The birth of the only free royal city of historical Vas county dates back to the third quarter of the 13th century. Its foundation is due to the Volfer branch of the Héder clan that settled in Hungary in 1157. Two members of the founding Kőszegi family, Henry II and his son Ivan, relocated the centre of the family from Németújvár to Kőszeg before 1274. Charles of Anjou ended the Kőszegi family’s rule in 1327. One year later, in 1328 he promoted Kőszeg to the rank of the royal town. During the time of the Anjou rulers, between 1347-1381, the boundaries of the town were also established. In 1392 the king’s town became a manorial town. It was redeemed by palatine Miklós Garai from the Ellerbach family of Monyorókerék, who had taken it as a pledge from Sigismund of Luxemburg 5 years earlier. The Garai-era came to an end in 1441.
Kőszeg became the main scene for the events of the 1532 campaign in the third wave of the 16th century’s Turkish menace. Between 5-30 August, 1532, the Commander-in-Chief Ibrahim led nineteen sharp attacks against Kőszeg, the defence of which was organised by Miklós Jurisich, the mutual captain of the town and the castle, which had been mortgaged to him in 1529. After the last abortive attack a revolt among the janissaries made the Turkish supreme command withdraw. The last contingent of the disengaging Turkish troops left the outskirts – as tradition has it – at 11 o’clock on 30th August, 1532. In memory of this event, the church bells have been tolled at 11 o’clock since 1777. After the Turkish wars the ducal branch of the Esterházy family was in possession of the castle and its domain until 1931. The fortified town lost its strategic importance after Rákóczi’s War of Independence. Kőszeg, along with Szombathely played a crucial role as the main fortress of the Kuruts’ supreme command in liberating and controlling the regions beyond the Rába River.
The free royal city had its longest peaceful period during the 18th century. The
town – for the first time in its history – tried to compensate its losses
by establishing a settlement of Schwabendorf (Kőszegfalva) in 1712.
Kőszeg lost its primary situation in Vas county in the first half of the 19th century. During the reform period only a few craftsmanship sections could survive the production crisis of guild industry. The establishment of share companies, society-establishments and the first banking institution in the county are all signs of early civil development in Kőszeg. Besides the society of fundamentally small-scale industry and retail trade owners, the town of schools, sanatoriums and garrisons was built at that time. Fortunately, the development course of the emerging capital did not affect the treasures of Kőszeg’s especially beautiful and rich architectural heritage and natural environment. The only change in the fortification structure was the breaking down of the gate-bastions. The town-structure remained intact.
Kőszeg was granted the Hild-award in 1978 for preserving its architectural heritage.
From 1990 the town has been operating in a local government and market setting and
has been looking for ways of renewal by means of capital input again.
The Írottkő Lookout Tower
Above Kőszeg there is the highest peak of Transdanubia called Írootkő (Written stone). on its top at an elevation of 883 m, the Írottkő lookout tower was built in 1913 to replace the former Árpád tower torn down in 1909. This area was restricted for a long time; it has been open for visitors only since 1990.
Stájer Houses (551 m) were named after forester who had been removed here from Austria in 1750. In one of the buildings there is an exhibition representing the local fauna and flora. It is a popular excursion destination even today.
Old-house lookout tower
Foundation of Kőszeg started on the Old-house peak with a castle built here. old-house peak with its elevation of 609 m, has been a popular excursion destination, particularly after the Old-house lookout tower was rebuilt. In the place of the present tower there was already a tower in 1896, but it was demolished by a tornado in 1916. The excursion promises a delightful experience, as the view from the tower is excellent. looking eastwards we can see Szombathely or on a clear day the summits of Somló and Ság hills can be even seen. Westwards the foothills of the Apls, such as Rosaly and Lándzséri mountains and behind them the snow-covered Schneeberg can bee seen.
