The city was already inhabited in the Neolithic, as evidenced by the archaeological finds: around 5,000 BC, the culture of line-ornate pottery of Transdanubia lived in the countryside. Its first written record comes from a 1349 charter. The area was inhabited until 1594, when it became depopulated for half a century during the Fifteen Years' War against the Ottomans. In 1662, Ferenc Hamvay had a mansion built in the centre of Gödöllő; he was the first landlord to live in the town. Today, the Gödöllő City Museum and the City Cinema are located in the building on the site of his mansion. Krisztina Bossányi, the heavy-handed landowner of Gödöllő, should be mentioned from the period. His father, Miklós Bossányi, married the widow of Ferenc Hamvay, and Krisztina went to court after her father's death, so she received Gödöllő as an inheritance. Antal Grassalkovich gained access to the estates in Gödöllő only after her death, through her heirs.
Count Antal Grassalkovich held important positions in the court of Maria Theresa, and acquired significant estates in Gödöllő, Hatvan and the nearby Bag. The prosperity of Gödöllő can be linked to his name. The construction of the baroque castle in Gödöllő began in the 1740s. In 1763, he elevated the settlement to the status of a country town with the right to hold fairs, had new streets built with rows of houses, and supported the serfs in the construction of new dwellings. The count “gave” Gödöllő a number of now emblematic buildings: he erected the pilgrimage church in Máriabesnyő, the former manor house opposite the castle, which later became known as the captain's house or guardsmen’s barrack, the now ruined stable of Babat and the Calvary in Elisabeth Park. He had an inn built on the site of the Hamvay mansion. Only the cellar remained from the old mansion, which is the oldest building in the city. His heirs, son and grandson expanded the castle, for example with a baroque theatre, but their activities were not significant. In 1841, the male branch of the family became extinct with Antal Grassalkovich III and his estates passed to his nephew, Mihály Viczay, who sold it to a wealthy merchant family of Greek descent, the Sina family (the family had a good relationship with Count István Széchenyi and provided significant financial support for the construction of the Chain Bridge). Gödöllő soon became the property of a Belgian bank.
In 1849, an important battle of the War of Independence took place in the neighbouring Isaszeg. The castle of Gödöllő was the headquarters of Windisch-Grätz, the commander of the imperial troops, and then the accommodation of Lajos Kossuth after the victorious battle of Isaszeg. According to oral tradition, Kossuth drafted the Declaration of Independence that proclaimed the dethronement of the Habsburg dynasty in the castle. It should be mentioned that General Ignác Török was a famous native of Gödöllő, who died as a martyr in Arad after the defeat of the War of Independence. A secondary grammar school was named after him in the city.
Following the Compromise, the Hungarian state offered the repurchased estate of Gödöllő to the imperial couple, Franz Joseph I and Queen Elisabeth, who occupied the residency later that year. The Queen's admiration for the neighbourhood and the people who lived here was legendary. During her holidays here, she was able to break away from the rigid court life of Vienna and to indulge in her passion for horse riding. The people of Gödöllő also loved her, and her name day was celebrated every year with a torchlight procession. The Emperor also liked the holiday resort, but mainly the woods in the area and the regular hunts that took place there. Their children also spent a lot of time here, especially Archduchess Marie Valerie, “the little Princess of Gödöllő”, as the locals called her. She also had a nurse and a foster-sibling here from neighbouring Szada.
The Budapest-Hatvan railway line was built in 1867, so the ruling family could travel directly from Vienna to Gödöllő by rail with the track connection established at Kőbánya station. The royal waiting hall, which was a curiosity, was handed over in 1882. In this building, members of the royal family could comfortably wait for the train to arrive. During World War II, it was set on fire by retreating German troops, but its walls remained. Since 1958, it has been a listed monument, until 2011 it operated as a railway ticket-office and waiting hall, and since then, after the reconstruction, it has been an exhibition and event hall.
