At the time of the Hungarian Conquest the princely family took possession of this region of Transdanubia and Veszprém – where one can also find the traces of earlier settlement on Castle Hill – became the property of the House of Árpád. The area occupied by the prince was surrounded and protected by the settlements of the other tribes (Nyék, Megyer, Kürtgyarmat, Tarján, Jenő, Kér, Keszi and the joining Kabars) as well as largely uninhabited borderland controlled by the military. In Veszprém County the graves of the first generations of conquerors are known from the area of Veszprém, Bakonyszombathely, Badacsonytomaj, Balatonakali, Csabrendek, Csikvánd, Felsőörs, Gic, Hegymagas, Lovászpatona, Mencshely, Nagyvázsony, Paloznak, Sümeg and Szentbékkálla.
The Europe-wide marauding raids and plunderings of the Hungarians were terminated owing to the military defeats in the west (955) and the east (970). Afterwards the Christian, feudal Hungarian state took shape under the rule of Chief Prince Géza (972-997) and King St. Stephen (1001-1038). They made peace with their neighbours, eliminated their internal enemies and divided the country into counties with the king becaming the lord of the counties. On behalf and in the absence of the king, it was the ispán (bailiff) who had the taxes collected with the help of his soldiers, ensured the performance of different services and enforced the new laws. Two-thirds of Veszprém County – including nearly 160 villages – were ruled directly by the king, while one-third of the county became a feudality via royal subinfeudation. The main landlords of Veszprém County in the Árpád Period were the following: the families of Ajka, Dém, Lőrinte, Pápa, Salamon, Szalók, Tomaj and Vázsony, the Veszprém Bishopric (1001), the Chapter of Veszprém (late 11th century), the Nunnery of Somlóvásárhely and Veszprém Valley (early 11th century), the Abbey of Bakonybél (early 11th century) and Tihany (1055).
According to the charters, the town of Veszprém as well as Székesfehérvár and Esztergom was already a "princely (and royal) seat" around the decades of the Hungarian Conquest. It is mentioned in the chronicles of the 12th century that the young king, Stephen had a decisive victory over the pagan prince, the pretender Koppány on the rocky plateau not far from the town. It is certain that from 1001 onwards the county seat was in the northern part of Castle Hill; the county as well as the Bishopric of Veszprém – extending to County Fejér, Kolon (the later Zala), Visegrád (the later Pest-Pilis) – was ruled from here. The county seat was probably protected with the help of trenches, mounds and bails or picket-fences from the earliest times. The first churches of Veszprém were erected during the reign of the House of Árpád and were named after the saints of the early Christian church: Saint George and St. Michael. St. George’s Church, whose ruins are still visible today, was built earlier than the cathedral. The head relic of St. George used to be kept here. The inscription warning pilgrims can still be read on the worn threshold of the church: IN LIMIE NO SEDETO (DO NOT SIT ON THE THRESHOLD). Legend has it that the only son of St. Stephen I, Prince St. Emeric – who met an early death – vowed chastity here.
The foundation of the Veszprém Bishopric was approved of by the Synod of Ravenna in 1000 and the boundaries of its properties were recorded in a royal deed of gift in 1009. It covered five royal counties; almost the whole Transdanubia. The cathedral, founded and furnished by Stephen I and his Bavarian wife, Gisella, is referred to in the charters as the first and foremost cathedral in Hungary. The Hungarian queens became the perpetual advowees of the cathedral. Their throne was placed in the sanctuary and their crown was kept in the treasury of the cathedral. This resulted in numerous privileges for the bishops of Veszprém: they gained the right to crown queens and they served as the queens chancellor.
King St. Stephen’s son, Prince Emeric founded the Greek Orthodox Nunnery of Veszprém Valley by Séd Brook around 1020 for his Byzantine wife and her court. Its Greek founding charter survived in a copy from 1109. According to legends, Queen Gisella herself also participated in the preparation of the rich embroidery of the coronation robe prepared here.
