Hungary is very rich in archeological monuments. Being a chokepoint of early trade routes (you had to go through the land to cross the Tisza and the Danube) made the land of Hungary very valuable. And being occupied by Mongols, Romans, Turks, and Soviets has left its marks on the country to this day. But because of these strains and dark years, Hungary is able to offer monuments such as:
- Shoes by the Danube, which is arguably the most heartbreaking memorial made to remember and honor the approximately 20,000 Jewish victims of the Holocaust who were executed by the Arrow Cross Party Police by shooting them into the river. This memorial hides easily in plain sight, never letting people walking these grounds forget what happened here. More than 400,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in other ways.
- House of Terror. While on the subject of the horrible years of World War II, another heartbreaking exhibition kept by Hungarians is the building that served as the headquarters of the Hungarian Nazi Party. Today, the building contains exhibits related to the memorial of the detainment, torture, and killings of victims kept in this building located in the middle of the most upcoming part of Budapest.
- Memento Park is home to more than 40 statues kept from different eras of the country of Hungary. Including the busts and plaques of Lenin, Marx, Bela Kun, and lots of others, this is the largest collection of historical memorabilia in Hungary. One of the most interesting statues being the gigantic boots of Stalin, the remains of an enormous Stalin Monument torn down by anti-Soviet crowds during the 1956 Revolution. Today, only the boots remain standing.
- Aquincum. Traveling further back in time, Aquincum is a large chunk of remains of the large Ancient Roman site in Budapest. These wrecks were once a part of an entirely different city and an important military base in the 2nd century.
But there’s something especially unique about the ancient ruins of the catacombs located in the historical city of Pécs that blows the mind of all enthusiasts.
The Catacombs of Pécs
Pécs is the fifth-largest city of Hungary located on the slopes of the Mecsek mountains. Today, Pécs is known as one of the biggest collegiate towns of Hungary, specializing in architecture, science, and healthcare. It’s also the administrative and economic center of its county, Baranya.
But travel back to the 2nd century, and you’ll see what Pécs was in the Roman times: Sopianae. At that time, a settlement developed at the southern foot of the Mecsek mountains right at the junction of the north-south trade routes. By the end of the 3rd century, this small settlement took on a more urban look and became the center of the administrative seat from which the governor managed the affairs of the province. Over time, Pécs has marked itself as “the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pécs.”
The first era of early Christianity – the decades of illegality, when, depending on the grace of the emperors, people were either free to practice their religion, or they had to hide it – left no strain on the province of Pannonia (the Roman Empire located in the territory of present-day western Hungary, eastern Austria, northern Croatia, north-western Serbia, and northern Slovenia.)
Nonetheless, the image of their cemeteries reflected the traditions of Christianity: cremation, tombstone erection, pagan tomb attachments, etc. To this day, people are trying to uncover more of these early cemeteries, as their location and existence are only speculated by scientists. However, a big part of these early cemeteries was uncovered and the city of Pécs is able to showcase these finds.
The conditions of these 4th-century archeological finds took its final blow when in 1664, Croat-Hungarian nobleman Miklós Zrínyi arrived in Pécs with his army planning to pillage the city. They ravaged and burned the entire city but couldn’t occupy the castle. With this, medieval Pécs was destroyed forever, except the wall encircling the city, a single bastion, and the network tunnels, catacombs, and entire cemeteries which became submerged beneath the city. Since the city was well into the Ottoman territories, some Turkish artifacts also survived.
Now, the archeological site of Pécs is reserved near the Pécs Cathedral – a surviving necropolis from the 4th century – where the early Christian citizens of Sopianae were buried. Due to its universal historical significance, this collection occupies a special place among the archeological monuments of Hungary. These sites hold great structural and architectural value. They were built as underground burial chambers with memorial chapels erected above ground which is a highly unusual architectural find from that era. Also, in artistic terms, these burial sites were richly decorated depicting Christian themes. These murals are still of outstanding quality despite what they’ve been through. The Sopianae cemetery perfectly illustrates the traditions and architecture of early Christianity and western Roman provinces, and these elements are recognizable in today’s archeological finds as well. This makes the city of Pécs, and the entirety of Hungary, for a matter of fact, a historical sweet spot of Central Europe.