Hungary has become increasingly urbanized over the past two hundred years. Thousands upon thousands of Hungarians have left the villages in pursuit of opportunities in cities.
Who knows how many villages were utterly depopulated in the 19th century by the vast migration to Budapest. Believe it or not, Budapest was the fastest growing city in Europe during the 19th century.
In 1800 the combined population of Buda and Pest was only 54,000. A hundred years later the unified city had expanded over thirteen fold to 733,000. There were jobs, industry and dynamism in Budapest.
The countryside was a place where peasants continued to toil on large estates in service of the nobility.The communist era only furthered this movement toward urbanization. Heavily industrialized cities were hailed as icons of a new world.
It was only in the latter part of the 20th century that Hungarians began to look back upon village life and its distinct culture as unique rather than antiquated. Folk culture was something to be celebrated. Nostalgia set in for the simple life.
No longer did people see the grinding agricultural labor of a rural existence. Instead they longed for a connection with the land and nature. Industrial cities became rusted out hulks of a failed utopian dream.
Who would dare today to extol the merits of Miskolc, once the darling of heavy industrialization, over the subtle delights of Hollókő, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dedicated to the preservation of village life and Paloc culture.Of course, not all villages are as astoundingly cute as Hollókő and not all cities have the dreary and slowly dying suburban factories of Miskolc.
Today in Hungary, villages contain the amenities of modern life.Cars speed down narrow streets, the train whistle still calls at a tiny rail siding, satellite dishes decorate the sides of brightly colored (and somewhat dilapidated) houses. These places are now far beyond the horse and buggy, but not the bicycle.
Many villages are slowly dying, but this process has been going on for over a century. It is a death that happens every day, but only becomes noticeable over decades, if at all.For the traveler a village in Hungary could be any smallish place with at most a thousand people.
It will be a place that is less traveled, sometimes a wayside on the railway to greater attractions or just as often on the road to nowhere in particular. Villages are full of surprises and not always good ones.
They give a sense of life blossoming, stagnating or fading. Many times a little bit of all three. A village’s life depends upon its location. If they are close to population centers they may well be thriving. If remote then time has usually passed them by as they slide into oblivion.
Villages seem random, scattered and scarcely noticed. That is until the visitor arrives.The nostalgia for village culture has brought about the creation of open air museums or skanzen as they are known. One of the best can be found tucked into the wooded hills of the Zselic region in Szenna.
It is a fabulous example of life for the majority of the Hungarian people over the centuries. Located only 9 kilometers (5 miles) from Kaposvár, Szenna seems far removed from the modern world.
Five structures were moved here along with a Calvinist church in order to replicate village life. Here the visitor steps inside small white washed residences with the obligatory thatched roofs. The daily rituals of rural living come to life in the original furnishings within the interior of each structure.
An intimate connection is forged between the past and present. This is living history.The Calvinist Church which acts as the centerpiece of the skanzan is remarkable. It has an unforgettable ceiling which lifts the eyes upward.
Over a hundred painted panels cover the coffered ceiling, communicating to the faithful that their toil and sacrifice would be rewarded. Complex in its artistic representation, but simple in its appeal, the panels are a call to salvation. The simple life of the village was filled with such secret joys.
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