1 CENTRAL EUROPE REVISITED By Mike McPhee [This is the text of an Address at the Sydney Unitarian Church on 26 August 2018.] The original intention of this presentation was to cover only the Czech Republic and Slovakia but, the more I thought about it, the clearer it became that those countries are too entangled, historically and geographically, with Austria and Hungary to be dealt with in isolation. The historical connections go back much further than the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the central geographical tie is the Danube River, on which three of the four national capitals are located. Before we start our tour (meeting some fellow Unitarians along the way), it may be useful to have a quick overview of the topography of the region. We see that the Danube flows through northern Austria, along the Hungarian-Slovakian border and then south through the middle of Hungary into Croatia. We also see that much of Austria is very mountainous, whereas the whole of Hungary is in the flat and fertile Pannonian Plain (which extends through Romania to the Black Sea). Much of Slovakia has mountain ranges, also, but they are not nearly as high as the Alps; the same is true of the mountains on the border between Germany and the Czech Republic.
2 Austria is a federal republic of 8.8 million people, whose states all have their own elected governments. Settled by Celts and later incorporated into the Roman Empire, the region came under Bavarian control from the 10 th Century. The original Duchy of Austria was the lands around the Danube in the northeast; hence, the names of the present-day states of Upper and Lower Austria. Other Bavarians took control of Carinthia and Styria, which became duchies, while Salzburg became the first bishopric in the region. Rudolf of Habsburg, King of the Germans, established his dynasty in Austria and Styria in 1278, and his descendants acquired the rest of the country over time. Austria was elevated to an Archduchy in 1453 and fought off three Ottoman invasions between 1529 and After centuries of conquests in all directions, the Austrian Empire was proclaimed in The capital, Vienna, began as a Celtic settlement which the Romans fortified in 15 BCE and called Vindobona. It became the capital of the Duchy of Austria in 1145 and, under the Habsburgs, it became the de facto capital of the Holy Roman Empire. This made Vienna an important centre of academic learning, the arts and music, which is reflected by its many prominent buildings. The City of Vienna is a federal state with a population of 1.8 million people. The metropolitan population is 2.6 million almost one-third of the people in the whole country. Always a cosmopolitan city in the days of the Empire, some 39% of its population today are of partial or full migrant background.
3 In the city centre is the Old Town, whose walls withstood two Ottoman sieges. The oldest streets and buildings in Vienna can be found there, including the Graben, once a marketplace, and the famous St. Stephen s Cathedral. The nucleus of the latter was completed in 1263 after the previous church was destroyed in a fire; expansions continued until From 1850, the massive walls were dismantled and replaced by the circular Ringstraße, whose many ornate buildings included the Imperial Parliament (left) and the Hofburg Palace (right) of the Habsburg Emperors. (The Parliament building is still use for that purpose and the palace is now the residence of the titular presidents of Austria. The latter is also the headquarters of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.) There is also the State Opera, National Theatre, Palace of Justice, Town Hall, Stock Exchange and the original University of Vienna, plus the Academy of Fine Arts, and the Museum of Applied Arts. For popular entertainment, there is the suburb of Grinzing, famous for its old inns and wine gardens (it was once an outlying village). Some of the latter are quite large, with indoor facilities as well as actual gardens. The amusement centre in the Prater park may have started with a World Exhibition in 1873, though the original hunting estate on those grounds was made a public park in Here, we also find the Unitarian Universalist Forum in Austria, which was formed not later than 2011, though at that time its only group was in Vienna. Now they also have a branch in Linz (our next destination), where they all meet once a month and, presumably, those from that northern city attend services in Vienna at other times. Like their German confreres, it appears that their theology is largely secular.
4 Upriver from Vienna is the Wachau Valley, a 40-km stretch of the Danube that was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in It has a phenomenal number of old castles, monasteries and ruins, as well as extensive vineyards and picturesque towns and villages. No river cruise is complete without passing through this region and many passengers disembark to cycle through it, rejoining the boat at the other end. Linz is the capital of Upper Austria and the third-largest city in the country, with a population of 270,000. Founded by the Romans, who called it Lentia, It became an important trading hub, not just as a river port but also for goods moving considerable distances to the north and south. The two-towered church in the foreground was built in the late 1600s and served as the city s cathedral until 1909; it was superseded by the neo-gothic building behind it, the construction of which commenced in 1862 and was completed in Linz has a medieval Old Town, where both of those churches are and another that dates back to the 8 th Century. The Hauptplatz (Main Square) is on its border, one of the largest squares in Europe, distinguished by the Holy Trinity Column, erected in 1723 after the city was devastated by a fire and a plague. Also worthy of note is the Johannes Kepler University, named after the astronomer who developed the first truly scientific theory of the Solar System and wrote his major works while living there between 1612 and 1626.