One of the highlights in the Kőszeg mountain is the Sevenspring at 424 m high above the sea level. The road towards Sevenspring reaches the mountain ridge at the Pintér-peak where it descends into the valley. Here the crystal-clear 10.9 °C spring takes its source. It has been called Sevenspring since the 18th century, however officially it was named after the seven Hungarian leaders ióonly in 1896, in Hungary’s Millenium year. The seven pipes are signed by their names – Álmos, Előd, Ond, Kond, Tas Huba, Töhötöm, respectively. The water flows into a pool and then it continues its way in the Gyöngyös stream. This spring provided the Old Castle with water, that’s why it was called Óvárkút (Old Castle Well) for a long time. The rest of the area was reconstructed in 1944 and it has been a popular place for tourists to relax.
Having visited the places of interest in the town we recommend to take some trips around Kőszeg to complete your impression about the town. During our walk in the town we could see the Kálvária (Calvary) Church standing on the Calvary Hill, from almost every point of the town. The church built at an elevation of 393 m, can only be reached on foot. At the beginning of the serpentine road towards the church a bombproof underground shelter can be seen in which the Holy Crown was kept by the Szálasi Government during the air raids, between December 1944 and March 1945. Along the road leading to the church there is a row of stations. Georg Schweitzer, a stone-carver of Sopron, built the first ones in 1763. They were demolished in 1890 and 14 new ones and a chapel were built according to the plans of Ludwifg Schöne, an architect of Vienna. On the top of Calvary Hill in 1686, the Jesuits erected the first cross, made of wood, in the place of which, later a chapel was built in 1715. On the proposal of the Jesuits the town started to build the church in 1729 from the money survivors donated after the sever plague epidemic in 1712. According to the traditions, in expiation, the Kőszeg citizens carried the some 40,000 bricks used for the building by hand to the site. The church, completed by 1734, with its baroque decorations and construction is a unique, impressive building. Especially remarkable is the harmony of the church and the landscape. At the frontage of the church there are two round and a rectangular towers. the façade is decorated with beautiful baroque statues. in the middle we can see the crucified Jesus, on the right and left, the two thieves. At the foot of the crucifix there are the figures of Mary Magdalene, the Holy Virgin and John the Baptist. The single nave of the church was extended on both sides with a chapel. The simple altar of the burial chapel of Ják was brought here after the fire had completely damaged the old one in 1947. A hermitage was also built next to the church. Here lived count Heinrich Weiss, the first painter of the church. He, protecting the vineyards, tolled the bells of the church when rain clouds were approaching the town. In return, the town provided him food.
The name of the street where we can find the Sanatorium indicates itself where it leads to. First we come to a small park. Here stands the once Dreiszker’s Sanatorium and Hydrophatic Establishment (14 Kálvária street). It is now an Old People’s Home. It was built in eclectic style in 1894. its large fore- and corner-parted frontage as well as the bold mansard roof fit the surroundings well. On the right we can find the former home of the hospital’s founder.
At a small chapel you can turn left and the street leads to the Rowing Lake of about 30,000 m² surface. The lake and its park were made in 1977 in the place of the former gravel-pit (Ágoston Kosztich, 1977). The water of the lake is fed by the Gyöngyös-stream.
“Apotéka az Arany Egyszarvúhoz\" inscription can be read from distance on the building 11 Jurisich Square. Károly Mikos bought the building from the Csekonics family in 1766 and founded the Golden Angel Restaurant in it. 10 years later Mátyás Svalla opened his pharmacy in 1777 here. He placed here the magnificent furniture and equipment of pharmacy he had bought from the Jesuits. To move the pharmacy to this building from the Jesuit monastery, where it had worked before, he chose an ingenious solution: he got the narrow way next to the house and put the entrance there and the original gateway became the room of the pharmacy. In the attic of the house he made a drug-drying room. It is also the part of the exhibition today. In the yards we can see a herb-garden. The interior of the pharmacy is fascinating. The oak furniture made up of 5 units, made by Jesuit wood-carver masters, is extremely valuable. the style of the furniture is Austrian baroque but Italian influence can also be observed on the decoration. Master Ettl probably made the paintings belonging to the interior. On the shelves, there is remnants of the original equipment.
