The history of Eger

     Eger is one of the most beautiful towns of Hungary with lots of historic buildings. It lies in the valley of the Eger Stream, in the hill-country, which extends over the western foot of the Bükk Mountains.

     The origin of its name is still unknown. One suggestion is that the place was named after the elder ("égerfa" in Hungarian) which grew so abundantly along the banks of the Eger Stream. This explanation seems to be correct because the name of the town reflects its ancient natural environment, and also one of its most typical plants, the elder, large areas of which could be found everywhere on the marshy banks of the Stream although they have since although they have since disappeared. The German name of the town: Erlau=Elren-au (elder grove) also speaks in favour of this supposition. And there is another theory which says that Eger's name comes from the Latin word: "ager" (earth). This theory comes from more recent researchers who think that during the 11th and 12th centuries settlers with a Walloon origin ("latins") in Hungarian) moved to this territory.

     The basin of Eger and the hilly region around it have always been very suitable for human settlements, and there are many archaeological findings from the early ages of history, which support this fact.

     According to these findings the first generation of the conquering Hungarians occupied the area of Eger at the beginning of the 10th century. Graves at the city limits (Almagyar, Répástetõ) of armed men with Arabian coins serve a good proof of this. At the end of the last century more findings dating from the time of the Hungarian conquest rose to the surface near the "Szépasszony-völgy (The Beautiful Woman's Valley).

     Actually Eger's establishment coincides with the church - founding activity of our first king, Saint Stephen. He established here one of the ten bishoprics that were organised before 1009. This fact has been proven by different archaeological findings. During excavations the archaeologists have found human bones from the 9th century, a circular church and also the remains of a smaller palace. These excavations confirm that ancient folklore according to which our first king could watch the building process of Eger's cathedral from the hill which later became known as King's Seat.

     This settlement, as a cathedral town, took up an important place among the Hungarian towns even in the early Middle Ages. The natural fundamentals of the surroundings (meeting of plain and hills) made it possible to establish economic and cultural relations between the different parts of the country.

     This development was blocked for a short time by the Mongol invasion in 1241, when the town was ransacked and burned down during the episcopacy of Kilit the Second.

     After the withdrawal of the Mongols Eger began to flourish all over again. Lambert, the bishop of Eger, received a permit from Béla the Fourth for the building a stone fortress. So the nearly destroyed town revived and reached the peak of its medieval development in the l4th and 15th centuries. During this period the forests which spread to the limits of the town were cleared for the most part, and vines were planted in their place. More and more town-houses were built in the settlement. Roads were constructed among which the ones in the inner town were narrow and twisting but those leading to the northern mining towns were wider. The versions surrounding settlements such as Almagyar and Czigléd were built up along with Eger.

     During the reign of King Matthias (1458-1490) Eger began to develop again. The gothic-styled Bishops Palace which can be seen at the present time was reconstructed by the order of bishop János Bekensloer. Building operations continued during the bishoprics of Orbán Dóczy and Tamás Bakócz. The beginning of the reconstruction (in late gothic style) of the cathedral fort can also be linked to their names. After the death of King Matthias, during the bishopric of Hyppolit the so-called Hyppolit Gate was built, this has recently been removed.

     After the Mohács Disaster (1526) a sorrowful period began in the history of Eger. During the dual kingship the town changed hands almost every year and the Turkish army came closer as well. This circumstance provided the reason for reinforcing the fortress. In the autumn of 1552, Captain István Dobó and his handful of soldiers were successful in defending the fortress and northern Hungary from the expanding Turkish Empire. Géza Gárdonyi wrote his book, "the Eclipse of the Crescent Moon" in remembrance of this battle, and his work has been translated into numerous languages.

     Despite the fact that Dobó and his soldiers successfully defended the fortress, it was destroyed during the siege, so it was essential to wholly rebuild it. The reconstruction process of the fortress took place between 1553 and 1596 and Italian artificer officers planned the renovations. It is an interesting moment in the history of the fort that Balint Balassi, our famous poet served here for a few years from April 1578.

     While Dobó and his soldiers managed to defend the fortress in 1552, in 1596 the captain at that time and the foreign mercenaries under his rule handed it over. This was the beginning of the 91 year long Turkish rule in Eger. The graceful minaret which was built at the end of the 17th century preserves the memory of this period. Among all the buildings of this type, the minaret of Eger is found in the northern-most point of the former Ottoman Empire. During the Turkish occupation Eger became the seat of a vilayet which is a Turkish domain including several sanjaks.

     Eger was relieved from Turkish rule in December, 1687. Although the reoccupation was effected by a siege (which starved out the defenders) and not by a bombardment, the town fell into a very poor state. According to the ... records there were only 413 houses in the area within the town walls which were habitable and most of these were occupied by left over Turkish families.

     After the expelling of the Turks, the town was considered by the imperial regiment as a demesne of the Crown. Leopold the First established Eger as a free royal borough in 1688, which meant that it was relieved from the ecclesiastic manorial burdens. This state lasted until 1695, when György Finesse, the returning bishop, had the former legal status of a bishopric town restored by the monarch.

     During the era of Rákóczi's insurrection (1703-1711) the town was the centre of the liberated part of Hungary. Prince Ferenc Rákóczi the Second stayed several times within the walls of the settlement and his general headquarters was here, too. It is very important to mention that the first Hungarian newspaper, the Mercurius Veridicus (Veracious Mercury) was dated here in 1705, although it was not printed in this town for lack of a printing press. In 1709 Ferenc Rákóczi and Ukranciev, the legate of Czar Peter the First, met here. It must be added that the legate died in Eger and was buried near the Serbian Church.

