Kőszeg is so dramatically cute that it is hard to take your eyes off it. It transports visitors back to the Baroque age where burghers and merchants, terra cotta roofs and brightly painted buildings were the essence of this historical era.
The effect of Kőszeg’s architecture is both physical and psychological. Physical in the sense that its structural aesthetics are so well defined, it seems impossible that it could ever have existed in any other state.
Psychological because it makes you believe that the days of the enlightenment are still alive here. That baroque style is not part of a bygone age, but a living, breathing entity. Kőszeg gives us a representation of what we believe the 18th & 19th centuries were like, rather than what they actually were.
Because of this, it is all the more shocking to discover that the present has been much kinder to Kőszeg than the past. What we see today is a highly subjective portrait of history. This is what we want to see, what we want preserved.
This in no way is meant to disparage Kőszeg. The look and feel of the place today reveals more about human nature, than it actually does about the town itself. It is a grand historical illusion and is there anything really wrong with that.The answer could be either yes or no.
Yes if we are looking for the truth, no if we are looking for an ideal.Take for instance the Church of the Sacred Heart. It is an eye catching piece of neo-Gothicism, but it is quite out of proportion with the square it towers over. Otherworldly and un-baroque, it might just work because of its sheer dissimilarity with the surroundings.
It was built in 1894 in the heart of Kőszeg’s Baroque inner town. Next time someone tells you Kőszeg is a fine example of a medieval or baroque town, ask them if they missed out on this church.
Or better yet ask yourself, could an 18th century burgher have imagined such a creation?
Ah yes, the medieval and the baroque, in Kőszeg it seems to be everywhere. In truth much of what was originally here is gone. It went up in flames. Kőszeg had a terrible problem with fire.
Next time you are in Kőszeg think historically before you light up a cigarette. Smoking was banned in the town after fires repeatedly gutted it during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today much of the inner town is built atop the rubble and ashes of wooden houses that succumbed to numerous conflagrations.
The beautiful baroque houses in the Belváros were lucky to have lasted this long. Many of their architectural ancestors lie beneath the cobblestoned streets. Life was not easy back then, but that’s at odds with the impression of refinement we receive here.
Were these houses built to last or are they just the last lucky vestiges of their line?This is the reality of history: capricious, schizophrenic and entirely unpredictable.If the townsmen and women of 18th century Kőszeg were to visit here today, they would probably be quite surprised to find some of their town’s original structures intact.
None of this counter intuitiveness will stop visitors to Kőszeg from seeing every street as a museum, every building as a monument and every square as a gallery. The town seems to stand outside of time and be forever historical.
It was not really always this way or for that matter ever this way except until the present age. The “historical” Kőszeg we see today only exists in the present. It never really was like this in that Baroque past it is meant to represent.
In Kőszeg you get only glimpses of the reality of that past. What you really get is historical vanity staring back at you.
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