Sátoraljaújhely

The Past Is a Different Country

By the time you have made it to Sátoraljaújhely you have probably had your fill of wine while touring the Tokaj region.

Even though you may be nursing a bit of a headache at this point, spare a moment to visit the Bortemplom or what is otherwise known as the Wine Church. Built in the early 20th century there is nothing quite like it in the rest of Hungary. Its cellars can hold an incredible 12,000 hectolitres of wine.

Abandoned Jewish Cemetery in Sátoraljaújhely

Abandoned Jewish Cemetery in Sátoraljaújhely

As unique as the cellars are amazing is the church above them. The Bortemplom is the only church in Hungary that is not affiliated with a specific denomination.

At Sátoraljaújhely you also find yourself on the border with Slovakia. This is not the end of the road – it continues on beyond the border, but it is the end of Hungary. It was not always this way. Take a moment here for a bit of reflection.

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It is hard to fathom how much has changed in Sátoraljaújhely in just one hundred years. This sleepy city in a quiet corner of the country has experienced tremendous upheaval.

As you walk down the city’s main street, Kossuth utca, remember that what you see here today is a product of the past and at the same time nothing like it.

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In 1913, Sátoraljaújhely was the center of a thriving region. It was the capital of its own county in the pre-war Kingdom of Hungary. Over 30% of the population was Jewish. There was no such thing as Czechoslovakia or Slovakia and Hungary was a Kingdom not a republic, ruled over by a monarch from an 800 year old dynasty.

The First World War probably would have seemed impossible at the time since obviously nothing like it had ever occurred. It would have also seemed impossible that the town would lose a fifth of its population and a quarter of its land base in just a few years.

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Within a generation, the Jewish population would also be swept away, eradicating two centuries of slow, but steady progress for a group that found both freedom and tyranny in the same town. The citizens of Satoraljaujhely would see the Nazis come and go, the Soviets come and go (all that’s left is an ivy covered monument barely visible in the town square). They saw the Slovaks come and stay, taking part of the city with them.

All based upon an arbitrarily drawn border. One hundred years and everything has changed, but the town’s name and Hungarian people remain. They are as much survivors, as they are citizens. History in Satoraljaujhely is not just a thing to see, it’s something to experience.

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After this moment of reflection, it’s time for a bit of relaxation. There are great hiking opportunities to be had in the hills close to Satorljaujely. But why walk when you can ride to the best viewpoint around.

Take a chairlift up the aptly named Magas Hegy (Tall Hill) over 1,300 feet above the town. There are superb views amid the clean crisp air. This is a place to refresh and relax.

It is almost enough to make you forget that along the slopes of this hill and so many others in the surrounding countryside that Magyars and Slovaks fought in the 1919 border war.

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The past changed everything, but today peace and serenity can be found at least in this moment.

written by CHRIS WILKINSON
edited by CHRIS KOVACS

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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.

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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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