One of the most popular travel experiences in Europe is visiting the Chateau of the Loire Valley in France. Each year, over a million tourists come to see the Renaissance and Baroque era chateaus that were home to the French aristocracy for many centuries. They marvel at these palatial manors situated astride the Loire River. Conversely, one of the least popular travel experiences in Europe involves visiting a unique Chateau in the Tisza River valley of northeastern Hungary. Until recently this look alike Chateau was not open to visitors. In Hungarian parlance it is not called a Chateau, though it certainly looks the part. Instead it is known as Andrassy Kastely. The Kastely is unlikely to ever see more than a handful of foreign visitors due to its location in a poor and isolated region of Hungary. A remote location did not save Andrassy Kastely from pillage and expropriation during the 20th century, but its size and usefulness were such that it was co-opted for other purposes. Ironically, the Andrassy Kastely was preserved by neglect and indifference for decades until it could be restored to an approximation of its former magnificence.
Time In Tiszadob – Standing Still, Still Standing
The Andrassy Kastely is located on the edge of Tiszadob, a village of just over three thousand inhabitants. The first time I traveled there it was hard to believe that a Loire like chateaux could be found in such a squalid looking place. The village is located in the far western corner of Szatmar-Szabolcs-Bereg County, one of the poorest regions in Hungary. Tiszadob is the kind of place where there are at least five bicycles for every car. The economy is still agrarian based and industry an unknown word. If not for the Andrassy Kastely, it is doubtful that anyone, including Hungarians would come to this village. I traveled there not once, but twice. My initial effort to visit the Kastely was futile. A heavy set woman manning a wood frame guardhouse greeted me with the news that it was not yet open for visitation, though its restoration was nearly complete. She had no idea when it would be possible to visit.
For someone who was in the know, she seemed intent on knowing next to nothing. Her body language and facial expressions mimicked the voice of some anonymous authority. Beyond her I could make out very little, other than the pointed tips of the Kastely’s towers. The denial of access was challenge enough to make me want to come back. There was the added bonus of being the only American to ever visit Tiszadob twice for tourism. I would always have this trivial honor as consolation. Eighteen months later I drove back to Tiszadob after learning from in-laws that the Kastely was now open to visitors. Driving into the village, past a row of abandoned houses, it was still hard to believe that anything of architectural interest was here.
Time stood still in Tiszadob. The only hints of modernity were drooping electrical lines, a scattering of satellite dishes and cracked pavement. The village looked to have progressed very little in the past century. The only hints of life were a few young gypsy boys hanging out in an open lot and a man and woman standing outside a store drinking large beers in the late morning. By the looks of their grizzled features they had spent the last several decades subsisting on a diet of cheap booze and cigarettes. This downtrodden village had once been part of the Andrassy family’s massive landholdings. Trying to square that exalted name of Hungarian aristocracy with the current state of Tiszadob was nearly impossible. And it was not just any Andrassy who had selected the site for the Kastely. It had been the most famous Andrassy of all.
Manorial Magnificence In A Hungarian Hinterland
A name like Gyula Andrássy de Csíkszentkirály et Krasznahork demands that its bearer be a man of great importance. After all, this is a name made up of 42 letters, only two less than the entire Hungarian alphabet contains. Commonly known as Count Gyula Andrassy, he is one of the most famous figures in Hungarian history. His platonic relationship with the Habsburg Empress Elisabeth I (Sisi) helped bring about the compromise that created Austria-Hungary in 1867. It was Andrassy who placed the Holy Crown of Hungary on the head of Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef, making him the King of Hungary. The compromise sparked Hungary’s great golden age, an era marked by economic growth, political stability and cultural confidence lasting right up until the outbreak of the First World War.
The greatest monuments of that era are the many architectural wonders that can still be found today in the lands of Historic Hungary. Andrassy commissioned the one that I had traveled far off into the hinterlands of eastern Hungary to visit. It was largely lost on me why Count Andrassy, a man who had been Prime Minister of Hungary and the Foreign Minister of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a man whose time in exile had seen him frequent the salons of Paris and London, a man who had once haunted the same hallowed diplomatic halls as Franz Josef, Bismarck and William I had decided in his final decade to have a palatial manor built in what was then and now little more than a desultory, provincial backwater. That mystery absorbed me.
Out Of Exile – A Kastely Astride The Tisza
I would later discover that Andrassy had been in charge of the regulation of the Upper Tisza River, a project that managed to subdue the second mightiest river in Hungary. It must have been during this time that he became enchanted with the lush landscape of forested bottomland that surrounded the Tisza’s floodplain. Here would be a place to relax during his semi-retirement from politics in a land where nature could not only be broken, but also enjoyed. Here was to be the most unique of the family’s mansions and castles. Andrassy Kastely would be a veritable replica of the chateau he had visited in the Loire Valley while exiled in France following the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1848. It was to be a fantastical re-creation on a piece of land not far from the river he had helped tame.