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29 January 2012

Szentendre, Hungary: Colorful Past, Color-full Present

A double rainbow above the Danube at Szentendre. All content and photography in this article are property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.

I am thrilled to welcome Guest Blogger Penny Ewles-Bergeron to EuroTravelogue. Also known as @abroadbrush on Twitter, Penny can't live without art, music, politics, food and travel. After years in London and Dublin, she now resides in Naples—which luckily provides plenty to paint, photograph and write about—truly, her "brush with italy." When she's not creating her masterpieces, Penny contributes regularly to ItalianNotebook.com where she imparts her knowledge and shares her experiences while she calls Napolitown home.  At the end of this article, she gives her personal recommendations when visiting Szentendre so be sure to check them out.  I hope you enjoy Penny's "impressions" of Szentendre, Hungary.  

The delightful little Hungarian town of Szentendre (Saint Andrew) lies on the bank of the Danube not far from Budapest. An easy train or boat ride from the capital, it's a magnet for many summer visitors for its pretty alleyways and its baroque and rococo architecture.

Szentendre began life as a Roman fort when the Danube was the eastern extent of the empire. After centuries of settlement by Huns and Germanic tribes, Hungarians captured Szentendre in the 9th century and the old Roman watchtower became a fortress. Fast forward 300 years, Prince Taksony gave the place to one of his generals as a summer resort and Szentendre acquired its name from the church on the hill above the manor house.

Turkish rule came to the Buda region in 1541; Szentendre was laid waste and not liberated till 1684. There had already been an influx of Balkan settlers including Bulgarians and Dalmatians but in 1690 no fewer than 6,000 Serbs arrived and it is this group that left their impress on architectural style. Add in Greek and Romanian influences and you have a rich mix of cultures blending in one small town.

Church-building is a sign of prosperity; the baroque age was one of plenty for the merchants of Szentendre. Trades of all kinds grew up thanks to rich soils and easy river transport and wine producers did best of all. The Serbian Trade Guild formed in 1698 lasted 150 years. It was this Guild who erected the Memorial Cross that still stands in the main square, in gratitude that plague passed the town by.

The Serbian Merchants' Guild erected this memorial cross in thanks at being spared the plague. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.

Sadly, Szentendre was not spared other disasters. After the catastrophic flood of 1838 and the devastation of wine production due to phylloxera in 1882, many Serbians returned home; they were replaced by Slovak and German settlers. But the Serbian legacy is still tangible in the town.


The beautiful red tower of the Serbian Orthodox Church in striking contrast with the yellow of neighboring houses. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.
A fine example of late Baroque ironwork by craftsman Márton Ginesser can be seen at the gate to the Orthodox Serbian church. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.
Through the gates to the magnificent Serbian church door. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.

So many buildings in Szentendre are drenched in rich color – here is a small selection of views and details.

Blagovestenska Greek orthodox church after the rain. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.
Joie de vivre or joy in life expressed in paint.  Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.   
Another handsome window in Szentendre.  Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.     
Naples yellow and cream combine on this church. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.    
Blue skies and sharp shadows help set off yellow walls to best effect. A house on Bártok Béla Utca. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.

Perhaps it is not surprising that artists and craftsmen and women love Szentendre. In fact it became an artists' colony in the late 1920's when Miklós Bánovszki and others began painting the streets and surrounding landscapes. More than 30 artists worked in or visited the town, including Béla Czóbel and his wife Mária Modok. Today a Czóbel Museum displays his work on church hill.
Szentendre's creative energy extends to true handmade crafts. Decorated pottery with vibrant glazes vie for attention with artisan printed blue-dyed fabrics, the famous kékfestés. The cloth is printed using patterned boards coated with resist paste then dipped in dark blue dye.


This blue printed fabric is one of the visual delights of Hungary. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.

This shop displays the patterned boards used in printing the cloth. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.
Gorgeous displays of handmade pottery tempt the visitor. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.

Perhaps the color we most associate with Hungary is the red of paprika, a culinary legacy from the Turkish occupation. In Szentendre the tradition of drying strings of peppers paints the town red.

Brilliant red paprika dries in the sun. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.

But because I'm an artist, I'm going back to my favorite colors of yellow and blue. One house in Szentendre has always had my heart. Built in 1768, it was the home of Rab Ráby (prisoner Ráby). Instructed by the Austrian Emperor to investigate corruption concerns, Mátyás Ráby resisted bribes by local noblemen and found himself in jail. The story was written up as an epic tale by Mór Jókai. His house still stands and at all hours of the day the yellow walls just glow.


