Due to its beautiful surroundings, impressive atmosphere, wine and bathing culture and the hospitality of its habitants, the town of Eger is today the third most visited locality in Hungary. It has been the scene of numerous important events in history, yet its name represents for every Hungarian the story of spirited patriotism, when the defenders of the fortress held out against the Turks. The tale is told in a well-known novel.
The fortress of Eger, which has lived through many tough centuries was begun on Castle Hill after the invasion of the Tartars, in the 13th century. On this spot there had been a cathedral and an Episcopal palace as far back as the time of the King Stephen I (1000-1038), the founder of the Hungarian State. As a result of the Turkish threat, the place was fortified in the 16th century. István Dobó was appointed Governor in 1548, and he carried on the fortification of the castle. He ordered the building of a new bastion, which was later named after him. During the attack of the Turkish army in 1552 only about five hundred horsemen and just about the same number of soldiers were inside the fortress. Yet in the desperate battle fought against the 80,000 Turks, in which even the inhabitants of the fortress, girls and women took their part - the defenders succeeded in winning a remarkable victory. Their triumph is written with golden letters in the history book of Hungarians. Today, the exhibitions of the István Dobó Fortress Museum can be visited inside the walls of the castle.
Looking down from the fortress you can conclude from the multitude of church towers that Eger was an important centre of the church for centuries, an archbishopric since 1804. Yet it can also be seen that the Turks eventually succeeded in occupying the town. The delicate minaret, 40 metres high with 14 sides, reminds the observer of nearly one hundred years of Turkish rule, from 1596. From its balcony a unique panorama of the town can be seen.
Eger can be proud of the third biggest church in Hungary. The 93 metre long, 53 metre wide Classical main archiepiscopal cathedral - raised to the rank of a basilica by the Pope in 1970 - was built between 1831 and 1836. It was designed by the Hungarian József Hild, its statues were carved by Marco Casagrande and his workshop in Venice. The cupola of the church is 40, the steeples are 54 metres high.
Eger is justly know as the city of Baroque. In its historic city centre many beautiful and valuable Baroque and late-Baroque buildings can be admired. Many believe that one of the most beautiful Baroque churches in Europe is the Minorite church, a building which seems to be almost playful near the solemn edifice of the friary. The church was designed by one of the greatest masters of European Baroque, Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer.
The U-shaped Baroque group of buildings, the Archiepiscopal Palace, is also a delight. This is the Collection Centre of the Archbishopric. You can gaze in wonder at the treasures in the collection, the Gothic chalices, ciboriums, reliquary crosses. The coronation robe of Empress Maria-Theresa is also kept here.
The County Hall occupies a distinguished place among the secular Baroque monuments. Its fine wrought iron gate was made by the most significant Hungarian Baroque ironwright of German origin, Henrik Fazola. The windows and the iron grids on the balconies of the late Baroque Provost's Palace also attest to his talent. An important architect of the Baroque, the Italian Giovanni Battista Carlone, built for himself the exquisitely beautiful monument which bears his name today, the Carlone-house.
One of the best higher education institutions in Hungary, the late-Baroque style Lyceum, is interesting from the point of view of cultural history. An 11-storey, 53-metre high observatory tower, formerly known as the Specula stands above its Eastern wing, housing an astrological museum. The library of the Archbishopric, which operates within the Lyceum, is also rich in codices, and preserves the first book printed in Hungarian, the Buda Chronicle, from 1473.
The Cistercian church welcomes its visitors with a lavish interior. Its high altar, which touches the ceiling, is unusual and daringly constructed, a matchless, and spectacular creation of the Hungarian rococo. Serbian and Greek families finding refuge in Eger from the Turks in the 17th century built the late-Baroque style Orthodox or Serbian church. Its richly carved and gold-leafed iconostasis is especially beautiful.
Grape-growing and wineries cannot go without mention when talking about Eger. One of the best known and most prestigious wines produced in the wine region around the town is the claret, Eger Bull's Blood. In the Valley of the Fair Woman, the most important part of town, where the taverns are, producers are always glad to receive guests and offer them wine.