Romanticism For A Restless Man: An Affair Of The Heart (For The Love Of Hungary – Part 1)

The more times I traveled to Eastern Europe, the more my focus and interests began to narrow. I found myself wanting to go deeper into one country. To try and understand Eastern Europe’s history, politics and culture through the prism of a single nation. That nation would be Hungary. I surprised myself with this decision. Why Hungary?  The answer was twofold. First, the woman who would become the love of my life and who I would eventually marry lived there. This meant I traveled to Budapest and outward to the Hungarian countryside on numerous occasions. Secondly, from the moment I first entered the country at the border post of Magyarboly in southern Hungary, I felt comfortable there. That feeling was hard to explain because it felt so natural, as though it was meant to be. This was quite odd since I could not speak a word of Hungarian and really did not have the time or inclination to learn it. And for good reason, the difficulty of learning the Magyar language has been rated on the same level as trying to learn Chinese. Nevertheless, linguistic impossibilities did not put me off.

Exotic Normalcy – A Country Full of Contradictions
Perhaps the reason I made Hungary my focus was because of its exotic normalcy. A nation of paradox, a country of contradiction and a fascinating oxymoron, Hungary straddled a major cultural and political divide with a little bit of the Orient and a whole lot of Europe. Hungary is the ultimate European bridge between East and West. It has been pulled in both directions throughout its long and conflict ridden history. The east is where Hungary’s exoticism comes from. The west its normalcy and for me, familiarity. The Magyars (what Hungarians call themselves) originally came from the east, the far, far east by European standards. Their slow, many centuries long migration took them across the Russian steppe and into the Carpathian Basin. They reached the area during the late 9th century, quickly conquered the existing peoples and have been a mainstay in the region ever since.

One of the most pivotal events in Hungarian history happened not long thereafter. In the year 1000 AD, Hungary’s King Stephen (Istvan) I accepted the Holy Crown from a papal legate and turned Hungary into a Christian Kingdom. This could have easily gone the other way, if Stephen had preferred the Byzantine Empire instead. It is strangely fascinating how an historical event that occurred a millennium earlier could have influenced my affinity for Hungary. Visiting a western oriented Christian nation such as Hungary, as opposed to an Eastern Orthodox one, always feels more familiar to me. When I see onion domes, smell incense burning and try to read signs written in Cyrillic, I feel like a complete foreigner. Ukraine and Serbia come to mind. There is something unsettling for me about most Eastern European nations, attracting and repelling in unequal measure. I have no means to understand these countries other than through guidebooks. That is usually where my visits to these lands start and end. In between, my time is spent on the ground trying to comprehend something incomprehensible.

Hungarian Parliament Building - As seen from the bank of the Danube in Budapest

Hungarian Parliament Building – As seen from the bank of the Danube in Budapest (Credit: Epistola8)

True Happiness – Strangers On A Train
Right from the start, Hungary came across as opposite of the eastern world. It was a nation approaching the normal, at least in my mind. The people kept to themselves, but were willing to help when asked (that is if they understood a word I said). The land – especially in the eastern part of Hungary – reminded me of America’s Great Plains region where I lived at the time. The small towns were like those in the United States, battered and past their prime, but full of kind people. Conversely, Budapest was like nothing else in the United States or for that matter the world. It had a uniqueness that separated it from other cities. At the same time, it bore resemblance in its shops and restaurants to other places I had visited. Budapest felt like it was made to be special and made me as a visitor feel the same.

And the Hungarian people were wonderful for a reason many tourists end up taking the wrong way. By their nature they are not overtly friendly and tend to be suspicious of foreigners, preferring to leave them alone. I loved being left alone, it was my idea of true happiness to be a stranger on a train headed towards the unknown. The fact that Hungarians could take one look at me and know that I was not Hungarian (it must have been my red hair), meant I was kept at arm’s length. At least that is what I believed. This meant I was given room to breathe. Deference equaled distance, both physically and mentally. I was free to move about the country with minimal interference. One example of this occurred when a ticket checker on a train into Budapest tried to tell me I had the wrong ticket, but finally gave up while under assault from my perpetually puzzled expression. To her, I was a foreigner who was best left alone so she finally decided to ignore the issue.