Another important means of transport in Gödöllő, the HÉV (local railway line), has been in service since 1911, making the capital even more accessible. Its special feature is that on this line, vehicles still run in the reverse traffic order (left-hand traffic).
From the 1870s, the city became a popular holiday resort, and many Budapest citizens bought a holiday home near the train station, so a new part of the city was formed there. However, a resort cannot be left without a bath, so the spa culture appeared in Gödöllő as follows. The large number of tourists, who wanted to be close to water, travelled back to Budapest to bath regularly. However, after a while, a retired manor officer Ferenc Horváth – persuaded by holidaymakers living in the buildings in the lower part -, set up a bathing house using the water of the Rákos stream flowing through the area. This is how the Gizella Bath was established in 1885. It was renovated by the new owner in 1905, and its water was already advertised as medicinal water to entice guests. Today, Fürdő (bath) Street preserves the memory and location of the former bathing life.
There were many artists among the settlers, the most significant workshop of the Hungarian Art Nouveau, the establishment of the Gödöllő artists' colony, can be linked to one of the groups. The house bought by Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch in Gödöllő in 1901 was the base of the creative community. One of the cornerstones of their art was leaving the big city, a closer connection to rural life; they sought to integrate art and life, arguing that the work of art was not a goal in itself but serves to improve the life of the community. The unity of fine and applied arts and the revival of handicraft traditions were of paramount importance to them: a school of tapestry-, carpet weaving and sculpture was established. Their clothes and furniture were often designed and made by them. During World War I, the operation of the artists' colony was suspended, and in 1920, it was ended with the death of Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch.
The reputation of the city is increased by its university as well. In 1923, the foundation stone was laid as the building of the secondary grammar school of the Premonstratensian Order. In 1948, the grammar school was nationalized, and then the University of Agricultural Sciences moved into the building. Since 2000, it has been the campus of the (former) St. Stephen's University.
Between the two world wars, Gödöllő retained its prominent role in public life: the Gödöllő Castle functioned as a holiday home for Miklós Horthy, and many high-ranking guest visited it during the autumn hunting season. In 1944, an air-raid shelter for the Horthy family was also built in the castle garden.
An important event of this period was the fourth World Scout Jamboree, which revived the whole of Hungary. Nearly 26,000 scouts and 365,000 visitors attended the meeting. It took two years to organize and prepare the hospitality scouts (knowledge of etiquette, language learning). A number of old scouts also helped the infrastructure construction of the huge camp, which resembled a mini-town with a separate hospital and post office. Its symbol, which appeared in many places, was a miracle deer known from Hungarian legends. The main patron and one of the main organizers was the honorary chief scout of the Hungarian Scout Association, Pál Teleki, a former (and later) prime minister of Hungary. By the way, Teleki's final resting place is also in the city, his grave is located in the cemetery of Máriabesnyő. Governor Miklós Horthy and the founder of the Scout movement Robert Baden-Powell also took part in the opening ceremony. The statue Scout Boy, located at one of the entrances to the Lower Park, commemorates the event. The statue is an enlarged version of Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl's statuette, and István Paál, a student of Kisfaludi Strobl, made it.
In 1939, the city also hosted the Pax Ting, the World Meeting of Girl Scouts, which was a significant event with thousands of guests and a number of high-ranking politicians and leaders, similarly to the meeting of 1933.
In December 1944, the city was occupied by Soviet troops and a prison camp was operated here with Hungarian and German prisoners for three months. After World War II, a half of Grassalkovich Castle was a Soviet barrack and the other half was an elderly people’s home. Today, it functions as a museum, thanks to the cultural heritage conservation efforts of almost three decades. In 1965, Gödöllő and Máriabesnyő were merged, and the settlement was granted city status as of 1 January 1966. In the sixties, the population started to increase, and the blocks of flats and housing estates that defined the cityscape were built in the seventies.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Mária G. Merva (főszerk.): Gödöllő története I-II. Gödöllő. 2007