Festeticses in Keszthely
The family Festetics – that has Croatian roots – received their title of nobility from Matthias II in the 16th century. Later, Maria Theresia rewarded the family’s loyalty with a countship. In 1911, Franz Joseph granted a dukedom to Tasziló Festetics. The family got wealthier in the 18th century and Kristóf Festetics started buying lands in 1739, thus he obtained Keszthely among others. Later, he thought that a proper castle befitted the estate in Keszthely, thus he began a construction in 1745, where the Pethő Castle had stood originally, which was built in 1686.
The plans of the construction of 1745 are missing, but several rebuilding plans survived from the following decades. In the first one from 1755, made by Kristóf Hofstädter, you can see a U-shaped ground plan, with a decorative courtyard between the wings, closed by grilles at the end. An inventory book from the 18th century tells us about the interior of the castle, listing 34 rooms. The description unveils that the ages of fixtures and fittings could not be identified in many instances, but the definition ‘ancient’ is rather talkative. The listing also shows that the castle functioned rather as a comfortable home than as a representative building.
The castle in and out
Although castle visits should start at the gate, the park is also worth mentioning. At the end of the 18th century, there was an English park on the place of the old French garden, with a pavilion, a gloriette, an amusement house and a stage. The performances of the Helikon festivals were organised here, and the famous poets’ memorial trees were planted near. All kinds of domestic trees and bushes could be found in the ‘garden’, and turtles were bred in the pond, because turtle meat was the family’s favourite food. During this time, the famous botanist Pál Kitaibel often sent special seeds for the park. The area of the park has shrunk from 42 acres to 7 acres by now.
The interior is classical, but the Carrara marble stairway leading to the rooms is not usual at all – it shows the characteristics of baronial pomp. Besides the marble stairs, the amazing oak wood staircase walls with family portraits create a special atmosphere, too.
György Festetics, the Georgikon founder, is probably the best-known member of the family. As the most enlightened person of his era, he built a separate wing to a library. The library – whose 19th-century richly carved furniture remained in its original form – was a part of the men’s suit. Next to it, you can find the count’s ‘gent’s room’. In the spirit of manly severity, this room and the neighbouring room got neo-renaissance oak wood panels and heavy boarded ceilings.
Owing to huge fortune and a bit of providence, the collection was saved, because the library and some neighbouring rooms were walled up in the WW II. They gathered the most valuable pieces of furniture, paintings, sculptures and chinaware in the walled-up rooms, thus the objects tided over the war on their original place uniquely. The precious books from the library were moved to Budapest and were incorporated into the collection of the National Széchenyi Library. The thick of the furniture can be found in the Museum of Applied Arts and the Nagytétény Mansion now.
The women’s salon was situated in the other end of the building part. Its appearance was sharply different from that of the men’s suit: walls were covered with wallpaper instead of panels, and the ceiling was enlivened with airy stuccowork. Besides the rooms, the stately furnished halls and corridors were also high profile. The most esteemed pieces of the castle were the wooden staircases in front of staterooms, the Chinese vases in the halls and the two glass chandeliers from the Maria Theresia era. The bedroom of the former duchess (the Blue Salon) or the Maria Theresia Salon, which was Tasziló Festetics (II)’s wife Mary Hamilton’s bedroom, tell us about the interior of the castle. Next to the women’s salon, there was a large dining room, one of the largest and most representative rooms of the castle. Its colourful patterned parquetry was from the 18th century, but its rococo stuccos were made in the 1880s, adjusting to the original character of the building.
The building could owe its present shape to Tasziló Festetics (II), who ordered large-scale building plans from the Pressburg-born Viennese architect Viktor Rumpelmayer, after taking over the entail of Keszthely in 1883. The reconstruction was done according to his plans. It was about pulling down the northern wing of the old castle, building a new wing and attaching it to the old one with a towered middle part.
After WW II
After the Second World War, the intact castle was ravaged systematically and its fittings were stolen. After the deprivatizations, it became a barrack, a student hostel, a printing-house and even a military laundry operated inside the castle. Two-thirds of the once wonderful park was detached and the Europe-wide famous tree collection was cut down due to the barrack construction. Certain parts of the park were filled up with dross because of the new utilisation. A bit belatedly but luckily, the castle was pronounced a national monument officially in 1952. Since then, it almost got back its former shape: it was restored and it became the third largest and the most visited castle of Hungary. It welcomes its old and new visitors warm-heartedly.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Péczely Piroska: A keszthelyi Festetics kastély és belső berendezése