In the spring of 2016, József Nádor Tér made the news in Hungary. The square was being renovated in the name of urban planning. The plan was to cut down 24 mature trees and build a 500-space underground car park underneath. The surface square would then be redone.
Swapping green leafy shade for cool pavement and young shrubs wasn’t many people’s idea of a fair trade. I’ve no great recollection of what it was like pre-2016 as it’s a part of the city I don’t often find myself in. That said, I’ll admit to being impressed by the spaciousness of it all when I finally got to see Version 2.0.
The original 24 trees have been replaced by 54, but the age difference is notable. Maple and alders skirt the edge with linden and oak taking centre place. The 1500 sqm park was empty save for us and a rather lovely lad walking an even lovelier dog. It was early enough on COVID Tuesday morning in December. Too early for many to be up; too cold for many to be out.
The buildings surrounding the park are quite something, one of which is the Ministry of Finance. But it’s the two fountains that caught my attention.
Two of Hungary’s best-known porcelain manufacturers Zsolnay and Herend have shops looking out on the green space so it’s perhaps fitting that each has its own fountain. The work of Pécs-based Zsolnay can be seen all over the city, most notably in the stunning tiled roof of the Museum of Applied Arts. And indeed no trip to Pécs is complete without a visit to the Zsolnay Negyed. This Hercules Bath Fountain has pride of place in the square.
In a completely different style is Herend’s rendition of the Tree of Life. Their pottery comes from the town of Herend near the city of Veszprém. I visited once to see why it’s so expensive. I came away humbled. A few years back, they opened a 500 sq m store on the square – Palais Herend. It’s their largest in the world – and they have stores all over the place. Note duly made to visit when my lotto numbers come in. Critics say the fountain is a super-kitschy advertisement for the shop… each to their own, I say. I want to see it lit up and watered before I finally weigh in but I was impressed.
Competing with this art and beauty and perhaps wondering what has happened to his back yard, stands the 1859 statue of the man himself, József Nádor, the Archduke of Austria and the palatine of Hungary. It’s one of the oldest statues in the city. And, if you’re wondering what a palatine was back in the day, they were high-level officials attached to imperial or royal courts in Europe. Nádor, in effect, deputised for the King.
Throughout his years in office he supported and promoted economic reforms, public works, and construction projects that aimed to bring Hungary closer to Europe. He did not govern with a heavy hand, harsh measures were usually imposed from Vienna . His years saw the first steamboat and railroad in Hungary, the regulation of the Danube, and the founding of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
It’s a tad strange that with a three-storey parking garage beneath the park that there’s a need for so much street parking above. It takes from it all. Far better to have it pedestrianised.
Walking through an empty city, visiting the myriad squares, and enjoying the quiet is a rare pleasure, one you’ll have to get up very early indeed to enjoy when the world rights itself again. If you’re city-bound, take the time to explore your neighbourhoods. Be the tourist.