One of the most beautiful gable decorated houses of the town is the Sgrafitto house (=Jurisich Square). The cradle of the decoration method is Italy. We can see it in several places in Kőszeg, which seems to prove the connection among craftsmen from Italy and Kőszeg. (The word “sgrafitto\" means scratched in English) This itself explain the essence of this technique. In this case, two or more layers of plaster were put on the frontage of the building. The layers have different colours. The upper layer was usually lighter, which was scratched down until the figure had appeared on the darker one. The main motif of the decoration of this house is a large tulip vase on the painted balustrade balcony. In a small niche in the middle of the arched gable of the building there is baroque statue of Mary. On the main cornice below the statue a Latin inscription, a passage from the epistle of Paul the Aopstle to the Romans can be read: “ non est volentis, neque currentis sed miserentis dei – MDCLXVIII: “ “ So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but God that showeth mercy.\"
The Arcaded house
At the Town Gate – in the place of the present Arcaded house – there stood the customs officer’s sentry box. Although customs duty on passing under the gate is not required any more, the entrancing spectacle of the suddenly revealed downtown, the old houses encircling Jurisich Square, and the harmony of the charming churches make us stop and contemplate. Next to the Heroes’s gate on the left you can see the so-called Arcaded house which was built in 1774 in the fashionable style of Upper Hungary. In this place József Jakab Bittner a musician from Boroszló, established ball rooms. After the great fire in 1777 flats were built here and under the arcades a butcher’s started to work. The arches were walled up in 1842 and they were opened again in 1959. In the building there has been the Town Archives since 1971. Its archival materials are dated back to 1328. Among the documents there are the historically important 35 charters.
The Heroes’ Tower
The Heroes’ Tower or Heroes’ Gate was built in 1932 in eclectic style. It was completed by the 400-year anniversary of the Turkish siege. Currently it is one of Kőszeg’s symbol. It was designed by Flóris Opaterny. In the place of Heroes’s Tower there stood the southern Lower Gate-tower, demolished in 1880 that was one of the most important defensive points in the town since the 13th century. However, the besiegers seldom laid a siege to this gate directly since the moat was the deepest here and the drawbridge was inaccessible. This gate was the most important entrance of the town as it welcomed everyone coming with peaceful intention and was also employed to keep the enemy from the town. This gate was under the protection of the Old Tower that we have already seen during our walk before, the distance of which was so long that the protectors could use their weapons the most effectively against the enemy. This gate can be seen in the coat-of-arms of the town and the key to it was the symbol of the mayor’s power, too. The tower also hosted the musicians who played their music at noon and in the evenings since 1723 and who were paid by Tamás Nádasdy Foundation. Before 1723, the town drummer gave signals at the most important parts of the day and he also alerted at fire.
O the right of the Heroes’ gate there stands the so-called General House. The machicolation, the arched cellar and the double arched loggia all refer to the medieval renaissance style. City magistrate announced here their decisions and sentences. As far as we know, no similar loggia has been found in Hungary yet. This house hosted the catholic people chased out of their church between 1563 and 1671. The town bought the house from Tamás Nádasdy in 1719 and placed the general of the mounted garrison troops. This fact refers to its name. Since 1977, it has been the restorers’ workshop of the local museum and some office were placed here and also, there’s an exhibition presenting the craftsmanship of Kőszeg. You can reach the panorama balcony of Heroes’ Tower from here where you can admire the wonderful view of Kőszeg.
