In the beginning of the 3rd century, the small settlement of the native community became a Roman town known as Sopianae. The importance of the town increased as it lay at the intersection of several important transport routs. Sopianae flourished in the 4th century; it has become an administrative, economic, cultural and religious center. As the threat posed by the Gothic barbarians became permanent by the end of the 4th century, the safety in Sopianae deteriorated and, consequently, the importance of the town declined dramatically. By the second third of the 5th century, the town was already in ruins.
The excavated finds in Sopianae – the thousands of graves, numerous tombs and tomb chapels, and several apse-closed tomb buildings and mausoleums – suggest that a large Christian community lived in the area. Based on being a Christian center earlier, King Szent István (reign: 997-1038) founded a bishopric in Pécs in 1009. (The role of the bishopric is still a determining factor in the life of Pécs.) Vilmos Koppenbach (c. 1300-1374), Janus Pannonius (1434-1472) and Ignác Szepesy (1780-1838) were three remarkable bishops of Pécs. Vilmos Koppenbach was a diplomat and confidant of King Nagy Lajos. He initiated the foundation of the first Hungarian university in Pécs in 1367. Janus Pannonius, besides being a religious leader, was a world-renowned humanist poet and for a while a leading figure in Hungarian politics. He transformed Pécs into one of the cultural and artistic centers of the Kingdom of Hungary. The city’s museum and, until recently, its university were named after him. While Ignác Szepesy founded a lyceum of law and philosophy with related specialist libraries, and thus played an essential role in the further development of the intellectual life of Pécs.
During the Ottoman occupation (1543-1686), Pécs became one of the most important cities in Ottoman Hungary. They converted the churches into mosques, established Quran schools and a Sufi monastery, and built Turkish baths and tombs. In the middle of the 17th century, the city had an unadulterated Balkan bazaar atmosphere. The most famous remnant of this period is the dzsámi [mosque] of Pasha Qasim located in the main square of the city.
In the second half of the 19th century, industrialization accelerated significantly – the Zsolnay porcelain, Littke champagne, Angster organ became world-famous brands.
Sopianae – Early Christian Heritage
The excavated finds in Sopianae provide a versatile illustration of the early Christian burial architecture and art of the northern and western provinces of the late Roman Empire. A unique feature of Sopianae’s Christian cemetery is that a large number of stone-masonry buildings is concentrated here, including small family crypts, large community tombs, and other funerary structures – at the time, Roman cemeteries generally did not have a significant number of these types of structures. The interior of some tombs is decorated with murals featuring biblical scenes and Christian symbols, such as the Christ monogram, one of the most commonly used symbols of early Christianity.
Two-storey stone-masonry tombs were the resting places of wealthy families. The underground part of the structure is the burial chamber (crypt), where the deceased were placed in brick graves or less frequently in sarcophagi. The memorial chapel (mausoleum) was erected above this level. The edifices had a dual function: they served as burial and ceremonial sites at the same time. The meeting of Eastern and Western traditions is well illustrated by the two-storey tombs of Pécs, where the Balkan customs of underground crypts and the Roman fashion of ostentatious above-the-ground mausoleums appear in a complementary manner. This is also one of the peculiarities of the early Christian cemetery in Pécs. 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 explored in three separate locations: 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 Cella Septichora is the largest known building of the early Christian cemetery to date. The central part of the east-west oriented building is octagonal, with three apses on the south and north sides and a single one on the east side. The unplastered walls, the lack of a horizontal floor and the complete lack of roof tiles in the debris suggest that it was not completed.
The Korsós sírkamra [Burial Chamber with a Jug] – part of the Cella Septichora látogatóközpont – is a good example of a two-storey stone-masonry tomb of 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 part of the Cella Septichora látogatóközpont – are decorated with paintings, which are 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. The east and west walls are decorated with the protagonists of the Bible, such as the Virgin with the Child and Noah.
The Ókeresztény mauzóleum [Early Christian Mausoleum] is one of the largest structures in the early Christian cemetery. The walls of the burial chamber are decorated with figurative and ornamental motifs. Adam and Eve, and 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 is an excellent example of the stratification of various historical eras. The 1,600-year-old early Christian tombs hidden beneath the surface, and the medieval and modern church buildings in the area of the former Episcopal Palace above the ground are all evidences of Christian spirituality that span over centuries.
