My newest travel obsession began not long after I awoke on a recent Saturday morning. While scrolling through the seemingly endless dross that Facebook’s algorithm pumps into my news feed, I came across a post which captured my interest. I belong to a group with one of those typically bizarre Hungarian names, Elhagyatott regi epuletek Magyarorszagon. Roughly translated this means, “Abandoned old buildings in Hungary”. I cannot remember when or why I subscribed to this page, but I am sure it had something to with the photos that members post of abandoned buildings in Hungary. Unlike in the United States where abandoned buildings usually denote derelict structures in urban areas, Hungary has plenty of rural areas with dilapidated castles, palaces, manor houses and architectural oddities. Photos of these are often taken and uploaded by Hungarians who use their local knowledge to find and document old buildings throughout the country.
The Crumbling Façade – A Beautiful Ugly
I am always surprised at how many abandoned historic structures exist in out of the way places in Hungary. Woods and fields in remote places are littered with the detritus of a way of life that vanished, quite literally, overnight. Many of the structures were once the homes of aristocratic families who abandoned them near the end of the Second World War. Many were gone before the Red Army arrived, if not, they suffered dire consequences. Their former homes were symbols that Soviet soldiers looked to smash. It is worth remembering that aristocrats still largely lived in the countryside until the 1940’s. They were wedded to a lifestyle not all that different from their distant forebears. Only a select few of their ancestral residences have been restored to their former glory. The cost and upkeep are huge barriers to restoration work.
The upshot is that Hungarians who care about historic preservation are kept busy exploring the hundreds of ruins in various states of decay. There are many pages and posts dedicated to these explorations. They provide information on places I would have never thought existed until I saw the photographic evidence. This was the case with Mikosdpuszta. After looking at a post filled with some incredible photos of Mikosdpuszta, I decided to search for its location. I was surprised to discover that on multiple occasions I had been less than a half hour drive away from this Gothic Revival structure gone wild. It was hidden in plain sight, not far from Szombathely or Sarvar, both places I have visited before. That knowledge was both depressing and exhilarating. Depressing, because I missed a chance to visit Mikosdpuszta. Exhilarating, because I can pursue a visit on a future trip. This was what happened when someone posted photos of Mikosdpuszta, a place I was unaware of before I went online that morning.
The photos showed a work of eclectic imagination which is now in dire need of repair. The same could be said for hundreds of other similar sites across Hungary. The difference for me was that Mikosdpuuszta, with its many turrets and gables was quite unlike anything I had seen in Hungary. The high quality images showed sublime scenes of decay, interiors so rundown and ugly that they were almost beautiful. The photos did more than make me want to visit the manor house, they also made me want to learn more about Mikosdpuszta. What I found was a compelling backstory, one that helped bring back to life the humanity behind the crumbling façade.
The Long Goodbye – Dueling Tragedies
It is hard to say which is more tragic, the current state of Mikosdpuszta or the lives that have been lost to history by its destruction. The manor house has a human history which can match its architecturally eclectic one. The brainchild of Mikosdpuszta was Baron Ede Mikos de Tarodahaza who oversaw its construction in a nine year period that ended in 1866. The palace was built in the middle of a forest atop an artificial mound. The Baron expended as much time and expense on the grounds which surrounded the palace. These included a couple of artificial lakes, horse stables and vineyards. Pavilions were also scattered about the immaculately sculpted grounds. The Baron’s youngest child, Gizella, ended up marrying the pretender to the Mexican throne. The couple made the manor house their home. The Baron willed the castle to Gizella and her sister Olga, rather than his son, Janos. The Baron had little use for his son’s dissolute lifestyle and did not want him gaining title to it.
Janos finally obtained rights to the castle three years after his father’s death. He spent a good deal of his time following rather strange pursuits, such as founding Hungary’s first science fiction magazine and writing a play about a real life Hungarian Robin Hood. His ventures failed to support his lifestyle. In 1881, he sold the castle to avoid being consumed by debt. This led to a new era at Mikosdpusta when a wealthy Viennese banker, Vilmos Zierer, bought the place in 1891. He was disciplined and industrious, the opposite of Janos. Zierer transformed farming on the property while successfully raising potatoes. Zierer was a modernizer, living out his dreams in a manor house that was more modern than anything found in the surrounding region. While architecturally the manor house was a throwback to past influences, it was filled with modern amenities such as its own power supply and central heating system.
At the same time, Zierer furnished the house with antiquities. Everything from painting to furniture was carefully arranged, adding ambiance to the architectural aesthetics. The Zierer’s owned the palace for over half a century. Their era of splendor came to an end when the Red Army arrived in 1945. The furnishings were either plundered or destroyed. The long goodbye had begun. Like all aristocratic residences across Hungary, the post-war communist government appropriated the property and found other uses for it more in line with their ideological doctrines. Among these was an education center for party members. Later it became a holiday resort for children. The collapse of the Iron Curtain could not stem the downward trajectory of Mikosdpuszta. Opaque private ownership did little for the manor house, other than allow it to decay even further.
The Passion of Preservation – Dreams & Reality
Today, the greatest advocates for the palace’s preservation are the same ones who post photos like those on Facebook which captured my attention. These people have passion, but not the political or financial power to restore Mikosdpuszta. The palace stands lonely and crumbling, awaiting more visitors who see past the dereliction and reimagine the glory of those times when barons, bankers and their families lived a life that others can only dream about. That dream has a powerful allure, despite or perhaps because of the palace’s current state. Like many others, I want to have that dream, if just for one day. I hope to visit Miklospuszta in the future and see the place where dreams meet reality.
Click here for: The Cold, Harsh Reality – Borsa: Birthplace of Ferenc II Rakoczi (Rendezvous With An Obscure Destiny #12)