History of Pécs is quite similar to the history of other Hungarian and even other European cities, but at the same time stands out as completely different story. City has had many different rulers and has formed many strong alliances over time just like many other cities. And yet it was the uniqueness of the city`s historical events that has made it stand out from the crowd and gave it the possibility to evolve into one of the most outstanding parts of Hungary.
From the first inhabitants to the Roman Empire
Archaeological findings discovered near Pécs show clear signs of first settlements in Southern Transdanubia dating from more than 5,000 years ago when nomadic tribes romp in this land. First bigger and more important settlements followed in around 200 BC, when Romans recognised the region`s huge potential for wine making. Small colonies were created, and as the population grew those colonies bounded together in one huge colony named Sopianae. As time passed and population kept growing, bigger and more important Roman centre Valeria was established.
More than 200 years of almost constant development in times of Roman Empire transformed this land into one of the most important ancient Roman`s centrums. Outstanding reminders of once great Roman town from the 1st century AD, are the Early Christian Mausoleum and Cella Septichora – important cultural and UNESCO World Heritage Site attractions in Pécs.
Five chapels and Ottoman oasis
As the time flew and medieval era arrived the Roman town grew into a city and was renamed to Quinque Basilicae. Old name could now be translated as “Five Chapels” or “Five Basilicas”. Some languages still use this old traditional name for Pécs, for example Germany: Fünfkirchen and Czech: Pětikostelí. Although the exact origin of the name is not known, a legend has it that the settlers built the city by using building materials from the five chapels that used to stand on the city`s location.
Settlers of this region had lived quite a peaceful life for better part of the first few centuries. But that changed drastically in the 13th century, when Mongol tribes raved through Southern Transdanubia. It was in those times that Pécs was surrounded by city wall. Although the wall was an effective defence strategy against Mongols it was not enough to stop the Turks who plundered the land some centuries later. All hopes of positive outcome were over in 1543 when attackers from Ottoman Empire finally conquered Pécs.
It is interesting that the eventual take-over of the city was quite peaceful. The Bishop of Pécs decided to hand over the rights to the city to Ottomans without the fight in hopes of preserving the city and to defend the residents. It was definitely worth it. Old and new residents found a quite peaceful way of living together despite their differences, and Pécs was often described as a peaceful oasis in the bloody war zone between Turks and other Europe.
A century of peace and new attacks
As the Turks took over the city they started to change its overall image. Mosques, public baths, schools and other traditional Islamic objects were built with some of them surviving to today`s times. Unique influence of traditional eastern culture is still one of the most important elements of Pécs and the city is often renewed as one of the most beautiful small cities in Central Europe with many architectural elements presenting the most important Turkish monuments in Europe.
Quite peaceful coexistence of “east” and “west” was cruelly interrupted by warrior Nicholas Zrínyi. Hungarian commander lead his army to Pécs in 1664. In the cruel attack huge part of the city was burnt to the ground. Basically, all medieval buildings were completely destroyed and many important Turkish architectural wonders were lost forever.
The attack was only the beginning of many years of inner instability that lead to devastating uprisings. But it was all for a good cost and Pécs gained well deserved independence in 1686 when the Turks finally surrendered. The first century of independence brought diseases, more instability and unpleasant rulers, but hope stayed and soon the future brought new victories.
The ups and downs in the last centuries
It was the 18th century that brought a “fresh wind” into the city, especially after 1777 when Maria Terecia took advantage of the bishop`s untimely death and declared Pécs for an independent town. Old written documents claim that Pécs had only about 2,000 residents at that time, but the number grew rapidly and exceeded 14,000 in less than 50 years.
The 18th and 19th century brought the “golden age” of Pécs. Economy grew with high rates mainly due to successes of iron, paper and sugar industry, but also as the consequence of the coal mine discovery. Golden age brought interesting opportunities and new companies emerged. Production of beer, champagne and wine was also far-reaching.
Persistent growth continued until 1980, even though there were some devastating setbacks like the World War I and II. Fortunately they did not have a lasting disastrous impact and reports show that Pécs had a population of more than 180,000 people right after the World War II.
One more crisis
Even though wars did not bring a complete devastation to Southern Transdanubia the crisis was not far away. Changes in political and economic world, the downfall of Yugoslavia and other inconsistencies were the reasons that residents of Pécs and other region found themselves in a crisis.
It took quite a long time for the city to regain its old glory and it was just in the last few years that the atmosphere was gradually filling with an exacting optimism for the future. Pécs is quietly transforming into one of the most beautiful Hungarian cities and increasingly popular tourist destination.
The City for Peace
Even though Pécs has gone through many different historical eras, it managed to keep its uniqueness and huge cultural tolerance. It seems that it has always been a city of vibrant and inimitable mixture of different cultures that became the core of the city. One of the biggest recognitions of cultural tolerance is the UNESCO Cities for Peace title which was awarded to Pécs in 1998.