After Romania, we headed to the city of Pécs, in the southern plains of Hungary. Long ago, during the Roman times, there was a Roman settlement called Sopianæ here in the ancient province of Pannonia. We visited some well preserved Roman ruins beneath the city that were impressive and enjoyed the unique blend of architecture here. Pécs has been designated the Cultural Capital of Europe for 2010, so they are busy touching up most of the famous landmarks, and the artist community is thriving here.
Pécs is near Mohács where the Hungarians lost to the Turks in the Battle of Mohács in 1526. This was a major loss for the Hungarians, as the Turkish army wiped them out and ran roughshod over them for the next couple of hundred years. There are two mosques from the Turkish period that remain here, one has been converted to a church, but you can still see the arabic script on the walls and the building is clearly not the normal style for this area. The other is kept as a museum and has many old Turkish items and drawings in it.
The Roman empire extended into this area, and the flat, fertile plains along the Danube provided them with wine and grain. There are some early Christian churches below the current city, which have been excavated and really well preserved. You can go below the current ground level of the city (a new church now stands above them) and view some of the frescoes on the inside of the early Roman christian tombs. It is awesome to think that these were painted in 1800 years ago, and are well preserved and also very well set up for viewing. The European Union has spent a large amount on the excavation and preservation, but it is very well done and was really awesome to see all these Roman era ruins below an existing church. They clearly did a good amount of engineering to support the building above, while providing viewing tunnels for the old ruins below.
Pécs also had one of the first universities in Hungary established here, and there is a strong artist and education component to the city. There is the Zsolnay ceramic factory here, which has been making fine ceramics for a long time and a surprisingly interesting museum filled with some really awesome ceramics. They produced many of the architectural embellishments for some of the major buildings that we will see later in Budapest. The photos in the museum have some vivid color and fine detail, so we are looking forward to seeing those buildings when we meet up with Alexa’s mom and aunt in that city later.
Since we have just arrived in the flat, fertile plains of Hungary, we have jumped into the food they offer here. They are well known for their affinity for paprika, and so we have been trying out all sorts of peppers. In addition to the long, narrow green peppers (similar to what they had in Romania) and the excellent pickled red bell peppers, they have this paprika seasoning paste that comes in a tube that is pretty tasty. We have also found some instant macaroni and cheese type of noodle packet, with paprika. It is quick, rich and good. We”ll often cook this and add a few veggies for a quick meal at a hostel, with tomatoes, onions or cucumbers. Like the neighboring city of Vienna, Hungary makes fancy cakes and deserts, for very good prices (under 2 dollars US). We have done our best to try these rich cakes out during our time here.
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