Seven Memorials of the Conquest

Top: Zimony, Zobor, Pusztaszer; Center: Brassó, Pannonhalma, Munkács; Bottom: Dévény

Seven Memorials of the Conquest

EPF 

When planning for observance of the Millennium in the late 1890’s, a suggestion was made to erect historic monuments to commemorate the Conquest. The idea was put forward by Thaly Kálmán, a representative of the Independence Party and a historian.  He did not wish to arouse animosity against anyone, but wanted to ”express the strength of our consolidated statehood”, as he phrased it.

These commemorative columns were to be erected in ”localities which were scenes of important events during the time of the Conquest, and would serve as reminders to the traveler, the native population and those nationalities which want to secede from here that this land has been Hungarian national territory for a thousand years...” They were to become, according to Thaly’s concept, national shrines for people to visit.

Anonymus, the monk-scribe of 13th century King Béla III, had compiled, in Latin, the Gesta Hungarorum, a literary work meant for entertainment, a tapestry woven of historical truth and fiction.  For lack of solid historical data about the Conquest, it served as a guide at the end of the 19th century for pinpointing the localities for these monuments.

The first site chosen was the castle hill of Munkács, near Verecke Pass, through which  Árpád came with his people.  The monument was an obelisk, set on a very high base, and topped with the legendary turul in copper (or bronze, according to your source), bearing in its beak Attila’s sword that Árpád had inherited. It was dedicated in 1897.   

The monument was destroyed in 1924, after Munkács was handed over to Czechoslovakia following World War I.  The turul was melted down after the Russian occupation in 1945. The stone base was recycled for use in Soviet military memorials. 

But wait ... the story of the Munkács Memorial has a sequel.  A native of Munkács, Pákh Sándor, had left his birthplace with his family during Soviet times and eventually settled in America.  He searched for and collected any pieces of the original monument that could still be found.  Due to his perseverence,  and with the help of his sons Sándor and Imre, a new Memorial Obelisk was erected on the hill in front of Munkács Castle, and was dedicated in 2008, now under the Ukrainian flag.  Unlike the original, its design is plain, but the turul once again sits on top, holding in  its talons Attila’s sword.

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On a hill above the city of Nyitra, Upper Hungary (now Slovakia), on what was called Zobor Mountain, the second Conquest memorial was erected.  It was supposed to have been the site of a major battle between the conquering Hungarian tribes and the local population led by a chieftain named Zobor. The view from the top in magnificent.

The base of the obelisk was round, and the memorial was dedicated to Huba, one of the seven Chieftains who led the Hungarians in the Conquest.  It was ceremoniously unveiled in 1896. 

After the treaty of Trianon, the obelisk itself was toppled by the Czechs in 1921.  Much of the round base remains, but is now covered in graffiti.  Immediately behind it is the ultramodern TV tower. 

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Dévény fortress, sitting on a hilltop overlooking the confluence of the Morva and the Danube Rivers, sat on the border with Austria.  It was considered Hungary’s western gate, but had no connection with the Conquest.  According to Thaly’s vision, the monument there was to be a beacon to travelers from Austria, indicating that this is where Hungary began. 

It was a 63-foot high column, on top of which was a statue of a peaceful, relaxed-looking warrior, with his sabre lowered and his other hand resting  on a shield bearing the Hungarian coat of arms.  It too was demolished by the Czechs in 1921. 

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St. Márton hegye (St. Martin’s Mountain – where St. Martin of Tours was born in the 4th century) – was the spot chosen by Prince Géza (Father of Szt. István) to settle Benedictine monks in 996.  They established an abbey there which we know today as Pannonhalma.  It became a center of  Christianity, which eventually became the defining characteristic of the Hungarian people.  

Once again citing Anonymus, Thaly’s idea was to build a memorial which would be a reminder of Árpád’s final victory over Svatopluk, the Moravian chieftain, that occurred at Bánhida, located east of Pannonhalma. 

Here, a chapel facing towards Bánhida was thought to be more appropriate as a memorial.  Built with a cupola, its construction was faulty, however, and leaks developed early, damaging the frescoes.  The mortar used had also been of poor quality, and the building began to crumble.  Despite efforts at remodeling, the cupola had to be demolished, and  the roof had to be replaced.  This was done in 1938.  The chapel still exists today, in its modified form, one of the three remaining Conquest monuments.  

