Veszprém, where music is always played – by the bells or the wind

Veszprém is known as the city of queens, but it also has the attribute of the city of winds, as the stormy gusts of wind coming from Bakony very often ruffle the feathers of people living here. In our latest selection, besides the short history of the settlement, we also explain these rhetorical characterizations of the city, and in connection with its iconic tower, the fire protection of the city comes to life as well.


The city of queens is our highest county seat; the city is located in the hills and valleys surrounding the stream Séd. Since the founding of the state, it has been an ecclesiastical centre, episcopal and later archiepiscopal seat. Its name comes from the Slavic word bezprem, which means “uneven”, “hilly” according to linguists. However, it is a common view that the name of the settlement comes from the nephew of Stephen I, the Polish prince Bezprym.

As far as the age of the settlement is concerned, the castle of Veszprém, together with the castles of Esztergom and Székesfehérvár, is one of our oldest fortifications. It must have existed in Géza's time, but according to some assumptions, a fortress stood here even before the Hungarian conquest. Although, according to tradition, Veszprém was built on seven hills, it is more likely that the inhabitants of the area settled in the valleys first and only later expanded to the hills.


The city played an important role in the struggle for the introduction of Christianity, as Stephen I defeated the armies of the rebellious Koppány here. During the Tartar invasion, the fortress still resisted the attacks, but was unable to stop the Ottoman army, so that was the reason why it changed owners ten times between 1552 and 1683. During the Rákóczi War of Independence, Veszprém, which was on the side of the Kuruc, was brutally ravaged by imperial troops. The present Baroque image of the city developed after the arson. Its most important monuments were built at that time, for example the Archbishop's Palace, which was designed according to the plans of Jakab Fellner, the architect of the family Esterházy.

The first railway lines in Hungary avoided the city. When the Székesfehérvár – Veszprém – Szombathely line was finally completed in 1872, the city leaders prevented it from passing through the city centre, so the railway station was built several kilometres away from the centre. Veszprém fell out of the commercial bloodstream and its development came to a halt. Despite attempts, only the military industry settled here between the two world wars brought real prosperity. In 1930, Veszprém received the county town title, and the St. Stephen's Valley Bridge, or viaduct, was built. During World War II, the city was hit by several bombings, primarily due to its transport junction nature. After the war, it became a university town and the most important organizing and supplying settlement in the Balaton Uplands.

City of queens

TGYM_89_172_e.jpgThe name suggests that the first Hungarian queen, Gizella, and her later descendants were the patrons of the St. Michael’s Cathedral, built in the 11th century. According to this, the current Hungarian queens also gave the church several land donations. By a charter dated in 1280, a queen's throne stood in the church, the chief protector of which was the king's wife. The bishop of Veszprém was the chancellor of Hungarian queens, and one of his privileges was to crown the queens. This right lasted for more than nine hundred years. Finally, the last Hungarian ruler Charles IV’s wife Queen Zita was crowned by the then bishop Baron Károly Hornig.


However, Gizella was connected to the city in other ways as well. According to the legend, a chasuble embroidered in the convent of Veszprémvölgy later became the coronation cloak of the Hungarian kings. Gizella, who traditionally took part in its creation, donated the chasuble to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption in Székesfehérvár. The cloak is preserved in the Hungarian National Museum.
For a long time, the crown of Queen Gizella, which is of course not identical with the Holy Crown, was kept in the Episcopal Basilica of Veszprém. In 1217, Andrew II sold it for 140 silver marks to cover the costs of his campaign in the Holy Land. The Queen's cult gained new impetus after Trianon, the statue of Stephen and Gizella was inaugurated in the Castle during the St. Stephen's Memorial Year of 1938, and the chapel named after Gizella was also restored.

When firefighting was a burning issue

Until the 19th century, most of the houses in the town were covered with thatch, and there were many wooden structures as well. Fires hit the settlement not only after the wars, but also due to the windy weather in the area also contributed to them, and little rain and water resources only aggravated them. Thus, it may have happened that the fire of 28 March 1656 was extinguished in a unique way not with water but with wine.

Of course, the city took several measures to prevent fire damages, such as banning to smoke pipes in the marketplace, but these provisions did not prove sufficient. At the dawn of the 19th century, the creation of a “fire extinguisher house,” a contemporary fire department, became a common desire. The building was to be built from the material of the damaged Watchtower, but the noblemen of the city did not contribute to the demolition of the tower, still the Extinguisher House was eventually built. At the bottom of the two-story building, extinguisher carts were placed behind two stone-framed entrance gates. Between 1818 and 1885, the Town Hall functioned in the house. Some of the offices of the town council were placed on the upper level. When the council moved into the Kapuváry house in 1885, the oversized Extinguisher House proved to be too large, and the upper floor was occupied by the Industry Association, below which the former fire station was transformed into a restaurant. However, a statue of St. Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, can still be seen on the façade at the height of the mezzanine-floor in a small niche, reminding the inhabitants of the original role of the house. Beside the coat of arms, the Hungarian translation of a poem written by the city chief notary János Csirke in 1823 reads: “This house was built with the money of the citizens. Here stands a means of fire destruction and protection.”

Fire-watch tower

128165.jpgThe stonewalls, towers and bastions of the castle of Veszprém were built at different times, so we do not have exact data on the construction of the Fire-watch Tower - originally the Watchtower. The building survived not only Ottoman times, but also the order of Emperor Leopold I to destroy fortresses and an earthquake. However, this notable earthquake of Mór in 1810 damaged the tower. The town council asked for permission from the bishop to demolish it and use its material for the planned Extinguisher House. However, the noblemen of Veszprém only contributed to the construction of the Extinguisher House if the tower was not demolished. Thus, the tower was preserved, it was renovated, and according to the plans of architect Henrik Tumler, who designed the Extinguisher House, it received a late-baroque heightening between 1811 and 1814, together with a round balcony.

The exterior of the Fire-watch Tower has not changed significantly since then. The coat of arms of Hungary is on its peak, which was replaced by a red star from the 1950s to the 1980s, but the original ornament was preserved and returned to the tower in mid-1989. The last major restoration of the tower took place in 1984, and an archaeological excavation was carried out to find out how deep the walls of the tower had been laid. Interestingly, since there was no place for research anywhere outside, the work was going on inside the tower. An embankment containing 17th-20th century finds was removed from the tower body, which was seven metres thick measured from the entrance threshold. The static man did not recommend the demolition of further layers, so the depth of the foundation remained unknown. Nowadays, the Fire-watch Tower is a lookout tower - currently inaccessible - where Antal Csermák's Verbunkos (recruiting dance music) intones every hour, so not only the wind but also the music of the bells fill the streets of the city with life.

Translated by Zita Aknai



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