Conventions

Esztergom Basilica - One of Europe’s largest basilicas

Wiev of the Basilica from Danube
Esztergom
Greater Budapest

Esztergom plays a key role in Hungary’s history in many ways: this is the birthplace of the country's founding king, St. Stephen I who gave the town archdiocese rank and made it the centre of the Catholic church in Hungary. 

Since then, the town in the picturesque Danube Bend has become not just an ecclesiastic, but also a tourist centre. The Esztergom Basilica towering at the highest point of the town is one of the most popular sights. The 100-metre-high cathedral, built in the Classical style, is among Europe’s largest basilicas and is considered Hungary’s largest church. However, the building fascinates not just with its exterior, but also with its exciting history.

Near thousand-year past

Construction of the monumental building of the Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and St Adalbert took 47 years and was completed in 1869. However, the Basilica’s history stretches much farther back: sources place Hungary’s first church in the vicinity. The original church that stood in the Basilica’s place, erected by the country’s founding king St Stephen, burned down in 1180. Fate didn’t spare other predecessors either: after damage in Turkish attacks in the 16th century and the fall of Esztergom, the sanctuary was demolished and the building used as a mosque. During the battle to regain control of the castle in 1594, an explosion almost completely destroyed it. Only the Bakócz Chapel was spared for posterity - this was broken down into 1600 pieces and reinstalled in the body of the Basilica where it is now in its original state.

 

The works of today’s building didn’t run flawlessly either: construction was halted time and again by constant redesigns of the floor plan. Over time, 4 archbishops and 4 architects led the works, including such names as János Packh and József Hild, who were renowned as outstanding architects of their time. Ferenc Liszt wrote his famous Missa Solemnis for the ceremonial ordination of the cathedral in 1856 and personally directed its performance at the ceremony. The Basilica suffered a grave attack during World War II: about 95 grenades and bombs fell on it, resulting in damage to both the colonnade and the cupola. After restoration, the building regained its old pomp, including impressive illumination in 2005. In December 2018, the Hungarian Government decided to renovate the Basilica in the next four years but the cathedral remains open to the public regardless of the works.

A breathtaking visual experience

The Esztergom Basilica is also special because its main facade faces east, as this was the only way to construct the gentle slope to the entrance. For this reason, as opposed to other churches, the sanctuary is in the western part of the building facing the Danube. The dimensions of the building–with the floor plan of the Greek Cross command respect, it’s worth getting a little lost in the huge colonnade, admiring the stone coats of arms and the statues. After you’ve explored the exterior of the huge structure, spend some time discovering the interior. Visits to the church for individual and liturgical purposes are free, you only have to pay to see the crypt, the cathedral treasury, the panorama hall and the dome lookout point.

 

In the lead up to the panorama hall, the various periods of the construction of the cathedral are presented. Admire the Danube panorama while enjoying a refreshment at the café in the middle hall and finally, the third section offers an interactive way to learn about key chapters in the history of the Basilica. Adventurers can take the 400 steps to the lookout point, where a beautiful view greets you: the city, the Maria Valeria Bridge, Sturovo in Slovakia and the Danube Bend also offer great views, and in clear weather you can see the peaks of the Tatras. Once you have explored every part of the building, take a stroll on St István Square in front of the eastern facade of the cathedral and make sure you don’t miss the Esztergom Castle Museum.

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