King Szent István (reign: 997-1038) founded the bishopric of Pécs in 1009. He established a medieval settlement in the area of the early Christian cemetery. His successor, King Péter (reign: 1038-1041) built a cathedral and an episcopal palace. However, on the Easter of 1064, the cathedral and the surrounding bishop’s buildings were destroyed by a terrific fire. In the 12th century, Bishop Mór began the construction of the Romanesque-style episcopal palace and the still standing cathedral. After the Mongol invaders wracked havoc on the settlement in 1242, a fortification was built around the cathedral and the episcopal palace, which was further strengthened over the centuries. After centuries of remodeling, the building complex reached its final form by the first half of the 16th century. The state of the episcopal complex remained essentially unchanged during the Ottoman occupation; however, the two Christian sieges of the city in 1664 and 1686 caused severe damage.
The predecessor of today’s Szent Péter és Pál székesegyház [Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul], built in the 12th century, was rebuilt many times over the centuries to suite different styles – Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. During the Ottoman occupation, the church functioned as a Turkish place of prayer. The cathedral gained its current appearance, bearing Neo-Romanesque architectural features, when it was renovated in the 19th century. The chapels of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Corpus Christi are decorated with the seccos of Károly Lotz, while the chapels of Virgin Mary and Saint Mór are decorated with the seccos of Bertalan Székely. The nearby Dóm Kőtár [Cathedral Lapidarium] displays some of the early carvings of the cathedral. Although, only a few artifacts from medieval and Renaissance Hungary remain nationwide, this is one of the most significant collection of sculptures of that period.
The foundations of the Püspöki palota [Episcopal Palace], which is the home of the bishops of Pécs, were also laid in the 12th century. The palace, like the cathedral, has undergone many reconstructions over the centuries, and gained its current appearance, bearing Neo-Renaissance architectural features, in the 19th century. The Püspöki Kincstár [Episcopal Treasury] offers great 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 cheeky trait and used the tunnel connecting the episcopal palace with the cellars as a meeting place 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 part of the Gothic episcopal palace. The building is now known as the Középkori Egyetem [Medieval University] because it may have been one of the buildings that housed the first Hungarian university. The uncertainty stems from the fact that at that time it was not customary to set aside separate buildings for education.
Vilmos Zsolnay (1828-1900) and his porcelain are one of the greatest prides of Pécs. From his father’s modest pottery workshop, Vilmos developed the leading ceramics manufacturing plant of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, with the largest product range and the largest number of employees. Zsolnay ceramics adorn many public and private buildings and spaces in Pécs, thus contributing to the city’s unique cityscape – for example, the architectural elements of the Megyeháza [County Hall] and the fountain on Széchenyi Square.
The idea of creating a permanent exhibition arose early in Vilmos. He selected the most valuable pieces from a technological or artistic point of view and those that marked significant stages in his experiments. The factory’s museum was first mentioned in a 1979 inventory book. The current Zsolnay Múzeum [Zsolnay Museum], located in Káptalan utca [Collegiate Street], is part of the Janus Pannonius Múzeum [Janus Pannonius Museum]. It was opened in 1955 and contains 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 grouped according to style trends and designers. Part of the exhibition is the Zsolnay Memorial Room, which 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. Unique exhibitions in the area showcase the Zsolnay heritage. The Zsolnay család- és gyártörténeti kiállítás [Zsolnay Family and Factory History Exhibition], is housed in the former residence of the family. In addition to an overview of the leading figures and events in the life of the factory, visitors can learn about ceramics production and the inventions of Vilmos Zsolnay. While in the Manufactory Visitor Center, through glass partition walls, visitors can gain insight into an actual manufacturing process. The Zsolnay Shop offers visitors a great selection of contemporary items to buy, from tableware through small trinket boxes and vases to more intricate decorative pieces.
The consumer goods exhibited at the Kezdetben volt a rózsaszín… [In the beginning was the pink…] exhibition were manufactured in the early days of the Zsolnay factory. The large ensemble of pink wine jugs and lard pots in the middle of the exhibition area offers a striking sight. Developed in the 1880s, the pink glaze had been used for many years to coat large quantities of all kinds of objects, and its quality was continually improved. The pink Zsolnay ceramics were made by hand, so each piece is slightly different in shape and color. Over the years, the pink consumer goods had become popular items in kitchens, dining rooms, bathrooms and studies. With the development of the manufactory, the initial, completely smooth shapes slowly became more ornate while retaining their pink color.
