A few years ago I spent one month in Budapest studying Hungarian. Every weekend I visited a different place. Though all of them pretty, in my humble opinion Pécs is Hungary’s most beautiful city. The place is quite multifaceted, hosting early Christian monuments, a beautiful mosque, a basilica, a fantastic ceramic factory and even a cool contemporary building. To get there, all you have to do is ride the 3 hour train from Budapest. It’s a ‘just ok’ journey, through not so especially interesting scenery, so bring a book and relax.
Pécs City Center
The city though, is outstanding. You can observe Pécs’ Early Christian heritage from several points. However, the best one is in front of the St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral Basilica from 11th Century. Do not forget to check it out; it is one of Hungary’s most impressive churches. The main square is Széchenyi square, where you will see the Old Mosque of Pasha Quasim, converted nowadays into a catholic church. Nevertheless, the city does have a mosque: the nearby Jakovali Hassan. The Pécs City Hall and the Baranya County House are two other fantastic buildings on the main square.
Early Christian Heritage
The Romans founded Pécs in the second century AD. By the 4th century the area, called Sopianae, was an important Christianity center in the Roman Province of Pannonia. They built a series of tombs, burial chambers, chapels and a mausoleum. Excavations began two centuries ago and have revealed the largest collections of sepulchral monuments in Central Europe. The murals are especially interesting, showcasing the art of an ancient civilization. UNESCO included the Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs in its list of the World Heritage Sites in 2000.
St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral Basilica
Built during the reign of Stephen I, the original St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral Basilica dates back to the 11th Century. The building we see today is from 1880 and combines gothic, renaissance, romanticism, rococo, and classicism elements. If you think the exterior is cool, wait until you go inside. Walls are painted in gold, blue and red in what some call organized chaos. The altar with frescoes by Hungarian artists is especially interesting. Do not forget to go all the way up one of the towers. It is a steep climb, but the views are sure worth the trouble.
Mosque of Pasha Quasim
Built in the middle of the 16th Century, the Mosque of Pasha Quasim is the best example of Ottoman architecture in Hungary. According to many, the mosque was as beautiful as the famous Yavuz Selim Mosque in Istanbul. The Ottoman reign over Pécs lasted for almost 200 years. Of course, most temples were converted into Catholic places of worship as soon as they left. In fact, the Pasha Quasim Mosque became the Candlemas Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary we can see today in 1702. The octagonal drum under a dome is the only thing that remains from the original structure. The minaret was destroyed in 1766.
Once done with the city center, I went directly to Budaiváros, some 20 minutes walking. I had a great time wondering around the cool Zsolnay Cultural Quarter. The whole place used to be where the Zsolnay family produced world famous ceramics for ages. In fact, these same ceramics decorate several Art Nouveau buildings in beautiful Subotica. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit the Tettye Ruins or any of its great museums. I agree, it’s a great idea to organize a day trip from Budapest to Pécs, but you can easily spend 3 days admiring the city’s numerous architectural jewels. And of course, chilling and indulging in delicious Hungarian cakes. My favorite!
Pécs newest addition to the architectural panorama is the slick Kodály Centre, built as part of the Pécs 2010 European Capital of Culture project. A design by Budapest Építész Stúdió won a national competition in 2007. The 11000m2 Concert and Conference Center is home to the renowned Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra. Take note of how the building solved the relationship of the interior and the exterior. Big stone panels cover the cool exterior. On the other hand, wooden sheets line the interior. Everything is dynamic and balanced.
Zsolnay Cultural Quarter
The Zsolnay Cultural Quarter is actually 15 buildings, including a historic porcelain factory along 5 hectares. The cultural quarter has three areas: arts and crafts, creativity, and family and university. MCXVI Architects revamped the complex from 2008 to 2012. They only modified the original structures slightly and built new ones. The complex is mostly made of bricks and colorful ceramic tiles and includes 88 Zsolnay statues. As you can imagine, this is where the young and creative gather. My favorite place in town!
Tettye Park and Ruins
This park located on a plateau some 250m high offers fantastic views of the city, ruins, a cave, a natural spring, a chapel and 4.5 hectares of green nature. The Tettye Ruins used to be the summer palace of Bishop Gyorgy Szathmary, used as a dervish monastery during the Turkish rule in the 16th Century. Walk south from the ruins to get to the Tettye Lime Cave. There is an interactive exhibition inside. To the east of the park is Havihegy, a white lime rock that tops Tettye. Climb up and walk to the Havigey Chapel, built to remember the plague of 1690. Walk further towards Pinter Garden until you reach the Tuke Wine House, where you can try more than 50 local wines and champagne!
Hotels in Pécs
As mentioned above, it’s easy to organize a day trip from Budapest to Pécs. There are no trains nowadays though, so you have to take a bus. Nevertheless, to fully enjoy Pécs, the hidden gem of Hungary, you should spend a night or two. Our favorite hotel in Pécs is the Hotel Palatinus City Center, a lavish art nouveau palace. Hungary’s most celebrated artists played here, including Bela Bartók. Two other great options downtown are the Adele Boutique Hotel and the Hotel Millennium. If you rather stay in a rural atmosphere, go to upper Pecs and stay in Bagolyvár Hotel. This unique hotel features cool architecture, a small vineyard, and great views.