Pécs as a foreigner – “Of all places, why come to Pécs?”

If someone had given me 100 Ft every time I heard the question: ”But why Pécs?”, then I would be rich by now! For some reason, the people of Pécs don’t see how beautiful their city is, that it not only attracts thousands of tourists every summer but even international students to study here! Let’s take a step back and look at the city from a curious foreigner’s point of view. What does he or she see that the citizens have forgotten? 
 
Let me invite you on a time travelling journey into the more than two-thousand-year history of the city. Under the name Sopianae, in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th century the city was inhabited by the Romans. Yes, of course, they were also here. But until today we can still see its print on the city. Have you ever visited the Catacombs in Rome? It may be hard to believe, but there is only one place on the earth where you can see similar impressive and art historically valuable burial chambers and original frescos and that is here! Not only ruins and forgotten glory, but the real possibility to step into their burial chambers and see for yourself. For art history lovers and archaeologists, Pécs is the place to be.
 
Not much further, behind the (once 4 kilometres long) city walls we find the four proud towers of the Cathedral. The official name is the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul, but no worries – whether you say Cathedral or Basilica, Dome or church, you can’t go wrong! This building has suffered and survived a lot: multiple fires and style changes, even a religious change when it functioned as a mosque for almost 150 years! What interesting stories the stone figures in the church would be able to tell us if they came to life… 

                                                                        Photo: Jüch Romy 
 
Not only the Cathedral experienced different winds blowing through its walls. The unwavering heart of the city, though known under numerous names, felt the footsteps of the medieval merchants, heard the tunes of the Turkish snake charmers and was the stage of countless city events and town markets. The Mosque of Pasha Qasim was built during the Ottoman invasion from the stones of the Catholic church, nowadays the cross and the crescent moon on top of the green cupola accurately symbolise the interesting duality of art and religion within those walls. While the religion is clearly brought back to the original Christianity, the Turkish elements remain, which makes a visit to the church more intriguing and surprising than ever before. Imagine a mihrab (a Muslim praying corner facing Mecca) with Jesus Christ on the cross above and an angelic painted sky with hints of original prints of the Quran still left on the walls. Just like the burial chambers of Pécs, a mosque like this is a rarity. 
                                                                     Photo: Jüch Romy 
 
For music lovers, this city isn’t one to skip either. This is the birthplace and current home of a world-famous organ factory and to its authentic melodies, you can take a stroll through the park like the composer Zoltán Kodály did in his days. Let the Dome Square inspire you like it inspired Franz Liszt gazing from the balcony of the bishop’s residence onto the city towers while composing one of his new masterpieces. And art collectors, hold your breath; Pécs was and currently still is the home of the world exhibition’s valuable collection of Zsolnay porcelain – probably the most integrated in the daily life of its citizens, nevertheless one of the main highlights of the city. The people of Pécs walk past its exquisite designs every day: think of the façade of the County Hall and the stunning Zsolnay well at the main square; even when you pay a visit to the main post office, you walk under the roof of an artist’s work. Not to mention that hundreds of the university students study at the place where the Zsolnay porcelain was born: the factory quarter. 
 
Pécs wasn’t European Cultural Capital in 2010 for no reason… And the praising stories in the travel guides, which suggest Pécs as one of the top holiday destinations of Middle Europe, are not misguided at all. Of course, not all of that can be proved with one single history lesson. However, Pécs, the Mediterranean city of Hungary, the city of students, festivals, museums and many more, proves its value day after day. Just look around and see for yourself!