The Zsolnay Aranykora [The Golden Age of Zsolnay] exhibition features about 700 of the factory’s ornamental pieces mostly from the ‘golden age’, the period from the 1878 Paris World’s Fair to 1910. The collection was donated to the city of Pécs by Dr László Gyugyi, an engineer of Hungarian origin living in the USA. He spent decades bringing together the artifact from different parts of the world led by his excellent taste, expertise and love for Zsolnay. The displayed pieces, which were once made for world exhibitions and foreign markets, are remarkable creations from technological and/or artistic point of view. The exhibition presents the most beautiful and richest collection of Zsolnay porcelain and is of unparalleled value.
The collection represents three major eras: historicism, the millennium and Secession [Art Nouveau]. The early pieces were designed by Vilmos’ older daughter, Teréz, who preferred decorative motifs found in nature and local folklore. The objects created during the period of historicism (1878-1855) were characterized by the revival of the artistic styles of past ages. The defining designer of this period was Ármin Klein, whose favorite subjects were Altdeutsche [Old German]-style portraits and scenes depicting the Hungarian way of life. Vilmos Zsolnay’s eosin, a new glazing technology based on the lusterware technology used in the Middle East, was presented at the 1896 National Millennium Exhibition. The exhibition was organized on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the settlement of the Magyars in the Carpathian Basin. In honor of the jubilee, Vilmos named his innovation ‘millennium technology’. The exhibits created during this period show the unique richness of eosin variants. In the 1890s, new style aspirations appeared in ceramic art. The Secession sought to completely transform the aesthetics of the people’s material environment through the expressive means of the fine and applied arts. To embrace the new style, Vilmos’ son, Miklós, employed young Hungarian sculptors and painters. The exhibition features some impressive pieces created for the 1900 Paris World’s Fair. Vilmos’ younger daughter, Júlia, took part in the decorative art work of the Zsolnay factory since she was young. Delicately painted birds and flowers characterize her works created with soaring imagination. Her two huge, richly decorated vases are the highlight of the exhibition.
On the hill next to the factory, the Zsolnay mauzóleum [Zsolnay Mausoleum] was erected in1900 after the death of Vilmos by his son, Miklós. The tiny hill was one of the factory founder’s favorite places; he enjoyed spending some time there while thinking about the factory laying below. The promenade leading to the mausoleum, adorned on both sides by 42 pyrogranite lions, offers a striking sight.
Janus Pannonius Múzeum
The Janus Pannonius Múzeum [Janus Pannonius Museum] is the largest rural museum in Hungary. The collection is not located in a single exhibition space, but is displayed in different buildings. Some of the museums are clustered around Káptalan utca [Collegiate Street] aka Múzeum utca [Museum Street] – such as, 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 – such as 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].
One of the most popular permanent exhibitions is the Csontváry Múzeum [Csontváry Museum], which presents 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 for various reasons, e.g. vegetarianism, anti-alcoholism, anti-nicotinism, pacifism, latent but increasingly obvious schizophrenia. The highlight of the exhibition is his most emblematic painting, the Magányos cédrus [Lonely Cedar], a deservedly metaphorical self-portrait.
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. The collection includes works by László Mednyánszky, József Rippl-Rónai, Károly Ferenczy, István Csók, Oszkár Glatz and Amerigo Tot.
The works of Hungarian sculptor, painter and graphic artist, Ferenc Martyn (1899-1986), are collected in the eponymous museum, the Martyn Ferenc Múzeum [Ferenc Martin Museum]. He spent many years in Western Europe before World War II: gaining in-depth experience of the latest avant-garde aspirations at the time. After the war, he became one of the most important domestic representatives of Abstract art.
Vasarely Múzeum [Vasarely Museum] provides an overview of the work of Victor Vasarely (1906-1997), the pioneer and most outstanding representative of Op art. He was born in Pécs, and after emigrating to France at a young age, most of his work was created abroad. The exhibition also features works by the artist’s wife, Claire, and their son, Yvaral (Jean-Pierre Vasarely), who continued the tradition of Op art.
The Mecseki Bányászati Kiállítás [Mecsek Mining Exhibition] is set up in one of the outbuildings of the Vasarely Múzeum. Pécs has a significant history in the mining of black coal and uranium ore. The exhibition provides an overview of mining through information boards, artifacts – such as, tools and instruments – and geological samples typical of the Mecsek – such as, minerals, rocks and fossils.