Following the Tatar invasion of 1241 King Béla IV forced families with considerable wealth to have stone castles built. Owing to royal favours and changing political winds the owners of such properties, however, changed hands frequently. Owing to the surrounding villages and estates, the castles serving to control important military checkpoints and roads also became economic centres. In the course of centuries the cathedral dedicated to archangel St. Michael, the Bishop’s Palace, the canons’ houses and fortresses and the villages growing in the valleys and on the gentle slopes – inhabited by the servants of the castle – developed into a town. The bishops, who frequently held important functions on the national scale, endeavoured to increase the grandeur of their seat by having more and more buildings erected. The domestic chapel decorated with the figures of the Evangelists and named after Gisella from the 18th century onwards, was built in the 13th century.
The remains dating back to King Matthias’ period are mainly connected to Albert Vetési’s name. This outstanding humanist prelate (1458-1486), King Matthias’ secret chancellor decorated the cathedral and St. George’s Chapel in harmony with the Renaissance spirit. The carved corbel of the chapel (Vetési Stone) bearing the bishop’s coat of arms and an inscription with the date 1467 is still visible today. The Renaissance chasuble of the Bishop with pomegranate ornaments surrounded by flower tendrils is a masterpiece of the Hungarian embroidery of King Matthias’ period. The original chasuble and the Vetési Stone can be seen at the permanent exhibition of Dezső Laczkó Museum.
The Italian Bishop Péter Isvalies (1503-1511) and the Dalmatian Bishop Péter Beriszló (1512-1527) modernised the fortifications of the castle. All this, however, was not enough to protect the town against the threatening Turks. When Ali Pasha of Buda occupied Veszprém in 1552, the Turks demolished the bastions of the castle, plundered the cathedral, burnt the buildings and slaughtered or captured a significant part of the inhabitants. During the 150-year Turkish occupation, Veszprém changed hands several times: between 1552-66 it belonged to the Turks, then until 1593 to the Hungarians. Afterwards, the Turks ruled the castle for seven years and then between 1599-1605 Hungarians took it over again. Following four years of Turkish rule, Hungarians occupied it again until 1620. Between 1620-1622 the soldiers of Gábor Bethlen, Prince of Transylvania occupied the castle, which remained in Hungarian possession during the whole period with the exception of a short Turkish occupation in 1683. Owing to the wars, the bishops of Veszprém resided in Sümeg for nearly a century. The Treasury seized the abandoned property of the Bishop and the Chapter for military purposes. During this period the town went up in flames several times and due to the wars and the migration its population decreased. In the course of the Turkish battles, Veszprém – which changed hands several times – declined into a border fortress and lost its urban qualities.
However, not only the fortune for war and the financial situation but also religious life changed. Owing to the strengthening reformation movements in the 16th century, in 1606 the Viennese court had to allow noblemen and their soldiers to practise their protestant religion freely. The Reformed Church in the outer castle was built in 1629 as part of this change. However, due to the Counter-Reformation and the Wesselényi Conspiracy of 1670 numerous protestant ministers were imprisoned or sent to the galleys – hindering the freedom of worship of the population. In spite of this, from the 1620s onwards the town revived again. In 1628 – after 76 years of voluntary exile in Sümeg – the Bishop of the diocese returned to Veszprém. The Bishop and the Chapter of Veszprém asserted their rights as landlords and started rebuilding. After liberation from the Turkish rule, the significance of Veszprém as a border fortress also ceased to exist. Due to a royal edict, Hungarian fortresses were demolished in 1702. This is the time when – apart from the outlook and some buttresses – the castle lost its fortress-like qualities. After the eartquake of 1810, the tower was to be demolished. In spite of this, however, one storey was added in 1814 and was used to monitor the town for fires.