5 Further west, Salzburg is Austria s fourth-largest city and deservedly listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Founded by the Romans as Juvavum, its ruins were rebuilt by the first Bishop of Salzburg, who gave the town its name, in in the 8 th Century. The Hohensalzburg Fortress that dominates the city was built in 1077 and became the residence of the Archbishops after the church was upgraded to a cathedral. The present-day state of Salzburg was a Prince-Archbishopric within the Holy Roman Empire from 1328 to The nucleus of the Franciscan Church (lower right) was built in the 1200s and expanded in the 1400s. Salzburg Cathedral (lower left) was rebuilt a few times over the centuries, most recently in the 1600s, at a time when many fine Baroque buildings were also constructed. The city is home to three universities, including one that specialises in music and is named after Mozart, who was born and grew up there. Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol, has an unusual history, in that the region was ruled by Italian counts until it was acquired by the Habsburgs in Built by the Romans in the 4 th Century to secure the strategic Brenner Pass, its name was Oeni Pons (bridge on the Inn River), which is what Innsbruck means. The town became the capital of the county in 1429 and its importance was further increased when Emperor Maximilian I resided there in the 1490s. As usual, the Cathedral of St. James (seen in the centre of the picture) was built on the site of previous churches in the early 1700s. The Imperial Palace (see next page) was built around 1460 and, after numerous upgrades between then and 1773, it is considered third in significance after the two palaces in Vienna. The city also has some very attractive streets and plazas.
6 I guess, by now, you re wanting to see some mountain scenery well, here you are! The Eastern Alps run the entire length of Tyrol, extending into Switzerland, Italy and Germany. The highest peak in Austria is here the Großglockner, at 3800 metres above sea level. Moving back east and south, we come to Klagenfurt, the capital of Carinthia, built as a market town at the end of the 12 th Century. The building in the foreground is the Landhaus (state parliament), formerly the House of the Estates where the ruling nobility held their meetings The city is on a lake called the Wörthersee and it has the longest inland beach in Europe (see next page). Yet more remarkable is the Lindwurm Fountain, which depicts a legendary dragon that lived in the marshes near the lake and had to be killed before the town could be built. The dragon was sculpted from a single block of chlorite greenstone in 1590, while the figure of Hercules and the iron railings were added in 1636.
7 Graz is the capital of Styria and the second-largest city in Austria, with a population of 280,000. It was founded by the Bavarian rulers of Styria in the late 1100s and later became the residence of a branch of the Habsburgs, from which they ruled southeastern Austria, Slovenia and some neighbouring parts of Italy. The city is on the Mur River, which eventually flows into the Danube. The city is dominated by the Schlossberg Castle, named after the hill it stands on. While the site was first fortified in the 10 th Century, the actual castle was built in the mid-1500s. Its surrounding walls withstood attacks by Hungarians and Ottomans, but they were dismantled by Napoleon s forces after Austria was defeated in The Main Square in the Old Town is surrounded by the Town Hall and many fine houses that were owned by merchants when the square was used as a market. It has a statue of Archduke Johann, who lived there in the 1800s and did much to industrialise and modernise the town. He persuaded his brother, Emperor Francis II, to build his planned railway from Vienna to Italy through Graz, which increased its importance as a trading centre. He also founded an archive centre for the duchy and the first museum in Austria.
8 The Republic of Hungary is a unitary state with a population of 9.8 million. The region was inhabited by Celts when it became part of the Roman Empire, after which a series of invasions from the east took place. In the 9 th Century, the Magyars consolidated the Principality of Hungary and went on to adopt Christianity. The seventh Grand Prince became King Stephen I in 1000 or 1001, with the blessing of Pope Sylvester II. He died in 1038 and was made a saint in The kingdom was invaded by the Mongols in the 1200s and most of it was occupied by the Ottomans from 1526 until What remained was under Habsburg monarchs from the mid-1500s, though Hungary became an equal partner in the Empire (at least, in theory) in The Emperor of Austria and the King of Hungary were the same person but, at least, the Hungarian Diet was finally given some actual power. Budapest, the capital, was originally two towns on either side of the Danube, built on the site of a Celtic settlement that became the Roman provincial capital of Aquincum. Buda and Pest already existed when the Magyars arrived but Buda didn t become the capital until It was in Ottoman hands from 1541 until a Christian army of 74,000 men from twelve countries expelled the Turks in Buda and Pest were only amalgamated in 1873 five years after Buda was made the twin capital with Vienna of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The city of today has a population of 1.8 million.