The Town Hall
The atmosphere of the square is determined by the building of the Town Hall that has been functioning as a Town Hall since the 14th – 15th century up to the present. its present form was developed after 1597. It was continuously reconstructed until 1668. Meanwhile a gable was raised to heighten the building. On the façade of the building the first of the five paintings is the quadrilateral shaped baronial coat-of-arms of Miklós Jurisich, while in the middle there is Hungary’s historical small coat-of-arms. The third on the right is the coat-of-arms of Kőszeg, granted by Frederic III in 1446. It is still the official coat-of-arms of the town. The figural frescos among the coat-of-arms represent Hungary’s Our Lady with the child Jesus and King Stephen I, respectively. The classical gateway was made in the 19th century.
At the Town Hall, vine branches were presented to the mayor on St. George’s Day and the branches have been registered in the Book of Vine Branches since 1740. This unique book is still is use and it is kept in the local museum.
St. James Church
Palatine Miklós Garai built St. James Church between 1403and 1407 using the remnants of the minorita church that was demolished during the Austrian siege in 1289. He needed a parish church worthy of his status and wealth. The church has gothic marks, its sanctuary faces east and the heights of the main and side-aisles are the same. The tower once standing on the north side of the church may have been built into the church during the building of the Jesuit monastery. The church was burnt down four times in the 15th century and seriously damaged during the siege of Kőszeg. It was the parish church of the Catholic until 1554. Then, it was used by the Hungarian, later the German Protestants until 1671. The German Lutherans damaged the inner part of the church, too. The 15th century frescos were whitewashed and the gothic winged altarpieces were thrown away, in 1653 the stone pedestal was demolished, too. In 1671, Bishop György Széchenyi took the church back from the Catholics. The baroque gable of the western frontage and the small wooden bell-tower were built after that. The chapel next to the sanctuary was built in 1700. Later, in 1758, the provost of the Jesuit order completed it with two side niches. The major part of the furniture was made around the 17th and 18th century. The three- section main altar has been standing in the church since 1693, which was built on the order of palatine Pál Eszterházy. In the middle of the altar statue of the Holy Virgin, St. Peter with the key and St. Paul with a sword on his right can be seen. Tyrolian masters made them around 1500. In the middle, we can see the sculpture of St. James, next to it, the statue of St. Ignatus of Loyola, the founder of Jesuit Order and also the statue of St. Francis of Xavier, the greatest missionary of the order. The altar is closed by and eye of God, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The pulpit of the church was built at the beginning of the 18th century. On the walls of the southern nave, you can see the frescos, which are as old as the church. On the left there is the huge picture of St. Christopher, the patron of travellers, pilgrims, merchants and carriers. The pictures is large, because according to the legend, a person glancing at St. Christopher will be protected against all danger that day. Next to the large picture you can see the three Kings scene, below it the Mantled or Robed Mary. The robe symbolically means mercy and protection for all people. Next to it stand the pictures of the royal saints, St. Elizabeth and St. Borbala. The red marble tombstone for the two Jurisich children buried here can be found in the wall of the northern aisle. Between the pews we also can see the tombstone of Mrs Wesselényi née Mária Széchy, who was buried here in 1679. The frontage of the church has been decorated with three medallions since 1807. The top JHS acronym (Jesus Hominum Salvator – Jesus, the savior of mankid) with the rays symbolize the Glory, both are elements of the Jesuit Order’s coat-of-arms. In the middle there is a part of the Piarists’ coat-of arms, Mary and Joseph’s crowned monograms. The fourth medallion was put next to the others in 1930. PAX (peace) and the five blazing elements are the elements of the Benedictine’ coat-of-arms. under the Jesuit’s symbol there is the statue of Apostle St. James.
