Hungarians associate KECSKEMET with barackpálinka (the local apricot brandy) and the composer Kodály (who was born in what is now the train station), but its cultural significance doesn't end there. The town centre boasts some of the finest architecture on the Plain, while its film studio 'and festivals impart a metropolitan pizzazz. Given this sophistication, you would never imagine that its name derives from the Hungarian word for "goat" (kecske).
Although nothing remains of medieval Kecskemét, its size can be judged from the ring boulevard, which follows the old moat. Unlike most towns in the region, it was spared devastation by the Turks, as the Sultan took a liking to it. Waves of refugees settled here, and Kecskemét became the third largest town in Hungary. This fortunate history, underpinned by agricultural wealth, explains its air of confidence and the flamboyant, eclectic architecture, skilfully integrated with modern buildings by József Kerény.
Around Szabadság tér
Heading south into the town centre, on the northern side of Szabadság tér is the Cifra Palace, resembling a set from Hansel and Gretel on acid, ceramic mushrooms sprouting from psychedelic tiles above a gingerbread facade. Designed by Géza Markus in 1902, this wonderful example of Art Nouveau (termed the "Secessionist style" in Hungary) now houses the Kecskemét Art Gallery.
The Transylvanian-Gothic hulk diagonally opposite the Cifra Palace is one of two buildings in Kecskemét in the style known as National Romanticism. Built between 1911 and 1913 as a Calvinist college, this one is a "mature" example of the genre that coincided with Hungary's millennial anniversary and campaigns to "Magyarize" ethnic minorities, reflecting the triumphalist yet paranoid zeitgeist of the 1890s and 1900s. Its steeply pitched roofs and intimidating tower hark back to the vernacular architecture of rural Hungary and Transylvania, regarded as pure wellsprings of Magyar culture. It now houses a library and Collection of Ecclesiastical Art, the entrance is on Villám utca.
Temporary exhibitions of a scientific nature allow you to see inside the white, onion-domed Technika-háza, a former synagogue on Moricz Zs. utca, at the north end of the square. Built between 1862 and 1871 in the Moorish style, it was sacked by the Nazis when they deported local Jews in 1944.
Kossuth tér and around
To the south, across Kossuth tér, is the building that started the whole National Romanticism movement: the Town Hall of Kecskemet designed by Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos in 1893. Like Lechner's later works in Budapest, it is richly ornamented with Zsolnay tiles inspired by the decorative traditions of Magyar folk art and nomadic Turkic cultures. However, the building itself is a Renaissance-Baroque pastiche whose lack of "authentic form" was criticized by later National Romanticists such as Károly Kós. Its Grand Hall contains gilded murals by Bertalan Székely, who decorated the interior of the Mátyás Church in Budapest. The bells outside play snatches of Kodaly, Handel, Beethoven, Mozart and Erkel at regular intervals.
With five churches in the vicinity you can afford to be selective; the three most interesting are on Kossuth tér. Next to the town hall stands the so-called Old Church, which is Catholic and Baroque. Designed by Oswald Gáspár, an eighteenth century Pianist father, its facade is decorated with relieves commemorating the Seventh Wilhem Hussars and local heroes of the War of Independence. The Calvinist Church, behind Pusztatourist, was founded in 1683 and enlarged in the 1790s, when its "Red Tower" was added. Its meeting hall contains frescoes similar to those in the town hall. The Franciscan Church to the east is really the oldest one, but Baroque restoration has obscured its medieval features. Around the corner on Kéttemplom köz (Two Churches Lane) stands the former Franciscan monastery, which now houses the Kodály Institute.
Of the surprisingly large number of museums in Kecskemét, the Photography Museum is one of the most interesting, with a massive collection of cameras and photos and a room with excellent temporary exhibits. Situated just behind the grand Katona Theatre, the building was originally established as a dance hall, but was converted to a synagogue in 1918. Four decades later it was sold off by the decimated Jewish community, since when it has been restored and turned into a museum. On Bánk utca nearby, the Modern History Museum reveals how much the town has changed since the nineteenth century.
South of the main square, on the corner of Gáspár András and Hosszú utca, the Toy Museum occupies an airy wooden building, specially designed by Kerényi. It features a delightful collection of nineteenth- and twentieth century toys, and the helpful English-speaking staffs also do children's workshops. The adjacent Naive Art Museum exhibits naive paintings from pre-World War I to the present day. Should you need an antidote to all this cuteness, wander round the corner to the Medical Collection at Kölcsey utca 3, which includes several gory exhibits.
Fans of Magyar folk art should head 500m souths towards the junction of Petőfi utca and the ring boulevard (bus #1, #11 or #22). One block back, at Külsö Szabadság út 19A, the Museum of Hungarian Folk Craft (Wed-Sun 9am5pm) exhibits a wealth of textiles, pottery and embroidery from the 1950s onwards. Older artefacts, particularly furniture, are gathered in the Bozsó Collection at Klapka utca 34, 500m east of the Cifra Palace. About the same distance north of the palace in the József Katona Park, the County History Museum has little to offer and can easily be skipped with a clear conscience.
Kecskemét is accessible by train from Budapest's Nyugati Station or bus from the Népstadion terminal. There are equally regular services from Szeged, and less frequent buses from Baja and Cegléd. Arriving at the bus or train station in the northern part of town, you are ten minutes' walk from the centre, a leafy conjunction of squares.
Featured accommodations in Kecskemet or nearby
3-star-hotel in Kecskemet
Hotel Apollo with 24 rooms is situated in a silent street in the centre of Kecskemét. Near to the hotel there are museums, tourist sights, restaurants. The hotel has a closed parking yard, where we can watch your cars.
4-star-hotel in Kecskemet
Comfortable 4-Star-Hotel in the center of Kecskemet with many wellness facilities.
3-star-hotel in Kecskemet
The renewed Hotel Háry *** is happy to welcome its present and future guests in Kecskemét together with the Háry restaurant offering gastronomic specialities and the Roulette Club offering high level entertainment to both of the guests of the hotel and the citizens of the town.
Hotel Három Gúnár
4-star hotel in Kecskemét
In the heart of the Kecskemét, in the neighbourhood of the Katona József Theatre the renewed Hotel Három Gúnár and Conference Centre is waiting for guests throughout the whole year! Our hotel extended with new wellness services offers ideal accommodation for business travellers, hikers, individual and group guests.
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