     In the history of Eger the 18th century was the period of development and prosperity. The bishops of Eger, out of special respect for Ferenc Barkóczy and Károly Eszterházy, created that baroque townscape which has been characteristic of Eger since that time. The most spectacular ones among the baroque buildings are the "líceum" (central building of Károly Eszterházy Teachers Training College), the Minorite Church, the Small Priovost's palace, the Great Priovost's palace (the County Library), the County Hall with Henrik Fasola's two wonderful, wrought-iron gates in it and the Serbian Church. The building processes attracted many craftsman, merchants and artists with such talented ones among them as Kracker János Lukács, Anton Maulberts, Franz Sigrist, Josef Gerl, Jakab Fellner and Henrik Fasola. The town population grew suddenly. While in 1688 it was only 1200, in 1787 more than 17 000 people lived here. At this time Eger was the 6th town of Hungary (based on the number of its inhabitants). Viniculture also reached its brightest period in these days. The wine-growing area was twelve-times larger than it had been earlier.

     The l8th century was also important because bishop Barkóczy and Eszterházy decided to found a university in Eger patterned after the ones in Nagyszombat and in Vienna. There were already precedents for this type of education because in 1700 Bishop István Telekessy, who took sides with Ferenc Rákóczy the Second, established a seminary in Eger. Then in 1740 Canon György Foglár founded a Faculty of Law and in 1754 bishop Barkóczy set up a school of philosophy. In 1769 the first medical school of Hungary was opened by the direction of Ferenc Markhot, but it was closed in 1755. Unfortunately the university of Eger could not begin its work because of appoint ... the monarch'. In the building which was marked out for the university we can find the Archdiocese's Library (the most beautiful baroque library in Hungary), and an astronomical museum with original equipment, which was the second museum of this type in Europe. It is probably interesting to mention that between 1946 and 1948 there were several more efforts to found a university in Eger but these attempts failed, too.

     In 1804 a significant change occurred in the organisation of Eger's bishopric. The monarch made this town a centre of archbisphoric, but the bishoprics of Szatmár and Kassa separated from it.

     The Reform Age (1825-1848) left several lasting marks on the life of Eger, especially on its culture. Pyrker László János, the archbishop of that time founded a gallery which he donated to the Hungarian National Museum because the town did not guarantee an appropriate place for it. It was Pyrker's present which served as a base for the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts that was opened in 1900. In 1828 Pyrker established the first Hungarian teachers training college in Eger and he was the one who ordered the construction of the basilica which was built in neo-classical style, in accordance with the plans of József Hild. On the basis of its size this basilica is the second among the churches of Hungary. In 1837 János Joó, an art teacher, began to edit Hungary s first technical journal with the title "Héti Lapok".

     As an achievement of the 1848-49 War of Independence in 1854 Eger was liberated from the economic authority of the church whom the town obtained agreement to commute the paying of the novenary and the charge for 50 000 forints.

     Unfortunately (unlike other towns) Eger's civil development didn't become faster, as distinguished from other towns, after 1849 and the Compromise of 1867. Industrial development was represented only by the mill, the tobacco factory and the sheet-iron works which were founded in the Reform Age.

     During the decades after the turn of the century the character of a school-town was dominant in Eger. Because of its schools and other cultural institutions it became known as the Hungarian Athens.

     At the beginning of the century, in 1904, the first independent theatre of stone was opened and the canalisation and the provision of public utilities began as well. In 1933 Eger was one of those towns that first got the permission for opening a spa.

     In the decades after 1945, industrialisation of the town commenced because of the change of regime. As a consequence, Eger's former character of a cultural centre began to fade, which diminished the patina of the settlement.

     It was a great good fortune that in 1968 the baroque inner city was preserved. So it was saved from the deterioration (and from the construction of unsuitable, modern buildings), that ??adversely?? affected other towns. In 1978 the town was rewarded with a Hild-medal for its excellent work in protecting the local monuments. It was also in appreciation of the town's protection of its heritage that the Hungarian seat of the ICOMOS (International Council for Monuments and Sites) was located into Eger. In connection with the outlining of Eger's history some of the local features must be mentioned. Such as the "Egri Bikavér" (Bull's Blood of Eger), which is an excellent wine, the "Egri Víz" (a type of brandy with alcoholic content) made from the middle of the 18th century and the "bujavászon" (a special Turkish tissue). It is also important to note that in Eger thermal waters can be found with radioactive content which created the basis for a spa and later for the swimming sport.

     Regarding the future, after the change of regime it became clearer and clearer that connections to the town's ancient past should be found. These are the further development of tourism, vine culture and cultural life.

The Shield of Eger

    The Shield of Eger developed from the shield of Bishop György Fenesy (1686-1689) after an agreement which was made with him in 1694. The bastion with the three gates on it refers to the existence of the fortress. The rampant unicorn between the two bastions on the side of the shield came from the bishop's shield. The sword in the fore-feet of the unicorn symbolises the manorial power of life and death. The snake twisting on the sword stands for the defect of treachery and hatred by faith. The star and the sun symbolise the alternation of days a d nights. And finally, the eagle with a gospel in its clutches refers to apostle and evangelist Saint John who is the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Eger.

Copyright © 1996 AgriaComputer Kft.
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