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The next memorial of the Conquest was built at Zimony in the south, at the confluence of the Rivers Sava and Danube, not far from present-day Belgrade.  Here, the forces of Árpád defeated the combined Bulgarian and Greek forces of Zalán, putting him to flight.   (This was immortalized in the 19th century by Vörösmarty’s epic poem “Zalán futása”.)

A Roman military encampment had already stood on the mountain above the town.  Eventually, a fortress was built there.  That is where Hunyadi János was brought after he contracted the plague following his victory over the Turks in 1456 at Nándorfehérvár – today’s Belgrade – and this is where he died. 

By the 17th century, Zimony fortress had fallen into ruin.  Thaly chose it as the site for a memorial, this time in the form of a monumental, medieval castle tower, with the turul holding Árpád’s sword in his beak, on top.  It was dedicated in 1896.  The statues were toppled, the turul removed in 1924.  The Serbs call the remaining tower the Tower of Hunyadi János, or Szebenyei Jankó.

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Pusztaszer – located in the middle of the Alföld (Great Plain) - is where Árpád convened the first national assembly.  For 34 days, they laid down the principles for governing their people, enunciating their rights and establishing laws. Stephen Sisa described it as ”a parliament on horseback”, and Count Teleki Pál once said, ”We had a parliament before we had chairs!”

So Pusztaszer was an obvious choice for a Conquest memorial, which is in the shape of a small chapel.  Twelve steps lead up to it, and Doric columns on the side of the ”entrance” – it has no door – hold up the roof with a small tympany.  A bronze tablet on the wall explains the reason for the memorial.  A statue of Árpád, sitting (as if taking part in a discussion, but not as if on a throne!) tops the roof, and two lions carved out of limestone symbolize the strength and determination of the Hungarian people.  As the other Conquest memorials, this one also has the two dates, 896 and 1896 carved in the lintel. 

A memorial park has been established around it, and one of the buildings houses the famous ”Feszty körkép”, a cyclorama depicting the crossing of the Hungarian tribes into the Carpathian Basin in 896.  The panoramic painting by Feszty Árpád is 120 meters long, 15 meters high, with over 2,000 figures depicted.  Most recently restored in 1995, it is open for visitors.  It is the only one of the seven memorials that has actually become a national shrine, as envisioned by Thaly Kálmán, and is visited by multitudes. 

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The seventh Conquest Memorial was erected on top of Cenk Mountain, overlooking Brassó.  The conquering Hungarian tribes did not go further, did not cross the southern  Mountagins, which from then on formed the southern border of Hungary for a thousand years.

According to Thaly, this memorial was meant to speak to Székelys (Transylvanian Hungarians), Saxons (inhabitants of German descent), and Romanians who lived at the mountain’s base.  It was to remind the Romanians and the Saxons that they too lived under the protection of the Hungarian state, and that they should be faithful to it; and it was to offer encouragement to the Székelys that Hungary, the mother country, would not abandon its own blood.  At the same time, foreigners traveling on the Budapest-Bucharest trains at the mountain’s base would be able to see the millennial memorial on the top of the mountain.

The Memorial was dedicated at the same time as the one at Dévény, in October of 1896.  It was also a memorial column, made of limestone, and measuring 21.5 meters in height, with a round base that resembled the base of the Zobor Mountain memorial. It was topped with the exact replica of the peaceful Hungarian warrior atop the Dévény memorial.  

The Cenk Mountain memorial became the scene of patriotic observances, but was damaged early on by those who were opposed to the idea of Hungarian hegemony.  It was damaged by dynamite, and toppled by a violent storm.  By 1914, the state approved funds for its repair, but repairs could not be carried out because of the outbreak of World War I.  Today, only the base of the memorial remains, and some of the carved stones may be found scattered over the hillside.

So of the seven original Conquest Memorials, only the ones at Pannonhalma and Pusztaszer are intact; Zimony and Munkács are in fair condition.  But regardless of their status, the memory of the Conquest in 896 lives on ...