Conventions

The undisturbed beauty of an old town centre – a trip through time in the heart of Kőszeg


City of Kőszeg
Bük and Sárvár

Kőszeg is one of Hungary’s most beautiful towns and a genuine treasure trove in the Western corner of the country. If you are in the Bük–Sárvár region and have the desire to travel back in time, Kőszeg is the destination for you. A weekend is easily enough to get to know this cosy little town full of sights and attractions – and, thanks to its geographical location, surrounded by natural beauty. 

Most of the attractions in Kőszeg are found within the so-called Várkör – castle district – in the town centre. Your first stop should be Fő tér, the town square bustling with life with its cafés, bars and restaurants, and home of the Gothic revival Sacred Heart church overlooking this beautiful little square. Standing 57 metres tall, the church is the tallest building in Kőszeg, and is just as spectacular from the inside, with its round stained-glass rose windows, as it is on the outside. The centre of the square is dominated by the Statue of the Holy Trinity erected in 1713 to commemorate the victims of the plague following Rákóczi’s War of Independence – hence the popular name of the statue: the “Plague Statue”. 

Leaving Fő tér, you arrive at Jurisics tér, the town’s old marketplace, which is just as full of monuments and listed buildings as Fő tér was. Here you will find truly unique treasures including the Gothic and Baroque St. James’ church, Saint Emeric’s church built for the reformed community but then later given to the Catholic congregation, the Town Well built in 1766, the lavishly decorated Sgrafitto House, the statue of Mary with its twisting column, a remnant of the cult of Mary of the Catholic Revival period, and the Golden Unicorn Pharmacist’s Museum, which is famous all over the country.

This museum is truly special: the Golden Unicorn Pharmacist’s building, which opened in 1743, has been reconstructed to show the shop as it would have looked in the 18th century, and showcases the relics of the monastic and civil pharmacy from the 17th to 19th centuries. The crown jewel of the exhibition is the original furnishings of the Jesuit pharmacist’s shop from 1735–1744. (Fun fact: although a pharmacist’s museum is not a common attraction in the world, Kőszeg actually has two: the Golden Unicorn and also the Black Saracen.) Jurisics tér is the home of Hungary’s oldest serving town hall – the aldermen of Kőszeg have been managing town matters in this building of yellow and red-striped livery since the 14th century. But the square is dominated by the Heroes’ Tower, a surprisingly “new” monument erected in 1932, in place of the original town gate, which was demolished in the 19th century. The tower now serves as an exhibition space for the Town Museum, with music playing from the balcony on festive occasions. Passing through the gate at the foot of the tower, you can continue your town tour towards Jurisics Castle.
 

The castle is famous nationwide and the flagship sight in Kőszeg. The earliest parts still standing were built in the 14th century as part of a new double fortification system. This system played a vital part in the heroic victory of the castle’s vastly outnumbered defence forces over the Ottoman army in 1532. Led by Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman army was heading for Vienna, pillaging and razing settlements on the way. On reaching Kőszeg, they decided to besiege of the castle.

 

Defended by Captain Miklós Jurisics and his band of 1,000 daredevil soldiers – mostly recruited peasants and serfs – Kőszeg Castle faced an Ottoman army of 60–70,000 troops, the only Hungarian border fortress to take on the brunt of an army this size. Suleiman watched the siege unfold from a nearby hill – today called the Sultan Hill. However, the Ottoman tour de force did not end triumphantly, as the strongly built and properly fortified castle (with the outside fortification and the inner castle surrounded by a moat) miraculously withstood even the fiercest attacks, aided by a healthy dose of luck and unfavourable weather for the besiegers, following heavy downpours in the previous weeks. Eventually, the castle would be symbolically surrendered, but the heroics of the defenders of the castle did not go unnoticed: today the bells in Kőszeg toll not only at noon every day but also at 11 a.m. in commemoration of this event. The castle courtyard also features a statue of Captain Miklós Jurisics.  

The castle offers a fantastic range of events and attractions for visitors and the late Gothicearly Renaissance hallway, which is among the most beautiful examples of Hungarian castle architecture, houses temporary exhibitions. The great hall hosts cultural events on a regular basis, while the permanent exhibition walks the visitors through the entire history of Kőszeg and the castle, and provides a taste of medieval life. The western tower of the castle is open to the public, and offers a spectacular view to the old town below and the rolling hills around. Having seen the exhibitions, you can pay a visit to the castle gift shop, the cafeteria and the spice garden while the kids have fun in the kids’ corner and the playground or try their hands at archery. Walk along the remnants of the old town wall to the Old Tower (or Zwinger), regarded as the oldest surviving part of the fortification system of the town and the castle; once a bastion, the nonagonal tower today serves as a venue for educational and cultural events as well as temporary exhibitions, all of which are open to the public.


Kőszeg abounds in events where you can indulge yourself in the unique historical atmosphere of this town. In the summer, you can watch the performances of the Kőszeg Castle Theatre, the Kőszeg Harvest Festival, a 30-year tradition, and the Orsolya’s Day Fair – all of which are highly recommended. If you like more natural settings, why not hike on the hills around the town for some spectacular views of it? Head to Calvary Hill or the Óház Lookout Tower for breathtaking panoramas of Kőszeg as well as the nearby monadnocks – the Ság and the Somló – and even distant places, such as the town of Szombathely and Lake Fertő. 

Move around like a hungarian