A Bitter Battle

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Hungary  ,
Monday, July 26, 2010

I started this morning with another trip to the post office. Again, I was confronted with an array of buttons, however, this time there were no numbers next to the buttons, making it clear there was not a direct correlation of button to window. There was also a helpful woman telling you what button to press. I showed her my postcard, and she pressed something like "leveyfeldis".

Today was my first (and only) full day in the city of Pecs. It was definitely a city worth spending a day in, and probably the most lively city I'd been in since Budapest. I'm not sure if it was always that way, or if the extra visitors were just there for the European Capital of Culture and associated conferences and activities. Whatever the case, it was also my favorite city since Budapest.

There were many small museums scattered around the old town, but I spent most of my day wandering the area visiting churches and admiring the buildings. This was not by choice but because most of the museums were closed on Monday. Unfortunately, when I was doing my planning, I didn't think to time my visits around things like museum hours. I also didn't account for things like festivals. With all the Capital of Culture activities, I could probably have spent the better part of a week in the city. I will still have tomorrow morning, though, to check out a museum or two.

There were a few things open today, mostly churches. I went to the St. Peter and Paul Basilica, which had a couple of associated exhibits you could also by tickets for. I went with a combo ticket because it was only about a dollar more. The main ticket got you into the chapel, which was elaborately decorated in same colorful style I had seen throughout Hungary, for example in  Matthais Church in Buda.

In the 11th century crypt, a modern artist was creating a large mosaic of triangles using colored sand. I was told it would take six days to complete and tomorrow night, the artist would use a broom to mix the sand together while performing some sort of dance. The mixed sand would then be distributed to the audience. It was supposed to symbolize life with it's fragility and mix of experiences, I think. Apparently, the artist traveled Europe putting on this exhibition. The sand mosaic was placed in the crypt because the city needed a large place protected from the weather. Outside yesterday and it would have created quite the sandstorm.

The next exhibit on the combo ticket was the lapidary. It took the lead in the Best Lapidary of the Trip category. Like the lapidary in Esztergom, care had been taken to arrange the stones in groups and present them in a manner close to how they were originally displayed. Compared to Esztergom, this exhibit had a much better selection of stones, including a few stones with traces of paint and one display where the original stones from a series of carvings leading into the church crypt had been assembled, so it took first place from the previous leader.

The combo ticket itinerary concluded with a tour of the church winery museum. I wasn't into wine, but I had the ticket and spare time, so I decided to poke my head in. It really wasn't a tour, and there really wasn't a museum. You went into the winery and there were signs for the "museum", which was just the wine cellar without any explanation. The only thing the ticket really got you was a glass of wine, which I didn't stick around for.

The other church I visited today was the unusual "Mosque Church", so named because it was a mosque that had been turned into a church when the area was recaptured from the Turks. The original church on the site had been converted to a mosque, but it was later torn down and replaced with a new purpose-built mosque. When the Hungarians retook the city, the changed the mosque back to a church, but never entirely replaced the Turkish building. Despite some later additions, you could still clearly see that it had once been a mosque.

Along with two churches, I stopped by the Pecs Synagogue. It followed the standard layout I had begun to associate with neolog churches, but with two levels of balcony. I guess they had a lot of women. An old man at the entrance gave me a rather lengthy set of English-language sheets with the history of synagogue and it's members.

When I told him I wanted English, he asked if I was American or English. I told him I was from the US, and he said, "That's good. America is a friend of the Jewish people." I wondered what he would have said if I was from Britain, or what he said to the many German visitors, since much of the information was related to German activity during the Holocaust (no mention of fascist Hungarian collaborators). Around 88% of the Jewish population of Pecs died during WWII.

After lunch, I wasn't sure what to do. I'd been around the town, the sky was gray, the museums were closed and even the Capital of Culture festival was taking Monday off...

A few days ago, I started thinking about going to visit the battlefield of Mohács. Mohács was the scene of the pivotal battle where the Turks defeated King Louis II of Hungary in 1526, shattering Hungary into three pieces and ushering in over 150 years of Turkish rule in the Hungarian heartland. I had heard so much about the battle, or at least its aftermath, at the various museums, churches
and castles I'd been to that I thought it would be neat to see it.

The battle was a disaster. Due to turmoil and in-fighting within Hungary, Louis II had been unable to raise a sufficient army to face the Turks, but nonetheless he felt compelled to face them quickly. On the day of the battle, the Hungarians and Turks were apparently both awaiting reinforcements when one of the Hungarian commanders decided they should attack. Initially the Hungarians were successful, but additional Turkish forces soon arrived and overwhelmed them in a counter-attack. On top of the slaughter of 18,000 Hungarian soldiers by the Turks in under two hours, the fleeing King fell into the river and drowned.

I decided to go there this afternoon because I saw signs for it on the highway and it was only around a half hour away from Pecs. A few kilometers outside of the town of Mohács was a memorial built in an area where unmarked mass graves were found in the mid-20th century. Apart from a single sculpture in the form of a map at the entrance, there wasn't a lot of information about the battle itself. Certainly, there was nothing like many US battlefields which have monuments with troop positions and explanations of the conflict. That could have been due to lack of space, but there probably just wasn't that much detail recorded about medieval battles when they occurred. What the area did have was a large memorial park area with wooden poles carved by several artists representing the major players and common soldiers of the battle.

The main sense I got from the memorial information was a sense of bitterness. Here are some samples from the brochure: "The breakage at the apex symbolizes the trauma that was suffered in the development of the country as a result of the lost battle." "The route then leads across the atrium of a sunken building, recalling the atmosphere of monasteries that perished under Turkish rule." "The white stone-rose water feature stands in the middle, symbolizing with its split flower the breakage of the country into three parts, shedding tears for Hungary.", and so on.

The memorial area itself was actually rather large, with concentric circles cutting through an open plain, surrounded by a thick ring of trees. The major feature was a small army of carved wooden poles with the features of soldiers or horses, and a few with items distinguishing them as symbols of specific people. The use of a less durable material like wood was a little different. I'm not sure I've seen a large memorial before that didn't rely on giant slabs of stone or metal. The choice of wood carving came from a desire to reflect local funeral traditions.

Despite all the talk of tragedy, the memorial did attempt to go out on a hopeful note. The last poster on the way back to the parking lot read: "Yet, there is hope opening its flowers on the old stems of sacrifice and suffering. There is hope that we can acknowledge all the values, multicultural variety and beauty that were eventually brought about by the defeat." It also had a quote from Hungarian poet Joseph Attila: "The war fought by our forefathers is absolved into peace by remembrance."

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