St. Imre Church
St. Imre church is the result of the 17th century fight between the different nationalities. After 1558, the citizens of Kőszeg were divided into smaller groups depending upon their religions and nationalities. This fact influenced the life of the local government and also, the local church. The German Lutherans, after having played an important role in the City’s life, felt themselves strong enough to expel the Hungarian Protestants from St. James Church, upon the request of whom, the town started to build a new church in 1615. Walent Marx, a master builder from Kirschlag started to build the new church, but finally it was completed by another master build called Wolf Zehentmayer in 1640. He was inclined to build a similar church for the Hungarians to the former one. He built the tower higher during one of the renovations. There is no other explanation that the church, built during the time of baroque and renaissance in the beginning of the 17th century, bears gothic signs. The church, originally built for the Protestants, as taken away by Tamás Pálffy and György Széchenyi in 1673 and was given to the Catholics and served as the parish church of the city until the end of the 19th century.
Above the main entrance of the church there is the statue of St. Imre with the inscription – “St. Imre, prince of Hungary, 1722. “. On the main cornice, 10 portraits of Apostles, made in 1805, can be seen. István Dorfmeister Jr painted the main baroque altarpiece representing St. Imre’s vow in 1805. The statues of the main altar are also of Hungarian saints, St. Stephen offering his country to the Holy Virgin and St. Leslie presenting his sword and shield. The two side-altars are decorated with the paintings of István Schaller from Sopron, made in 1722. The pulpit above the baroque carved pews in made in copf style. The most respected citizens were buried into the large crypt located under the sacristy and chapel between 1671 and 1831. This sacristy and chapel were probably built from the material of the former St. Katalin grave-chapel as it was the burial place of the town until the opening of the current cemetery in 1633.
The 5-acre inner Town was protected by the town-wall since the 15th century inside which there were 73 houses. in the current Inner Town there are still 73 houses, although during the centuries due to the fire the town was repeatedly burned down. As far as we know, Kőszeg was ravaged by fire 14 times during the 17th and 18th centuries. This explains the fact that only 102 historically protected buildings are registered and only 10 out of them were built earlier than in the 18th century, although the city and the castle were established in the 13th century. The reason for the frequent fires was that the houses of the inner town, as anywhere in Europe, were built of wood and mud wall. The roof may have been covered with reeds or wooden single so almost the entire town could burn down in a few hours. The visitors probably realize that there is a significant difference between the level of the two sides of the square and the houses seem to be very low. This is because after the devastation of the last few centuries Jurisich Square is covered with debris layer of 160-200 cm. As a consequence, the rooms, at a time on the ground level, of the Town Hall are now in the cellar and 14 stairs lead down there.
This square was the spot of the former markets where carts loaded with goods came and went both weekdays and holidays. Also, this was the place of the town’s political and social life. Residents were called here to meetings, the borough magistrate delivered sentences here. People who broke the law were closed into stocks here and here stood the pillory, the humiliation device of the Middle Ages. On the place torture you find now the Blessed Virgin Mary statue erected in 1739. Lorenz Eisenköbel, a stone-carver from Sopron, made it. The costs were covered by the punishment imposed on Lutheran civics who decried Mary. Eisenköbel also made the town well behind the Mary statue. In 1766 a stone house was built over the well, the walled up arches of which were opened during the reconstruction of the well. if you want to get to know the square you just have to take a seat on the benches around the Mary statue and your glance is able to take in this small closed square.
Stepping out from the inner-castle, right to the bridge there is a small staircase leading down to the moat, towards the so-called Student Alley. In Student Alley a north-western wall-section was uncovered. This wall was attached to the walls of the outer castle almost at right angles before the rampart standing in front of the southeastern tower. The partition crossing the moat of the inner bailey can bee seen even today between the rampart and the outer-castle’s wall. Next to the gate that was opened in 1908, but outside the town-walls stands the Forintos-bastion. It is one of the three-quarter circle-shaped bastions of the castle-surrounding wall-walk. The wall-walk was built in the 15th century while the outer circular bastions were made in the 16th century.
