Hollókő (B4): this is perhaps Hungary's most photographed village, for it
was a favourite destination even before it was discovered by the world at
large. Redolent of a much earlier age, with its whitewashed, wooden framed
houses complete with cellars, decorative verandahs and exposed beams, the
entire village was placed in 1987 on a world list of places of outstanding cultural
and natural significance.
The village owes its preserved state at least in part to its relative isolation;
new architectural styles couldn't easily reach it. On the other hand, the high
risk of damage by fire – the thatched roofs being particularly prone – meant
that it had to be completely rebuilt on a number of occasions. The last of
these was in 1909, when adobe was used for the walls for the first time and
tiles for the roofs, yet still in the old Palóc fashion. (Palóc is the name of the
ethnic group of people whose folk culture is associated with the region.)
The village centre Ófalu is its nineteenth century wooden-towered church,
surrounded on the hilly streets by no fewer than sixty five listed buildings.
The majority of these form part of the village museum, but it is important to
say that Hollókő is not a museum or skansen: village women dressed in folk
costume seen hurrying down the street or working quietly in a shady courtyard
are not members of some hired troupe but genuine village residents.
Altogether 380 people live in Hollókő and although it is true most are retired
there are also some young families.
Also of interest is Hollókő Castle, which rises above the village. According to
local legend some well-meaning little imps disguised as ravens built it, stone
by stone. This explains the name of the place (in Hungarian Hollókő means
Szirák (B4): the elegant, renovated and authentically refurbished mansion at Szirák now operates
as a hotel. Records show that the area was first settled by the Knights of St. John, and that today's
baroque castle, by which the village is known throughout Hungary, stands on the site of the order's
one-time monastery. The castle, once owned by members of the Róth-Teleki-Dégenfeld families, is
thought to have been built in the seventeenth century, and it is believed that the Renaissance façade
reflects the influence of its first known occupier, a protestant humanist nobleman. The building's most
outstanding feature is the upper floor great hall decorated with fine frescoes.
Buják (B4): here it is the colourful village folk-costume worn by the women that is especially likely to
catch the eye. Consisting of striped stockings overlaid with patterned, fine pleated, gathered skirts, an
embroidered apron, ruffled blouse and a bonnet set with pearls and flowers, it presents a wonderful
Szécsény (B3): Szécsény is located to the north of Hollókő (B4), and is noteworthy for the unrivalled
scene created by the grouping of buildings – consisting of the Forgách Mansion, the Franciscan priory
and the Roman Catholic church – around the River Ipoly. The settlement is first mentioned in chronicles
dating from 1219. From the Middle Ages the village was defended by a fortress, an important part of
the Hungarian chain of fortresses protecting the country against invaders. Today just two corner ramparts
are all that remain of the fortifications, but in these can be seen a garrison room and a prison cell.
The baroque mansion was built over the site of the castle in 1770, and in the twenty-first century it
houses a museum devoted to both the history of Nógrád county and the world-wide exploits of
Balassagyarmat (B3): this was the county seat of Nógrád county from 1790 until 1950. The name
derives from one of the conquering Hungarian tribes of the ninth century (Gyarmat) and a much later
family (Balassa) whose land it became. From the middle ages, as the so-called ‘capital of the Palóc
country', it was settled by Slovak, German, Serb, Greek and Bulgarian craftsmen and tradesmen. Who
are the Palóc, the people whose culture, customs, costume and dialect have left such a mark on this
region? Opinions vary, with some researchers saying they are descended from the ancient
Hungarians, and others linking them with the Tartars. Their life and history is displayed for all to
appreciate in the town's famous Palóc Museum.
|Szécsény, Forgách Mansion
|Buják folk costume
|Village house in Nógrád county
|Szirák, Hubertus Hunt