The challenge of visiting Andrassy Kastely turned out to be not much of a challenge at all. The gate at the entrance – which on my earlier trip had been guarded by the Lady of No – was now watched by a young man who motioned me onward with a languid wave of his arm. Just past the gate it became quite apparent that the outlying buildings around the Kastely had not been restored. During the long period of communist rule the structures at Andrassy Kastely had been used as part of a children’s home. These still looked the part, with chipped paint and in noticeable disrepair. It was a reminder that not so long ago, this had been home to an institution rather than a noble family, a place for those who did not have a home. The aristocratic and communist era at Andrassy Kastely had one thing in common in that the building was always used for noble purposes.
The Sound Of One’s Own Footsteps
I strolled past the many outbuildings, which I surmised had been the servants’ quarters. Suddenly the pointed towers and shiny black roofs of the Kastely came into view. I stopped for a succession of photos, trying to capture the architectural magnificence which met my eyes. There was an ethereal quality to the building. It looked as though it had floated in from another world and landed upon a forest opening close on the shores of the Tisza River. In a sense it had been transplanted from another world, the highly cultured world of Western Europe to the rural wilds of Eastern Europe. The Loire River Valley was a thousand kilometers away and yet right in front of me was an inspired replication of the best architecture that area had to offer. To create and situate such a structure so far from both France and the historic era in which this architecture had first been conceived, was a product of will and imagination.
The will came from Count Gyula Andrassy who commissioned the Kastely in 1880. Andrassy was beginning the last stage of his life, away from high politics. He was spending more time on his rural landholdings. The imaginative force came from Saxon architect Arthur Meinig, a man who often found creative expression through historical antecedents. Meinig looked to the Chateau of the Loire Valley for inspiration while creating the Kastely. It was among the first of eight different palaces he would design for the Hungarian aristocracy. Count Andrassy was also intimately involved in the design and construction process, keeping a close eye on the details. Meinig’s final product was a fantastical, neo-Gothic revivalist structure recently brought back to life by a sparkling restoration.
Approaching the Kastely, I felt as though I was about to enter a fairy tale. The place looked like it had been conjured more by magic than man. That such a superlative structure was on the fringes of a somnolent and somewhat squalid village, close to the eastern frontiers of Hungary, showed that great architecture and culture could be found almost anywhere in Europe. The Hungarian nobility’s impulse to emulate similar features of aristocratic culture in central and western Europe was alive and well almost a century after that culture vanished. The interior of the Kastely showed me what else had vanished from that era. There were few furnishings to be found inside, what little was on display looked out of place. Spacious rooms, largely devoid of material comforts gave the interior a vacant, hollowed out feeling. In one room I had the unsettling experience of hearing my own footsteps. It was hard to get a feel for what life had been like inside the Kastely. Oddly, this was a feeling that Count Gyula Andrassy would have understood. He lived to see the Kastely built, but died before the interior was furnished. This job was left to his youngest child and namesake Gyula Andrassy the Younger.
Palace For The Underprivileged, Playground Of The Unwanted
The glory days of Andrassy Kastely were the twenty-five year period prior to World War I. Andrassy the Younger’s family spent much of their time at the Kastely. In her memoirs, one of his daughters Katinka recalled wonderful childhood memories of autumns spent there. One of the more notable events from those years occurred when the Andrassy family’s dining room was moved to the Kastely. It is one of the few original furnishings still located there today. The fact that anything from the pre-World War I era is still left inside is quite remarkable. By the end of the war in late 1918 the Hungarian countryside was in revolt. The army had all but dissolved. The formerly docile peasantry had taken up arms. Aristocratic mansions and landholdings were in their crosshairs, targeted for destruction. Peasants in the Tiszadob region shot up the Kastely before vandalizing the interior. This was just the start of the violent degradation of the building.
In 1919 the Romanian Army invaded. They smashed mirrors, furniture, windows and took whatever they wanted. Only in 1920, with the institution of the conservative Horthy government in Hungary did law and order return to the area, but the Andrassy family did not. The best days of the Kastely were over. Worse was to come when the Soviet Army occupied the area in 1944. Thereafter, the Kastely became the property of the state. Generations of troubled children called this and the grounds around it their home. The social order had been completely turned upside down in half a century. The aristocracy was but a distant memory and the Kastely a symbol of a vanished way of life. It was now a palace for the underprivileged, a playground for the unwanted.
Abduction & Possession – The Elusive Chateau On The Tisza
I pondered all this upheaval while walking through the immaculately manicured boxwood maze directly in back of the Kastely. It was there that I encountered a sculpture known as “Abduction.” A man was grasping a woman who was trying and failing to get away from him. It was a fitting symbol for the chaos that engulfed these grounds during the 20th century. Andrassy Kastely had been possessed by the highest nobility, peasant revolutionaries, foreign armies and a communist government. All those once powerful entities were gone, never to return. It began to dawn on me that here was a place which eluded possession in this world for very long. This Chateau On The Tisza could only ever really belong to one place, the imagination.