Pápa lies between the Hungarian Plain and the Bakony Hills: a small baroque town with the Esterházy Castle, famous students and the third-largest synagogue in the country. And there are other attractions that make it a rewarding place to visit.
Pápa’s history has been shaped mainly by the noble Esterházy family. They influenced the town and its neighbourhood over centuries up until 1945 not only with the castle, which can be seen from afar, but also St. Stephen’s Church, which stands tall over the town and was built on the command of a descendant of the noble family. It was Bishop Charles Eszterházy who had the late-baroque church built in 1776 between the castle and the town centre, after the design of Jacob Fellner.
Unlike St. Stephen’s Church, the baroque castle of the Esterházy family no longer serves its original purpose as the seat of a noble family: following World War II the local music school and a library were moved into the building, until finally it became a museum after its renovation.
Visitors can relive the customs of the era and get married in the Esterházy Chapel. Various exhibitions complement the offer at the castle – currently there is one about glass art. The theatre integrated in the castle is also special: instead of live actors, marionettes perform plays.
In the city centre is another building with a rich history in addition to St. Stephen’s Church. Hotel Griff provides fine first-class dining and overnight stays; which could be a case of being in good company because the great Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók gave a concert in its mirror hall.
Remembering versus forgetting
Pápa is also known for its Jewish community, which was the core of town society until the persecutions and mass murders of World War II. The synagogue in Petőfi Sándor utca was seriously damaged and after the war was not renovated properly, due to financial reasons. However, it’s still the third-largest synagogue in Hungary.
Concerts and exhibitions are held there regularly, sometimes as a reminder of the history of deportation and genocide in Hungary. In 2012 local organisations and members of Jewish families from Pápa organised an exhibition titled “Our forgotten neighbours”, presenting photographs about the everyday life of the Jewish community. Ilan Mor, the Ambassador of Israel in Hungary, was invited to the opening ceremony.
Colours, theatre and beer
You can find a real curiosity on the main street: the former blue-dying works owned by the Kluge family, who used to live in Pápa from the 18th century, serves as a museum today. It has background information about the history of blue-dying in Hungary and the different steps of the processing process. There is information about the Kluge family itself and, all in all, it is well worth a visit.
Pápa is also known as a school town, not without reason. Poet Petőfi Sándor, writer Jókai Mór and politician Ferenc Deák, who played an important role in the settlement between Austria and Hungary, all studied here.
Besides the cultural attractions there is opportunity for bodily pleasures. While the castle Garden Bath takes care of bodily refreshment with its thermal waters, meat lovers can taste typical Hungarian products directly at the factory of Pápa Húsgyár.
Annual programs combine them both – culture and gastronomy go hand in hand in this town. The best example is the Pápa Game Celebrations every June, when Budapest Operetta Theatre performs plays and the courtyard of Esterházy Castle hosts a beer festival.
Swabians and Esterházy
Diversity was and still is omnipresent in Pápa. The Danube-German society, which used to be quite large, has been preserved and they operate a primary school, craft markets and “days of rain and wine” – customs and traditions mainly coming from the ancestors who emigrated from the area of the present Baden-Württemberg. At these events you can have a conversation over a glass of wine both in Hungarian and German.
The traditions are guarded over the borders as well: Schwetzingen in Swabia, Germany, and Pápa celebrated their 20th anniversary as sister towns in 2012. Their representatives meet each year to preserve the cultural and economic relations.
Coming back to the blue blood of the Esterházy family, their mausoleum is in the village of Ganna about 12 kilometres away. French architect Charles Moreau built a miniature version of the Pantheon in Rome for the noble family. Walking through the tombs can be a morbid yet beautiful finale for a visit to the west Hungarian town, which offers a lot at first glance and then looks even more amazing the second time.