9 Surprisingly, many Roman remains still exist in various parts of Budapest, including two amphitheatres, public baths and parts of an aqueduct. After the Mongol invasion of , a castle was built in Buda and both cities were fortified with walls. That was expanded to a palace in the 1300s, which was rebuilt in ever grander styles in the next two centuries. However, the Ottomans neglected the building, using it for stables and military storage; thus, it was destroyed in the Battle of Buda when a cannonball strike set off the gunpowder in the arsenal there. The present Buda Palace was built in the Baroque style between 1749 and The National Assembly building was constructed in Gothic Revival Style between 1885 and 1904, using 40 million bricks, 500,000 precious stones and 40 kilograms of gold. It is the largest building in Hungary and the tallest building in Budapest. St. Stephen s Basilica, named after the aforementioned King Stephen I, whose right hand is said to be housed in its reliquary. It was built in the Neo-Classical style between 1851 and The Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest, completed in 1849, was the first permanent crossing over the Danube in the capital. It was actually designed and assembled in sections in the UK, which were shipped to Hungary and put together under the direction of a Scottish engineer, Adam Clark. Destroyed by the retreating Germans in 1945, the bridge was rebuilt and re-opened in 1949.
10 Another attraction is Gellért Hill, named after a bishop who was killed in a pagan revolt in Its Citadel is quite recent, built by the Habsburgs in the mid-1800s. Other features include a monument to the Red Army and a network of caves that contains a chapel and a monastery. And here we have the First Unitarian Church of Budapest, built in the late 1880s after our denomination was revived after 300 years by Transylvanian immigrants. The building has four storeys, only one of which is used for worship services while the others contain administrative offices of the national body, which has 25,000 members in 12 church congregations and 21 fellowships. There are now three churches in Budapest and five of the seven next-largest cities in the country have either a church or a fellowship. The second church in Budapest was renamed after the Unitarian composer, Béla Bartók in His son, Béla Bartók jr, was the lay president of the national church from 1970 until his death in The building was purchased in 1923 and Sanctuary (pictured at right) was built in Debrecen, in the far northeast, is the country s second-largest city, with a population of just over 200,000. It became an important town in the 1300s and fell under Ottoman control between 1558 and Yet, even before that time, the inhabitants had enthusiastically embraced Calvinism and the Great Reformed Church (left in picture) was built in the late 1620s.
11 The present-day University of Debrecen was founded as a Calvinist seminary in 1538, though other faculties were added only in the early 1900s. The Neo-Baroque main building was constructed in 1932 and it remains the largest building in the city. The town developed rapidly after 1857, when it was connected to Budapest by a railway. Factories, mills and banks sprang up, along with parks and stately villas. The Nagyerdő (Great Forest) park dates from that era and is impressive both for its centrality and for the number of natural, cultural and recreational facilities it has. St. Anne s Cathedral was built in the mid-1700s after Catholics were once again allowed to live in Debrecen in The towers were added in 1843 after a fire damaged the original single spire. The church was upgraded to a cathedral only in And here we have the Debrecen Unitarian Church, built in 1928 after the congregation was formed in Many of its current members are originally from Transylvania. Not far to the west is Miskolc, the fourth-largest city in Hungary with a population of 160,000. With a sorry history of conquests, fires and plagues, the city does not have as many old buildings as we have been used to seeing. However, after the Ottomans were defeated, it progressed from a market town to an industrial centre with industries as various as timber and paper mills, glass- and ironworks in the 18 th and 19 th Centuries. Probably, the oldest building in Miskolc is the Diósgyőr Castle (see next page), which was rebuilt in Gothic style in the 1300s after it was destroyed in the Mongol invasion. At the time, Diósgyőr was a separate town but it is part of Miskolc now. The castle slowly deteriorated after the Ottoman occupation but restoration began in 1953 and was completed in The second-oldest building is the Protestant Church of Avas, also rebuilt in Gothic style after it was burned by the Ottomans. The original Romanesque structure must have been a Catholic church at first, as it was founded in the 1400s.
