Why visit: Zsolnay ceramics, Turkish architecture, World Heritage Site, Mediterranean ambiance, red wine
Things to Do and See in Pécs
Home to the world-famous Zsolnay ceramics and the largest Turkish ruins in Hungary, Pécs is a city of art and history. Pécs is also a famous university town with many students, giving the city a youthful profile.
In the Middle Ages, Pécs was a center of education and learning. The University of Pécs, founded in 1367, and the oldest university in Hungary, was among the first universities in Europe. In 1777, Queen Maria Theresa gave Pécs the status of 'Free Royal Town' and once again the city started to flourish. Some Baroque monuments like a Franciscan church, a Franciscan monastery, and a former monastery of the Pauline order date back to this period.
In the 20th century, thanks to a coalmine and a uranium mine, Pécs was partially converted into an industrial hub. Several factories were built, however after the fall of the Iron Curtain many have closed. Today, Pécs is a city of art and culture, filled with museums and galleries. It's not surprising that Pécs, named the 'Borderless City', was selected to be the European Capital of Culture in 2010, sharing the title with Essen (Germany) and Istambul (Turkey). Several new venues were built throughout the city, including the Zsolnay Visitor Center and a Regional Library and Knowledge Center.
Early Christian Burial Chamber
Pécs has a rich history of more than 2,000 years. First settled by the Celts the city later became a part of the Roman Empire. The Necropolis of Sopianae, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dates back to the fourth century. This is the largest Early Christian burial chamber found outside Italy.
Gazi Kasim Mosque
The most iconic building in the city center is the Gazi Kasim Mosque. Pécs is the richest town in Hungary in terms of Turkish architecture. Under Turkish occupation, the city changed radically. Most churches got converted and Islamic architecture flourished. Remains include the Gazi Kasim Mosque, where the crescent moon and cross of Islam are still visible, the ruins of Memi Pasa's Baths, the Minaret in the Jakovali Hassan Mosque, and the mausoleum of Idris Baba.
The Gazi Kasim Mosque is in the middle of Széchenyi tér, the main square of the city. Be sure to check out the Mecsek Cukrászda, also located in the square, for delicious cakes.
The Barbican & The Cathedral
The history of the Barbican (Barbakán), the castle of Pécs, goes back to the 10th century. Although it was captured by the Turks in the 16th century the ruins of the medieval castle and the wall that once encircled the old city can still be viewed.
Near the Barbican is the Cathedral. Pécs has been a bishopric since 1009, declared by St. Stephen, the first King of Hungary. Several religious orders settled down in Pécs, first the Benedictine order in 1076, then two centuries later a Dominican monastery was built (in 1238). The Neo-Romanesque Cathedral in Dóm tér dates back to the 11th century. The Bishop's Palace, dating back to the 12th century, is also located in the square.
Király Street is the city’s most beautiful pedestrian precinct. Many baroque-style buildings, including a church, a former monastery and Pécs’s National Theater are all located here. The Hungarian Art Nouveau-style Palatinus Hotel, built in 1914, stands out from the many Baroque buildings.
Lined by fashionable shops, restaurants and outdoor cafés, Király Street is always popular.
Nearly every house along Káptalan utca in the old town is a museum. Pécs is the town where Vasarely, Csontváry and Amerigo Tot used to live and work. The Modern Hungarian Gallery of Pécs has one of the richest collections of 19th-20th century Hungarian fine art. The Zsolnay Museum displays a unique collection of the world-famous Zsolnay ceramics. The Vasarely Museum exhibits works by the Pécs-born pop-artist,
Pécs is also home to a brewery, called Pécsi Sörfözde. They produce a special beer, which can only be bought in a single restaurant in the entire country, the Cellárium (Address: Hunyadi János utca 2). So, be sure to taste this special drought beer while in Pécs, as this brew is highly sought after.
It's not widely known (yet), but Pécs is also a city of romance. For decades couples in love have been coming to the city to literally 'lock-in' their feelings for each other. Small locks are placed on the fences along Janus Pannonius Street each symbolizing a couples lasting love for each other. Nobody really knows how it all started, but the lock-lined fences sure make a very unique sight.
Things to Do and See in Villány
South of Pécs lies the Villány region, Hungary's most southerly wine region and a favorite destination among wine enthusiasts. Villány is famous for its full-bodied and spicy reds. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are definitely must-tries here. Hungary's warmest vine region has long, dry, sub-Mediterranean summers and mild winters. Winemaking has long traditions in this region and Villány (along with Szekszárd, which is about 60km away) is considered the premier red wine producer of the country.
Top wineries in the region include Bock, Csányi, Gere, Tiffán, Vylyan and Wunderlich. Some of my personal favorites are the Rosé wines produced here, especially those made from Merlot. Most wineries are open for visitor and offer wine tasting.
If you can't make it to Villány, you can sample the regions' famous wines in several Budapest restaurants, like Bock Bistro, Borsso Bistro, Café Vian, Gundel, Klassz and Tigris just to mention a few.
Getting there from Budapest: Pécs is about a three-hour drive from Budapest. Highway M6 is the quickest route. Trains run from Budapest's Déli Station. Buses leave from the Népliget bus terminal. The Villány region is located 15 miles (25 km) south of Pécs.