The Contrarian Impulse – Local Knowledge
There was something else about Hungarians I loved that many others have come to loath. They are known to be notoriously selfish, some might say individualistic in the extreme. It is little wonder that their history has been marked by multiple rebellions. Name any century in the last five hundred years and there will be a Hungarian revolt against authority. There is a reason why Hungary was where the Iron Curtain first fell apart. Trying to control Hungarians was a thankless task. My mother would likely say the same about me. I felt there was a contrarian impulse in Hungarians, a skepticism that looked at the world through less than rose colored lens. This was a trait that I shared with them. History had not been kind to them, but they were kind to me. That probably mattered more than anything else. It was one of the many reasons that I kept coming back to Hungary. Love and distance, reserve and passion, a country of complex contradictions. Here was a nation and a people worth getting to know.

Click here for: Signs Of Their Times – Chasing Ghosts In Kispest (For The Love Of Hungary – Part 2)



A Measure For Their Dreams – Budapest By The Danube: Heart Of Optimism (Travels In Eastern Europe #27)

There is only one thing to do after arriving in Budapest for the very first time. It is to make your way over to see the Hungarian Parliament Building. I know this from experience as it was late in the afternoon on a sunny day in mid-March when I rushed over to see the structure. As such there was no time to try and take a tour of the interior. That was fine with me because truth be told all I really wanted to do was feast on the ultimate piece of architectural eye candy, a building that brings to mind a confection of the most fantastical kind. No amount of superlatives can aptly describe the Hungarian Parliament building. It is much larger than photos of it are able to capture. Just to walk around the building at a rather brisk pace takes a good twenty minutes. The sheer glamour of this neo-Gothic masterpiece is overwhelming. The beauty and grandeur of the building is one thing, but consider that the Parliament serves a country of only ten million people. It looks like something one would expect to find as the seat of government for a world power. Hungary is only a mid-sized country in east-central Europe, but it obviously has much greater designs.

Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungarian Parliament Building (Credit: Ivanhoe)

Historic Convergence – Pulling A City Together
The Parliament is a reflection of how the Hungarians see themselves and their place in Europe. These are people of outsize ambition, who take creativity to its ultimate extreme. This is how they ended up with such a fantastical confection astride the Danube. It is also how they ended up creating a city along both sides of the river front of unsurpassed majesty. The area where Budapest is strung along the Danube brings to mind an old phrase, “the hits just keep coming.” From where I stood in the shadow of the Parliament on the river’s embankment I took in a scene of architectural enchantment that was as much the product of a fairy tale, as it was the work of man. Gazing upriver, across the placid, slate gray surface of the Danube I spotted the unique three-part Margaret Bridge connecting both sides of the city with an island of the same name. Then I looked downriver where the Chain Bridge, that inaugural link between the two sides of what became the same city, stretched across the watery expanse.

The bridge is a historic link, it allowed the lifeblood of Buda and Pest to flow unimpeded into one another. Its centrality to the city’s convergence is without equal in annals of European history, magnetically pulling the two sides together to create Europe’s fastest growing metropolis in the latter half of the 19th century. The Buda Hills across the river from where I stood that day, displayed a series of treasured buildings that any city would be pleased to call its own. I counted at least six church spires, the most prominent of which soared above all, that of the Matthias Church on Castle Hill. There was another set of spires recognizable just below the church. These were part of the Fisherman’s Bastion. Further on was a dome that signaled the top of Buda Castle which spread royal wings beneath it. This panorama of Buda as seen from Pest was so wondrous that I could hardly believe my eyes.

Looking towards Castle Hill from the Danube in Budapest

Looking towards Castle Hill from the Danube in Budapest

Rising From Ruins – The Building Of Buda
To think that all this is not the product of prior planning, but many centuries worth of organic growth is mind boggling. Here is a scene of stunning urban perfection that has scarcely been repeated. Descriptions will not do it justice. Taken as a whole, this part of the city as it stands astride the Danube is one of the great wonders of the world, a setting that has no peer, even in the annals of old Europe. The sheer scale of grandiosity on offer along the Danube in Budapest is overwhelming. That makes it hard to imagine that the beautiful scene standing on the Buda Hills has been reduced to a smoldering ruin on multiple occasions in the past. When the Habsburgs took it back from the Ottoman Turks in 1686 and the Red Army stormed it during the winter of 1945, they left a residue of rubble that paradoxically became a foundation for regrowth, rebirth and reconstruction.

