Turkish legacy in Hungary

There is a minaret in Eger, Gul Baba’s tomb in Buda, but if you really want to see the most lasting vestiges of the Ottoman Turks in Hungary then you must travel to Pecs.DSCN5392

The city was precariously situated near the Balkans (as it is today). By the early 16th century the Ottoman Turks were literally a stone’s throw from southern Transdanubia. In 1526 the catastrophic Battle of Mohacs occurred less than 50 km from Pecs. Hungary lay prone; it was only a few years, before the Ottoman Turks took the city.

Nearly a century and a half of occupation began. Hungarians were no longer allowed within the city walls. Turks, Greeks, Bosnians and Serbs came to predominate. Churches were pulled down and their stone ruins used to construct mosques. It would not be until 1686 before an allied army of central European Christian powers reconquered the area.DSCN5385

The Turks left a wave of desolation and destruction in their wake, but they also left a near eastern architectural legacy that pierced the skylines of Hungary. The Christianizing powers set about reconfiguring these images of conquest. Most were merely destroyed, others co-opted while a select few made it all the way to the present.

Pecs is the best place to see these. In Szechenyi ter, the stunningly grand main square of the city, prominently sitting on its northern side is the Inner City Church.

The church started out as a mosque in 1579 (the mosque was built on the site of a destroyed church, the stones were used for construction of the mosque) built by Pasha (Governor) Gazi Kassim.

It was the largest in Hungary during that time. Pasha Kassim raised the proceeds to build the mosque by ransoming a prisoner. It seems that Kassim was using the material at hand, whether stones from ruined St. Bertalan Church or by auctioning human bounty. After the reconquest, Jesuits took over and converted the mosque back to a church.DSCN5384

It is unlike any other church in Hungary. On the southward side facing Mecca there is a prayer niche where inscriptions in Arabic can still be seen. Other areas along the interior walls also show traces of Arabic writing. Crowning the turquoise dome is a crescent topped by a cross.

Further down the square is a magnificent statue of Janos Hunyadi who defeated the Turks at the Battle of Nandorfehervar (Belgrade today) in 1454. Hunyadi’s victory helped give his countrymen eighty years of respite from the marauding Ottoman army.

Further away, down a side street can be fund the ruins of a Turkish bath.

It seems that conquerors of the Danube Basin, whether Romans, Magyars or Turks have made a practice of placing the thermal waters of the area at their disposal. Perhaps most shockingly, on a street bustling with traffic we find sandwiched between two modern buildings the Mosque of Pasha Hassan Jakovali, built in the late 16th century.

It is the only one in Hungary that still has both the prayer house and minaret intact. What can we discern by this limited yet fascinating remnant of the Ottoman occupation of Hungary (1526 – 1686)?DSCN5315

Perhaps we gain an understanding of the great depth of history in this land. Layer upon layer of history in Pecs is not peeled away, but instead built upon.

Empires disintegrate yet still leave a legacy behind. That legacy is sometimes visible in a town square or side street; other times that legacy is a foundation of ruins. Yet even ruins are something to build upon.

The next empire starts with the ruins; this is the material of history.


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About the Author: Chris Kovacs

Technical Consultant, Traveller, Filmmaker & Photographer
Much like most people, I like to be all sorts of things.

P.S.: some of articles are edited and co-written by a mysterious person called Tatjana. But I take all the credit.

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