The Rákóczi War of Independence triggered in June 1703 in North-eastern Hungary liberated the areas east of the Danube and Upper Hungary from the Habsburg rule. Transdanubia, however, remained "fatal land" ("terra fatalis") for the kuruc side: they could never liberate the whole area permanently. Four campaigns were started to liberate Transdanubia but on each occassion they could only seize the former border fortresses in the Bakony Hills and the Balaton Uplands where most soldiers were Hungarian. In January-April 1704 the soldiers in Pápa, Veszprém, Palota, Tihany and Vázsony joined the forces of General Sándor Károlyi. The attack of the emperor’s forces, however, forced the kuruc forces to withdraw quickly. During their offensive of July-September 1709, the emperor’s forces retook the castles of Pápa, Sümeg, Palota and Veszprém after severe battles. After the lost battle of Palota the kuruc forces finally left Transdanubia and thereby, the town of Veszprém as well.
One of the most significant events of the 18th century, determining the cultural characteristics of the inhabitants to our days, was the resettlement of the partially or fully abandoned areas. The decrease in the population between 1720-68 due to the losses during the Turkish occupation and the Rákóczi War of Independence, the severe burdens of the population and the unfavourable agricultural conditions necessitated the resettlement of the villages. Besides these factors, Counter-Reformation became more powerful after 1741, as a consequence of which there was an endeavour to replace the Protestant inhabitants of some villages and towns with Roman Catholic settlers. Our county had a mixed population in the 18th century: besides the Roman Catholic majority there were also Reformed and also some Lutheran believers who mainly belonging to the gentry. This also applied to the town of Veszprém. In the 17th and early 18th century, the support of the powerful landlord patrons and the presence of the soldiers serving in the border castles favoured the Protestants. However, following the Counter-Reformation – with the leadership of the Bishop of Veszprém, Márton Padányi Bíró (1745-1762) – emerging at the beginning of the century strict restrictions and permanent pressure were exercised on those practising other religions. Many buildings erected in the course of centuries had been destroyed and the reconstruction starting at the beginning of the 18th century happened in harmony with a new style and view of life: the Baroque. Bishop Padányi did away with the medieval back-alleys of the castle and created the representative Holy Trinity Square (Szentháromság tér) bordered by the canons’ palaces. Then – based on Jakab Fellner’s plans –the new Bishop’s Residence, which was to become one of Hungary’s most beautiful late-Baroque palaces, was completed in 1776. Apart from the buildings, the sculptures (the Stations of the Cross, the Trinity statues and the saints), the Baroque altar-pieces and wood-carvings illustrate Baroque art.
The second half of the 18th century changed not only the castle but also the town itself. The Franciscan Church was built next to the cathedral, in 1724 St. Anne’s Church was erected on the square below the castle and in 1741 the house of Canon Dubniczay was completed opposite the Bishop’s Palace.
The 19th century started with wars and continued with revolution but its last third was characterised by peaceful building. During the French war of 1809 the area of Veszprém county was occupied by foreign troops despite the horse regiment of the county and the 9th infantry batallion of noblemen with the leadership of the landlord of Veszprém and the Bishop of Veszprém. The French Regiments withdrawing from the county from late summer left the country by November. In Veszprém, the years 1848-1849 had the atmosphere of civil war rather than a revolution. The town changed hands several times in a few months with the Hungarian revolutionary forces and the imperial forces alternately parading in its streets. In autumn 1849 the country – deprived of all its national autonomy – was occupied by imperial forces. The revolution was followed by bloody retribution but in spite of the imperial absolutism the strengthening of the middle classes continued. In 1853 the emperor declared the liberation of the serfs. Capitalisation slowly started with more and more railway lines being built. In the Age of Dualism, following the Compromise of 1867 the political-social leadership of the country and the counties remained in the hands of the landowning aristocracy. The Compromise resulted in considerable changes in the county’s industrial life. From the 18-19th centuries onwards numerous guilds were flourishing in the town. Crossing town bounderies, guilds extended to the whole county. In the period between 1800-1872 altogether 69 types of guild operated in the region. In the second half of the 19th century small industry was pushed into the background and the industrial associations and trade-corporations replacing the guilds were powerless against this change. As a consequence of slow capitalisation the manufacturing industry replaced craftsmanship from the last two decades of the century onwards. Despite this process Veszprém managed to preserve its small town, middle-class characteristics until the 1890s. In the 1820s several mansions were built in the town. The Rosos-, Balassa-Cseresnyés- and Rohonczy-mansions dominate the town even today. In the early 19th century the Fire Tower, built on Turkish foundations, was rebuilt in Neoclassical style and the Fire-Engine House, which also served as home of the industrial associations, was below it. Partly this building then the so-called Kapuváry House built in the late 18th century functioned as the Town Council from the 1860s.