Following World War II, what was left of both the Margaret and Chain Bridges lay submerged in the river. Revolutions in 1848, 1919 and 1956 left bullet scared buildings and rising plumes of smoke in their wake, signals of the resistance that lay at the heart of all good Magyars. The embankment I stood upon has been inundated by the Danube too many times to recount, sending parts of Pest to a watery grave. Good men and women laid low by the pessimism of the Magyar mentality have leapt into the dark waters of the Danube in alarming numbers over the past two centuries. Jews had been marched to these river banks and shot by the hundreds in acts of genocidal indifference. Historical fate had subdued this city and its citizens repeatedly. Yet through it all the city rises again and again.

Chain Bridge looking up at Buda Castle at night

Chain Bridge looking up at Buda Castle at night (Credit: Noval Goya)

The Will To Splendor – In The Minds Of Magyars
Budapest by the Danube is a sparkling example of triumph over tragedy, the will to splendor, an astounding adherence to national destiny. For all their reputed gloomy cynicism, the heart of every Hungarian must be filled with an abiding optimism to overcome the many misfortunes of history inflicted upon their nation. How else to explain the creation of a capital that is such a showcase of scintillating beauty? Optimism is the eternal answer. Optimism took the grey Danube, spun it into a silvery thread and wove it into a fantasy cityscape of the most furtive imagination. Optimism built a series of unforgettable bridges that transcended nature to connect a city and nation into a greater whole. Optimism touched the sky with steeples that soared from a wellspring of faith. And optimism created a city that is a stunning exposition of the majesty that lives in the heart and mind of every Magyar.

An Incredible Intensity – Lviv, Budapest, Krakow, Berlin & Vienna: Explaining Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe, how best to understand such a complex, and conflicted region? Perhaps one should start with the cities, many different cities, in many different countries. Catalog the impressions and then ponder what it means, if anything, if nothing.

Lviv – A Man With No Legs
Travel to Lviv in western Ukraine, that beautiful city frozen in a state of rapturously Austro-Hungarian glory. Stroll through the heart of the historic old town. Listen to the sound of stilettos on cobblestone, voices of desire. Gaze at the bucolically bright mansions surrounding Ploshcha Rynok. Spend at least one single morning watching a man with no legs in a wheelchair. He patiently waits to see if any passers-by scatter a bit of change in the bowl that sits in his lap. The man does not beg, he just sits there patiently. He is not dirty or ill-kempt, but actually rather well dressed, if modestly so, from the waist up everything seems normal. The complete picture is quite different, like the many sides of this city. This drama takes place in the shadow of the Neo-Renaissance Opera House. Operas are fiction, while the dramas played out on the street are real.

The Opera House in Lviv

The Opera House in Lviv – fiction inside & reality outside

Budapest – Beauty, Horror & Grandeur
Go to Budapest. Float down the Danube, on one side the hills of Buda blossom, staked out by the spires of churches and castles. Opposite lies Pest, home to the Hungarian Parliament, that delicious architectural confection of neo-Gothicism, a scene and style that devours the skyline. Disembark on the embankment just before the Chain Bridge, walk a bit upriver on the Pest side, to find a series of sculpted shoes at water’s edge. It was here, that hundreds of Jews were forced during the winter of 1944-45 to take off their footwear just before being shot on the banks of the frozen Danube.  Buda and Pest, here is a city that combines beauty, horror and grandeur in uncertain order.

Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial in Budapest

Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial in Budapest – hundreds of Jews were forced during the winter of 1944-45, to take off their footwear just before being shot on the banks of the frozen Danube

Krakow – Defying Disbelief
Onward to Krakow, in that main magnificent square, Rynek Glowny, reputedly the largest medieval square in all of Europe, whatever that is supposed to mean. Here, the glory and pageantry of Poland is spread over 40,000 stunning square meters. All that once was, still remains, the Cloth Hall and the Clock Tower, St Mary’s and the Mickiewicz Monument. Could this square, this astonishing slice of Poland’s rich history, really have once been subject to the diktats of totalitarianism? It all seems too bad to be true. Amid such magnificence one tends to forget the more recent and troubled past. A cure for any case of 20th century Polish historical amnesia is just a tram ride away.

