When it comes to international travel, I’m a firm believer in getting out of the city, Cousin Larry. Sure, capitals are beautiful, cosmopolitan, and historically-charged, but it’s the smaller towns where you get a richer taste of a country’s culture (think of a capital city as a blend and a smaller town as a single malt). Nonetheless, I probably would never have even ventured to Pécs – the 5th largest city in Hungary – if I hadn’t been traveling with my friend, V, who calls Pécs home. Even though Pécs is, funnily enough, a twin city with none other than Terracina – the city where I live.
Life’s happy coincidences.
Pécs – near the Croatian border, nestled in the Mecsek mountains – is a rose of a city, known to history by several names but still as sweet. The surrounding territory was first called Sopianæ by its Roman founders in the 2nd century, but the city itself was called Quinque Basilicae (five cathedrals) in the Middle Ages, as well as Quinque Ecclesiae and, in German, Fünfkirchen, both names which mean ‘five churches’ – a nod to the fact that when the city’s churches were first constructed, builders took materials from the remains of five early Christian chapels. Pécs – called such since the 13th century – is also known for its Ottoman influence, still visible in the mosques and minarets dotting the cityscape.
I was in Pécs on Easter weekend, 2012, when the streets were alive with red tulips and softly swept by rain. I walked along the crumbling traces of the city’s Roman past; touched ceramic that looked like bronze; stared at the glassed-in cash registers of antique pharmacies.
I might have developed a schoolgirl crush on Hungary itself, but I fell in total smit with Pécs. Read on for a run down of things to do and see in this beautiful city, and let me spread the love.
Things to Do in Pécs:
- Take in a concert Pécs is one of Hungary’s cultural hot spots, regularly attracting top billed musical acts, troupes, and performances.
- Check out the view from the top Pécs is very hike-able, with trails leading all the way up to the city’s highest heights, revealing a spectacular view, and providing great digestive benefits
- Mail a postcard Sure, go on, laugh – until you get a look at the city’s main post office.
Insane tiled roof, and a small, free exhibit of antique postal delivery equipment. Brightens even the most mundane tasks – like paying a traffic ticket.
- Stroll through the revamped city centre While locals remain divided over whether or not the recent changes to the city centre were a good or bad thing, anyone new to Pécs will certainly be charmed by the lovely pedestrian streets and the wide open square, Széchenyi tér; home to the mosque of Pasha Qasim, the Fatebenefratelli church, City Hall, the County Hall, the famous Nador Hotel, the stunning Zsolnay well, and the statue of János Hunyadi on horseback. The statue of János Hunyadi remains a popular meeting point for locals, who like to instruct each other to meet under the horse’s, er, little hand.
- Take in a puppet performance at the Bóbita Puppet Theater. Indulge your inner child – or any children you have with you – by visiting the Bóbita Puppet Theater in the Zsolnay Porcelain Quarter. Art, in the style of Punch and Judy.
- Walk along the abandoned streetcar tracks
Pécs residents had the option of traveling through the city by street car until 1961. All that remains of the tram system is a brief stretch of track.
- Donate to locks of love That’s actual locks, people – not hair. The lovelorn people of Pécs have joined lovers across Europe in building a living monument to the eternal power of hope. Adding a lock to the Love Fence is said to help your love last. Many locks are now inscribed with the lovers’ names and the date the lock was added. Does it work? Who knows? Hope is overrated. But there’s still something arresting about seeing the proof of so many people’s desperation. Makes you almost want to start hoping again yourself.
There are, to date, so many locks that the iron fence has warped, and another stretch of fence has had to be opened a few paces down from the original.
Things to See in Pécs
- The ruins of the Turkish Baths. When the Ottomans occupied the city, they did their best to kit it out to their own specifications – converting churches to mosques, building minarets and, of course, constructing a system of Turkish baths.
You won’t find naked old Eastern European men at these old baths, but you will find a nearly perfectly intact water pipe system.
- Barbakán Tower Dating from the 15th century, one of the few remaining relics of Medieval Pécs.
- Zsolnay Porcelain Quarter One of the most enchanting walks you – or anyone – will ever take in this lifetime. Miklós Zsolnay – a 19th century ceramics maker – engineered a new process of glazing porcelain so that it took on the sheen, color, and and iridescence of weathered metal. The Zsolnay factory is now part of a sprawling complex that encompasses a wing of the University of Pécs , the Zsolnay Museum, the Bóbita Puppet Theater, and the incredible Zsolnay Mausoleum. It is a ceramic wonderland – buildings in this part of Pécs are studded, tiled, roofed, and crowned with Zsolnay’s marvelous porcelain.
How wonderful to live in a world with such beautiful things in it.
- The Cathedral Seen one cathedral, seen ‘em all? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. Yet, the Cathedral in Pécs – sitting stately atop a grand set of risers carved out of pink rock, dating from the 11th century, remodeled in the 19th, and built over the grounds of ancient Christian tombs – is absolutely stunning… even to a grumpy old Atheist like myself.
- The Mosque of Pasha Qasim. One of the symbols of Pécs, this 16th century mosque at Széchenyi tér is one of the largest Turkish buildings found in Hungary today.
Been to Pécs? What are your favorite things about the city?