The townscape determining today’s town centre evolved at the turn of the 19th and 20th centturies. The Town Hall was built, the buildings in the centre of Óváros Square were demolished and a museum was planned to be built here (finally this plan was not realised and after World War I the museum was opened in the Bishop’s Garden). The square was created in Sezession and historicising styles.
Apart from the castle and the town centre, the old Bishop’s Garden near the centre also belongs to the sights of the town. From the 1860s several nice and significant buildings were erected in the park lined with horse-chestnut trees. The building of the bishop’s Steward’s Office, based on medieval foundations, was rebuilt in a historcising style decorated with towers. Today it is a library. The Neogothic nunnery, church and school of the English Ladies was built around 1860. The County Hall, giving home to the county assembly to our days, and the former főispán’s (High Sheriff’s) palace were completed in 1880. On the initiative of the Theatre Support Society of Veszprém the Sezession style Petőfi theatre was built in 1908 based on the plans of István Medgyaszay.
Town life and the townscape were fundamentally determined by the administrative presence of the Catholic Church. Although the bishopric lost its role in town leadership in 1848, it continued to influence the everyday life of the inhabitants. In 1938, the one thousandth anniversary of King St. Stephen’s death, several buildings of architectural interest were built. In the castle the statues of King St. Stephen and Queen Gisella were unveiled and in 1940 Prince Emeric’s bronze statue was placed next to the cathedral. Margaret Church, which is also well visible from the castle, and Charles Church – erected by the hospital from red bricks – were built on the occasion of the canonization of Princess St. Margaret of the House of Árpád. Today’s County Museum was established at the beginning of the 20th century on the initiative of the Piarist fathers, especially Dezső Laczkó and was moved to a new building due to the support of Bishop Károly Hornig and the inhabitants of Veszprém County. The Bishopric has become an Archbishopric since then and, owing to the reviving religious activities, several ecclesiastical education institutions such as the az Theological College or Márton Padányi Bíró Primary and Secondary Grammar School can operate succesfully. The Catholic Church also maintains an independent museum in the castle where visitors can admire the invaluable art treasures of the archbishopric. The works of art representing the town’s history can be seen in the permanent exhibition of Dezső Laczkó Museum.
The Heroes’ Gate, dominating the castle entrance and commemorating the citizens of Veszprém who lost their lives in the World War was completed in 1938. The Valley Bridge spanning over Betekints Valley, also dating back to this year, has also become a dominating sight of the townscape. Frequently only some stone carvings remind one of the town’s past but when wandering in the church sanctuaries, below the arches or in every corner of the streets visitors can feel the special atmosphere that can only be created by millennia – an atmosphere characterising every historic town.
Bibliography: • Korompay Bertalan: Veszprém (Műszaki Könyvkiadó, Budapest, 1956) • Cs. Dax Margit-Törőcsik Zoltán-Uzsoki András: A Bakony és a Balaton-felvidék évezredei. Vezető a Veszprémi Laczkó Dezső Múzeum állandó kiállításához. (Veszprém, 1985)