exhibition], located in one of the outbuildings of the Vasarely Múzeum, explores the mining history of Pécs, which has a significant history in the mining of black coal and uranium ore. The exhibition provides an overview of mining through information boards, artifacts including tools and instruments, and geological samples typical of the Mecsek such as minerals, rocks, and fossils.
Museum info panels