12 The city centre has two interesting features, one of which is Erzsébet Square, named after the wife of Emperor Franz Josef. Although Empress Elisabeth was Bavarian, she took her dual role as Queen of Hungary quite seriously, spending a fair bit of time there and actually learning Hungarian. Ironically, it has a statue of Lajos Kossuth, who led a failed revolution against the Austrians in The other is the Barlangfürdő (Cave Bath) in a limestone hill, which contains a thermal spring whose waters were used (but only outside) from the 17 th Century. The actual Cave Bath was opened in 1959 and has been expanded since then. Strangely enough, the hill also has a cold spring that supplies one-half of the city s water. The Unitarian Church of Miskolc attained that status when a minister arrived in Prior to that, it was a Fellowship supported by the Debrecen church but it still doesn t have a building of its own. But we can t move south without having a look at Bükk National Park on the northern border with Slovakia. Located in the mountains of the same name, it is heavily forested and contains caves that were inhabited in prehistoric times. Hungary has ten national parks, all of which were established after 1973; this one is the third and it was founded in 1976.
13 So, now we go down the Tisze River, a tributary that eventually joins the Danube in Serbia, to Szeged. This is the third-largest city in Hungary, with a population of 160,000. A Roman trading post was built on an island in the vicinity and Attila the Hun may have had a headquarters around there, as well. Szeged has existed since the 1100s, despite being destroyed by the Mongols and later pillaged by the Ottomans. It was used as an administrative centre during the Ottoman occupation and went on to become a thriving market town. There are few old buildings here, though, as the city was nearly wiped out by a flood in 1879 even the Votive Church and Cathedral in the picture was built between 1914 and On the plus side, Emperor Franz Josef commissioned an elaborate reconstruction program of spacious avenues and Art Nouveau buildings. The oldest building in Szeged is the Dömötör Tower, near the Votive Church. This is all that remains of the medieval Church of St. Demetrius, which probably goes back to the 11th Century. The lower part of the tower was built in Romanesque style about 100 years later, while the Gothic upper part was added another century after that. (St. Demetrius was an early Greek martyr who died in 306 CE.) Also historical, at least as an institution, is the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas. Szeged is so close to the border that Serbians have lived there since the early 1500s, when they built a small wooden church. Its name is not known but a stone church dedicated to St. Nicholas was constructed in The present church was built on the site of a smaller one between 1772 and 1781.
14 Dugonics Square in the city centre is name after the Piarist priest and teacher, András Dugonics, writer of the first Hungarian novel in The fountain was inaugurated in 1979 to mark the centenary of the Great Flood. The principal building on the square is the University of Szeged, originally a secondary school. Surprisingly, it was only founded in 1921, when the University of Kolozsvár was moved there after Transylvania was lost to Romania at the end of World War I. The sizeable Unitarian Fellowship of Szeged was formed not later than 1952 but details about it are scarce. The minister of the church in the neighbouring town of Hódmezővásárhely visits them regularly to conduct services. In the southeast, near the border with Croatia, is Hungary s fifth-largest city, Pécs, with a population of 145,000. Colonised by the Romans in the early 2 nd Century CE, it became an important Christian centre only 200 years later. It became a bishopric in 1009 and the first university in Hungary was founded there in The town was fiercely contested in the lead-up to the Ottoman occupation and also at the end of it, leaving very little intact by However, the reconstruction was accompanied by 18 th Century industrialisation and the city prospered, especially after it was connected to Budapest by rail in While pieces of the Roman aqueduct still stand and 4 th Century Christian catacombs have been excavated, the most historic building in Pécs is the remains of the fortified Benedictine monastery, founded in 988. Despite the name, Pécsvárad (Pécs Castle), its only military usage was as the final Ottoman stronghold before they were expelled by Hungarian forces. The fortified gate known as the Barbakán was built in the 16 th Century it is actually an incomplete tower, hollow inside and open at the back. The rest of the site is now a hotel. Uniquely, the city also has some Ottoman remains, the most intact of which is the mosque built in the 1540s by the provincial governor, Pasha Qasim the Victorious. Standing on the main square in the Old Town, it has been a Catholic church 1702 its minarets were dismantled in The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul (see next page), also in the Old Town, is believed to have been built on the site of an early Roman basilica. Like most such buildings, it was expanded and reconstructed a number of times in styles varying from Romanesque to Gothic to the present neo-romanesque. The most recent reconstruction was carried out in the late 1800s.