Senator Mátyás Forintos – who, as an artillery sergeant considerably contributed to the success of defence in 1532 – was accused of practising witchcraft and put on trial in 1561. he was accused of curing demoniacs (epileptics) by practising forbidden rites on the St.Vid hill of Velem and on the Old House peak of Kőszeg. Moreover he was said to have destroyed the standing crop and tender vine by causing a hailstorm. The decision of Kőszeg’s law-court – that was supported by false charges – however was brought before the law-court of Vienna, as Court of Appeal by Ferdinand I. Mátyás Forintos was acquitted. The case was actually a manifestation of the fight for power between the majority Protestant council and the Catholic senator who belonged the minority.
From the supporting wall you can see the crenelled wall with loopholes in front of the western annex, the grassy moat and the supporting wall of the park (Milkós Józa, 1964)
Having walked in Rajnis street, let’s visit Jurisich or Esterházy castle on the north-west part of the city. The Esterházy family owned tha castle for 236 years and it became the property of the National Treasury only in 1931. It has been called Jurisich Castle since 1932.The former fortress – so-called Lower Castle – got its current appearance after the great fire in 1777. Present visitors can also distinguish the two architectural units, the outer castle and the inner one. The remains of the extremely thick walls prove that the outer castle must have served an outer defensive function. We cab reach the entrance of the outer castle on the brick-set bridge built over the moat. In front of the pillars of the door there are two stones with initials ND and dates 1666 and 1670 respectively, which were the border stones of the Nádasdy estate. The holes above the gate prove the former existence of a drawbridge. The north and south wings of the buildings near the outer castle were built in the 17th and the 18th century, respectively. The guard and the staff of the castle was housed here. In the yard the statue of Miklós Jurisich can be seen (made by Sándor Mikus in 1963)
The Inner Castle
Over the former moat a two-holed brick-bridge leads to the inner castle. Above the arch-ended, stone-framed gate there is the coat-of-arms of the Esterházy family. The niche between the two windows is surrounded by a red fresco. Behind the gate visitors are welcomed by a trapezoid-shaped yard. Its splendid stone-parapet well was built in the 17th century. The southern and western wing’s upper archway also attracts your attention. The sgrafitto-framed renaissance windows of the western wing can be seen from the yard. The eastern wing is entirely closed, there are only a few smaller gothic windows there. The present front door of the castle leads to the first floor through the former tower. Here we can find the Hall of Knights, which is used, now as a site for cultural events. The southern and eastern wing houses the museum of local history named after Miklós Jurisich. The statue of him can be seen on the stairway leading to the museum. In the exhibition rooms of the local history museum we can see items related to the siege of the city and also copies of the paintings of Kőszeg made by Erhard Schön. The arms and relics belonged to Mihály Hörmann and Mária Széchy on the display are of the 17th century. In the room of the Free Royal City there are remnants related to the history of the local government. The vine and grapes exhibition is placed in two rooms as viniculture was especially important in Kőszeg until the great phyloxera disease. There was vine culture of 630,000 acres. In another room we can see the portraits of the most important people who lived, studied or worked in the city. In the museum we can get acquainted with the city’s cultural life and also history of education. in the southern wing we can see the memorial room of Lieutenant general János Kiss and also furniture of the 18th -19th century.
The zigzag arrangement of the houses opposite the Castle is due to land-arrangement and the level of the street. It is a common misconception that this development method had a protective method. The houses – facing the street with their shorter frontage – project increasingly as you come nearer the northern entrance of the street. We can see small eye-holes, so called “Guckenfenster\" at the entrance of the houses. The entrance of the first building is facing Táblaház street, though a 1994-established shop’s door opens to Rajnis street. A nice sgrafitto decoration was uncovered above the entrance.
Kings’ Valley - the Giant Horse-chestnut Tree
The famous Giant Horse-chestnut Tree from 1930 can be seen in Kings’ Valley. Gusztáv Czeke presented the tree to the town in 1917. The giant last yielded in 1963. In 1981 the tree had to be cut down. According to its annual rings counted on the “memory section\" , the giant blossomed even in 1482, during the reign of King Matthias.