Only one city in Hungary can boast of winning the title of Cultural Capital of Europe, and that is Pécs earning the honour in 2010. Not by accident and not undeservedly.
Pécs is situated at the foot of Mecsek mountain range. It is an attractive, Mediterranean-style place where the values and traces of the past made the city a World Heritage site in 2000, and where contemporary architecture and culture are also displayed.
It is a real art, education, and economic centre where the first university of Hungary was established, the first domestic public library was opened, and the eminent Hungarian representatives of Bauhaus movement started their careers. This is the birthplace of the Zsolnay ceramics, the Littke champagne, the Angster organs; it is the home of Zsolnay Cultural Quarter and Kodály Centre; a superior concert hall in terms of both architecture and acoustics.
The life of the city is enriched by specific projects featuring various cultural events, exhibitions, and concerts held in the institutions and at the outdoor squares of Pécs, and involving all those interested. Today's Pécs is made up all these: it is a cultural melting pot producing an alloy what glitters with a special light captivating anyone who once sees it.
The Roman city of Sopianae was founded at the beginning of the 2nd century and it was an important junction before. From the end of the 3rd century Christianity was spreading rapidly, in the 4th century tombs and chapels were built for the richer citizens. A cemetery of the antiquity was near Szent István Square where many tombs were found, some of them can be visited.
The Jug Tomb was found in the 18th century but the archaeological excavation only took place in 1939. The tomb is decorated by wall paintings amongst them the depiction of a drinking jug from where the tomb got its name. The remains of a chapel have also been found. Today the tomb is protected by a building built around it.
The early Christian Mausoleum was excavated in 1975-76. The structure has two floors. The first floor is the mausoleum which contains two tombs and an antechamber. Most of the walls are covered with paintings; the eastern room’s wall shows a scene of the fall of man: the apple tree with the serpent around its trunk, Adam on the left and Eve on the right. The coins found here prove that the tombs were buried here in the 4th century. There is a chapel above the mausoleum. The Roman and early Christian tombs of the city are part of the World Heritage.
In 1009, St. Stephan founded the episcopate in Pécs, in the 11th century there was a cathedral here but it was destroyed in a fire. In the 12th century a new cathedral was built with three naves. It was expanded and redecorated in the 14th and 16th centuries. During the Ottoman times it was used as a school and storage. The murals and the Árpád Age reliefs were damaged. Although it was restored in the 18th century, the walls of cathedral became dangerously unstable by the 19th century. The walls and towers were rebuilt, the building as it is today was completed between 1882 and 1891. The murals of Saint Maurus and Mary Chapels were done by Bertalan Székely and in Corpus Christi Chapel by Károly Lotz.
The Baroque Episcopal Palace can be found in Szent István Square, it was rebuilt from 12th century walls between 1751-70. Its current form was completed in the rebuilding of 1838-52. To the west of the building is the bastion of the old city wall built in 1498.
Through a domed passageway on the eastern side of the square we reach Káptalan Square. Its Baroque buildings summon the atmosphere of the gentrificating Pécs in the 18th century. It could be called the street of museums as here is the Nemes Endre Museum, the Ferenc Martyn Collection, the Amerigo Tot exhibition, the Zsolnay Museum and more.
The Zsolnay Museum is housed in the oldest residential building of Pécs. The Zsolnay ceramics is a symbol of Pécs. The Zsolnay family started manufacturing stoneware in the 1850’s. The ever experimenting Vilmos Zsolnay was responsible for the innovation of the company. The unique, teal eosin glaze was presented at the Paris World Expo in 1900 – sadly Vilmos Zsolnay could not live to see its success. The eosin glazed Zsolnay Fountain was a present to the city of Pécs in 1930, it stands on the southern end of Széchényi Square.
Opposite the Zsolnay Museum is the Vasarely Museum in a Classical style building from 1838. Victor Vasarely was born in this house which now shows an exhibition of his works given to the city by the artist himself.
Near the „street of museums”, in the Neo-Renaissance building of Jannus Pannonius Street is the Csontváry Museum. The statue of the painter is in the park of the museum.
Walking east from the museum we reach the center of the city, Széchényi Square. Here is the Roman Catholic church in the building that was once the mosque of Pasha Qasim built in the second half of the 16th century – it is a memento of the 143 years long Ottoman occupation (1543-1686). Once there was a minaret next to it but it was demolished in the 18th century. The mosque itself was built from the bricks of St. Bartholomew Church that stood on the spot before.
Located to the left of the church is the City Hall, erected in 1831-32 and rebuilt in 1907. In the center is the Trinity Statue which replaces the original statue built after the Bubonic Plaque of 1710-14. In the background is the Fatebenefratelli church built at the beginning of the 18th century, in the front is the Zsolnay Fountain.
The other mosque of the city with its minaret was named after Yakovali Hassan. Located at 2 Rákóczi Street, it is the best preserved mosque in Hungary.
In the garden of the children’s hospital (8 Nyár Street) stands the mausoleum of Idris Baba. He was known as a miraculous seer, his octagonal tomb was erected in 1591. It was a pilgrimage site for the Ottomans in the 16th-17th centuries. After the Ottoman invasion it was used as a plaque hospital, later as gunpowder storage.
In Jókai Square, right next to Széchényi Square is the Classical style Elephant House built in 1830.
This is where the Ferencesek Street starts where the Franciscan church and monastery are located. The Franciscan Order settled in Pécs at the beginning of the 14th century. Their first church was transformed into the Mosque of Pasha Memi with a bath built next to it – its remains can still be seen next to the monastery.
After the occupation, the church was used by Franciscans again. Their new church was built in Baroque style, using the bricks of the previous one, between 1718 and 1727 and expanded with a tower and chapels a few years later. Its current form was completed with the expansion in 1925. The monastery, also in Baroque style, was built between 1720-38.
If we go east from Széchényi Square through Király Street we will reach the National Theatre of Pécs built in 1895. The world famous Pécs Ballet was founded here around 1960.
Walking along the 19th century Classical and Eclectic houses we get to the Lyceum Church built between 1741-56. It once belonged to the Order of Saint Paul, their monastery next to it functions as a school today.
Going further for 100 meters we reach Felsőmalom Street. Here is the Local History Museum of Pécs which is housed in a tannery built in the 18th century.
A notable example of 20th century architecture is the church of the Order of Saint Paul in Hunyadi Street in the side of Mecsek. The order – after being disbanded by Emperor Joseph II – returned to the country in 1934. The church, which is one of the most important buildings of modern Hungarian architecture of the first half of the century, was completed in 1937. Above the main altar the three part relief by Béla Ohmann can be seen.
The Havihegy Chapel can be seen from many spots of the city, it was built by the citizens of Pécs after being freed from Ottoman occupation in 1698.
This is only a fraction of what Pécs has to offer, it is a city worth visiting!