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Snapshots: Zágon – Birthplace of Mikes Kelemen

Top: town sign; carved gate over road leading to Zágon. Center: Mikes manor house today. Bottom: tree believed to have been planted at birth of Mikes Kelemen, protected as natural landmark; marker indicating actual location of house where he was born.

Snapshots: Zágon – Birthplace of Mikes Kelemen

Erika Papp Faber

Born in Zágon in 1690, Mikes at 17 became a page of Transylvanian Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II, who led the insurrection against Habsburg rule from 1703 to 1711.  When that revolution was put down, Rákóczi was exiled, but Mikes remained faithful to his master.  He went with him, first to Poland, then to England and France. He learned French and became familiar with French culture.   

On the principle that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, the Sultan offered Rákóczi and his retinue refuge in Turkey in 1717.  Three years later, the kuruc ”bujdosók”, i.e., exiles, were settled in Rodostó by the Sea of Marmara.

Mikes was an eyewitness of the lives of these exiles, which he described in detail in letters to an imaginary aunt, letters that were never mailed. Known as ”Letters from Turkey” (Törökországi levelek), the collection is a literary masterpiece, a vital source of information about the period covering the 41 years of his exile.

Rákóczi died in 1735, but Mikes remained in Turkey because the Empress Maria Theresa refused his request to return home.  But he was favored by the Sultan who sent him as an emissary to the voivode of Moldavia, as close as he could ever again come to his birthplace.   

Mikes survived all the exiles.  In 1758, he became the leader of the Hungarian community in Turkey, and spent his time in translating works from the French. He died at Rodostó in 1761.  A memorial column was set up in Zágon, on the Mikes property, to mark his actual birthplace.


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