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Catholics only as tenants, please

I was in Rome once. And visited St Peter’s. Jammed, elbow to elbow, with the other tourists eager to have a look at Michaelangelo’s great work of art, I couldn’t help but wish for a bench I could lie down on and from that horizontal position, have just five minutes to look at the ceiling above me. I had the same feeling in Vác catherdral lately. Mind you, I suppose I could have stretched out on one of the pews, but somehow it didn’t seem quite appropriate.

Modelled on St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the cathedral in Vác dates back to 1777. Deceptively plain from the outside, its ceilings and walls are something to behold. I’m not a huge fan of ornate churches but I could spend time in this one.

By the time Vác was liberated from Turkish occupation in 1686, it was practically deserted and in ruins. Dogged by bad luck, a fire in 1731 burned down 198 of the 229 houses but by the 1770s, a baroque city built on medieval remains was taking shape. The bishops (the city’s landlords) made a huge effort to repopulate the city (with Catholics, naturally) offering various benefits such as free building sites, materials or tax breaks (and some present-day governments think they thought this stuff up!)  Most of the  newcomers were Germans, with some Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Serbian, Morvian, and even a number of French and Italian settlers taking up residence. Even today, the city has a very multicultural and arty feel to it.

If you fancy a day out from Budapest, you could do a lot worse. Hidden somewhere in the city is an amazing antique barn owned by a Dutch guy – I was there once and have never found it since. And another, Hungarian-owned antique building up a side road is chock full of great stuff. Couldn’t find that one, either. Damn breadcrumbs…  will pay more attention in future.

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