Afternoon sunshine on the walls of Rab Ráby House. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.

I couldn't resist making a large scale painting of Ráby's House. Photo property of Penny Ewles-Bergeron. Please do not use without permission.

And while you're there, Penny recommends:

EAT: Since no-one can live on color alone, do feed the inner man or woman at Aranysárkany at H-2000 Alkotmány u.1/a, +36 26 301 479. This father/son run restaurant serves sensationally good food in a pretty, rustic setting. Quality ingredients, local produce, excellent wines and attentive, friendly service. Ask for Attila Mahr, or Attila Mahr junior! Aranysárkany.hu (English pages and menu)

SHOP: The Erdész Gallery displays and sells 20th and 21st century painting, sculpture, photography and jewellery. This is the most welcoming of establishments where you will be wowed by Hungarian creativity in every sphere of the arts. At H-2000 Bercsényi u.3. Tel: +36 26 317 925, Gallery Erdész (In Hungarian but with many easily-accessed images of current and past artifacts that have passed through the gallery.)

EXPLORE: Just outside Szentendre is the remarkable Hungarian Open Air Museum, where buildings from 9 regions of Hungary have been reassembled. In this folk museum or 'Skansen' (from the Scandinavian term) visitors can wander the village streets and explore the many architectural styles of the country; there are often craft demonstrations with re-enactors on hand plus magical music and dance events celebrating various festivals in regional village settings. Find the museum at H-2000 Sztaravodai út, +36 26 502 500. ComeToHungary.com (English)

21 comments:

  1. Jeff, the travel photos you post here in your website make me want to jump into the next train, plane, car and go to the place you're featuring. They're all delicious!

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  2. i like it ..like it
    icluding Penny's painting
    awesome!
    hope someday i could go there

    thanks Jeff and Penny

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  3. Marlys, I am so moved by your kind words. Thank you for your compliments and I will be sure to share them with some of the guest photographers who also contribute to this site. thank you for stopping by to share your thoughts!

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  4. Hi RuangKota!!
    Thank you so much for stopping by and I couldn't agree with you more about the article and Penny's painting...she is very talented. Thank you for stopping by to share your thoughts!

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  5. You know a place is gorgeous when even the windowsills make great photo opportunities. Great pictures and looks like a wonderful area.

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  6. Hey Ted!!

    I couldn't agree with you more especially because our resident artist Penny has used her lens instead of her canvas, save the last photo, to compose these beautiful impressions of Szentendre with striking colors and contrasts! Thanks so much for stopping my to share your thoughts!

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  7. I love the architecture. Hungary reminds me of Ecuador. I got the chance to travel to South America. My boss gave me first class airline tickets. I hope next year, I can visit this magnificent paradise. I love the vibe of the country and I heard people are very accommodating which is very nice for a traveler like me.

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  8. Anonymous and Steven, thank you so much for stopping by to share your thoughts and experiences.

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  9. Lovely, lovely painting, Penny, and super photos. The ones of the fabric and wood patterns used to create them were especially intriguing...

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  10. Hi there Leslie and thanks for sharing your kind words with us!!! I am sure Penny will be thrilled at your compliments.

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    1. Hi there Zorica and thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your nice compliments. I will be sure to pass along to the author/photographer!

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  12. Ahh I'm loving this post! Planning on visiting Hungary and Szentendre will be on the list. I'm a sucker for any city or town with bright and colourful buildings and Szentendre definitely fits the bill :)

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    1. Hi Tom and thanks so much for your kind words! I will be sure to pass them on to my guest blogger Penny! It's wonderful to see Europe through the eyes of an artist...vibrant, colorful and interesting perspectives! Thx for stopping by and hope you make it to Szentendre soon!

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  13. I agree.. Just beautiful. Thank you for bringing back old memories.

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    1. Thank you so much Anonymous for stopping by and for your wonderful compliments. I will be sure to pass them on to the author, photography and artist.

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  14. Thanks for sharing old memories .Pictures are too amazing its a beauty of Hungary.Hope I will be there in next month..

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    1. Hi there Ricky and thank you so much for stopping by to share your thoughts. I will be sure to pass them on to my guest blogger who wrote this article, snapped the pics and even painted the house at the end!

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    1. Thanks so much Justin for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I will be sure to pass those comments onto the author of this guest post.

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Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!