On the third day of the New Year, we took a day trip to Székesfehérvár, 30 minutes southwest of Budapest on the M7. Székesfehérvár was an important Roman outpost since the 5th century BCE. Hungarians arrived around 897, when Árpad created a permanent settlement. Géza and then St. Istvan continued building and the walled city continued to grow. The city was home of Hungary’s Diet, or parliament, for 500 years, only ending with the Turkish occupation in 1543.
The city was the scene of one of the last German battles in World War II; somewhat miraculously the historic center was spared major damage.
We found easy parking at Piac ter, and walked up to the city center at Városház ter. There are three churches packed into this medieval center: Szent Istvan’s Cathedral, Carmelite Church and the Cistercian Church, all in Baroque style and all unfortunately closed except for their small entryways. The Bishop’s Palace is also a grand Baroque statement, its yellow façade and ironwork glistening in the January sun; behind which are the expansive ruins of the 11th century basilica.
We saw an interesting exhibition, the “Seuso-Kincs,” in the Szent Istvan Király Museum; housed in the adjacent friary of the Cistercian Church. Seven pieces of this late Roman silver hoard were on display including two large plates of exquisite craftsmanship. Much mystery and controversy surrounds this collection, including the murder of a Hungarian soldier (still unsolved) in 1980. The hoard came into the possession of Spenser Compton, 7th Marquess of Northhampton around this time.A Sotheby’s 1990 sale was halted because of alleged false provenance; law suits followed in New York and the topic was debated in the House of Lords. Victor Orbán, Hunagry’s Prime Minister, recently arranged the purchase of the displayed pieces, referring to them as “Hungary’s family silverware.” There seems overwhelming proof that these artifacts are from Hungary, the “Hunting Plate” has an inscription “Pelso,” the Roman name for Lake Balaton. This whole bizarre story was documented in the UK Channel 4 archeology program “Time Team.”
We also stopped into the black Eagle Pharmacy, a small baroque jewel box built in 1774. After this, it was cappuccinos and puncs szelet at Pátria Kávéház. Nearby, there were a few wonderful, whimsical paintings on a corner café; I would have bought one if I could. All that remained was our easy ride back to Budapest.