15 The University of Pécs was abandoned during the Ottoman occupation (as was the monastery) and it didn t reopen permanently until 1833 even then, it was only an Academy with faculties of philosophy and law. However, in 1921, the University of Pozsony (Bratislava) was moved there after that city was lost to Czechoslovakia. The main building, housing the science and humanities faculties, is also on the main square. The Unitarians of Pécs are the nucleus of the Trans-Danubia Unitarian Diaspora Church, whose other branches are well to the north in Székesfehérvár and Polgárdi. Each month, the minister conducts two services in Pecs and one in the other two towns. None of those groups has their own premises. Moving north, we come to Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe 77 km long and 14 km across at its widest point. Favoured by the Hungarian aristocracy from an earlier time, middle class people only came in the 19 th Century, when railways arrived and blight-stricken vintners started building summer houses. However, a serious tourist boom of working people occurred under the Communist government from the 1960s, at which point visitors started arriving from elsewhere in Eastern Europe and even from the West. Today, the lake is surrounded by resort towns and villages, some of which have beaches of imported sand. In addition to swimming and sunbathing, visitors indulge in fishing, sailing and other water sports. Lake Balaton is also used in winter for ice-fishing, skating and ice-sailing. Today, people come from everywhere and there is even an international airport at the western end of the lake. Our circuit ends at Győr, the sixth-largest city with a population of 246,000 (see next page). Situated on the Danube between Vienna and Budapest, the original Celtic settlement became a major trading centre in Roman times even before the legions arrived in 10 CE. The Magyars rebuilt the abandoned Roman fortress and the town became a bishopric in the time of King Stephen I. Western Hungary came under Austrian control after the Ottoman invasion of 1526 but it was decided to burn the town rather than let it fall to the invaders. It was later rebuilt with a castle and city walls, but the Ottomans captured the town in 1594 and held it for four years.
16 A major battle in the Napoleonic Wars took place near Győr in 1809, which the Austrians lost. The occupying French destroyed some of the walls and, after they left, the rest was dismantle so the town could expand. In the mid-19 th Century, steamships began to ply the Danube, but the railways reduced the amount of river traffic and the town turned to industry to sustain its economy. The nucleus of the Bishop s Castle was built in the 14 th Century and more was added over the next 200 years. Restorations and further extensions were carried out in the 18 th Century and a further renovation was completed in The Cathedral Basilica is probably the oldest church still standing but the Church of St. Ignatius is far more impressive. Built by Jesuits (hence, the name), who had arrived shortly before, it was built between 1634 and 1641, though the towers were added in the 1700s. After the Jesuit order was disbanded, the church was given over to the Benedictines. The Unitarian Church of Győr was established in 1992, prior to which it had been a fellowship of the Trans- Danubian cluster since It has had a small building since 1996 but they prefer to hold their services in the spacious garden when the weather permits.
17 There is another cluster of churches, known as the East-Danubia Unitarian Diaspora Congregation, whose headquarters is in the small city of Kecskemét, midway between the Danube and Tisze Rivers. It started in 1944 with two groups in the region and grew to a total of fifteen by Some of those small towns were absorbed into the Budapest district, so there were only five left when a minister was sent in 1975 and the actual church was established. None of these groups have their own buildings. There are two other churches and three fellowships that I can t find pictures of, so I ll just show you some quaint churches that are probably based on Transylvanian village models: Little is known about the church in Kocsord (left), east of Debrecen except that it was built in The two narrower buildings in Füzesgyarmat and Hódmezővásárhely are in the vicinity of Szeged. The former dates from 1903 and became inactive between World War II and 1989, when a new minister was sent there. The latter was built in 1910, though the congregation was first formed in They, too, had a difficult time during the Communist era, when the building was nationalised, but they eventually got it back and spiritual life resumed in We will see the Danube River again in Part 2, when we look at the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This beautiful stretch is known as the Danube Bend, where the river deviates from the border with Slovakia and flows south through Hungary. [My thanks to Rev. Sándor Léta, minister of the Béla Bartok Unitarian Church in Budapest, for his wonderful help with the preparation of this presentation.]