Cloth Hall with the Clock Tower in the background at Rynek Glowny in Krakow (Credit: Jan Mehlich)

Cloth Hall with the Clock Tower in the background at Rynek Glowny in Krakow (Credit: Jan Mehlich)

Stand outside the gates of Nowa Huta and ponder the terrible, fierce rust bucket beauty that was still born here. This suburb was what Krakow, Poland and all of Eastern Europe was supposed to become. A whole city, an entire nation and a wide swath of Europe forged out of iron and steel. Factories lauded as the new cathedrals, heavy industry as the master mold of mid-20th century civilization. Nothing lasts forever, but this hardly lasted a lifetime. Nowa Huta still exists, but its glory days are gone, its labor days are not. This place has become a piece of modern art that rusts right before the eyes.

Model of Nowa Huta

Model of Nowa Huta – It seemed like a good idea at the time

Berlin – French Kissing Fear
To understand Eastern Europe, surely one must understand Berlin. Why it is so hip, so youthful, so vibrant, so alive. This used to be the world capital of disunity, but now it is united in revelry. 21st century Berlin is a city that seems to be giving fear a French kiss. It is so interesting, all those places where terrible things happened and now most of them can be seen for free. There is enough history here to last several lifetimes, but the past need not detain anyone, when there is another club to hop. Stand beneath the Brandenburg Gate and ponder Frederick the Great, the Kaiser, the Nazis, West vs. East. This is where both ends met the middle and a nation, became arbiter of a world divided against itself.

Now the traveler can dance until dawn in no man’s land, admire galleries worth of graffiti at any random underpass and glide by, rather than through Checkpoint Charlie. That once formidable barrier, looks so small and stupid in retrospect. What is more illuminating, the helpfulness of Berliner’s who rush to provide directions or the fact that nothing really happens here anymore, unless fun and efficiency is now of world historical importance.

An apartment block in East Berlin - putting a coat of color on the past

An apartment block in East Berlin – putting a coat of color on the past

Vienna – The Madness of Fairy Tales
Final stop, the fairy tale city of Vienna. Like all fairy tales, this one has more than its fair share of madness. The Hofburg, at the heart of the city, imposes splendor and arrogance, refinement and oppression upon the visitor in unequal measure. Here is where the Habsburg’s decided what was beautiful and everyone else had to live with it or suffocate from it. This was a world that made its own rules which the rest of the world was supposed to live and die by. And the Hofburg is just the start.

Vienna is a grand illusion, a magic act made out of marble and sculpted stone. There is more than enough of this to go around and around the Ringstrasse. It is enough to drive someone mad. No wonder this city gave the world Freud, Klimt and Wittgenstein. It was not just Metternich and Franz Josef who strolled through the gardens at Schonnbrunn, it was also Hitler and Stalin, at the same time, long before they became deities of death, these men were plotting and plodding amid the perfectly kept pathways. Modern Vienna is filled with an world of underlying tension, irksome and uptight. This can best be seen in the strained countenances of the Viennese. Those faces that stare away from the traveler. They are forever peering out tram windows, looking at nothing in particular, with an incredible intensity.

A tram in Vienna - An incredible (and troubling) intensity

A tram in Vienna – An incredible (and troubling) intensity

A World Turning Inward On Itself
The man with no legs, candy colored baroque buildings, shoes sculpted from stone, forty thousand square meters of magnificence, the heavy heart of heavy industry, a world that bordered on the apocalypse and now on frivolity, the weight of history at the Hofburg and so many other things. These are the impressions that help the traveler understand Eastern Europe, its peoples and it cities. What does all this amount to? There is no clear answer, there never will be. Eastern Europe is complex and conflicted. It is filled with the joys and horrors of life. As in the present, as in the past, it is forever turning inward on itself.

Time Travel – Budapest’s Millennium Underground Railway

In 1873 the cities of Buda, Obuda and Pest were combined to create Budapest. At the time of unification the total population of these three cities was 296,000, by 1900 it had grown two and a half fold to 733,000. Budapest was the fastest growing city in Europe during the final third of the 19th century. The seeds of this explosive growth were laid in 1867 with the “Ausgleich” (Compromise) between the Austrian led Habsburg Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary. Together they united to form the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was also known as the Dual Monarchy because Franz Josef, the Habsburg Emperor of Austria, now would also be the King of Hungary.

Artwork showing Andrassy Avenue and the Millenium Underground Railway in 1896

Artwork showing Andrassy Avenue and the Millenium Underground Railway in 1896

Metro Line One – A Glorious Heritage
As part of the Ausgleich, Hungary was given virtual freedom in its domestic affairs. This led to an incredible blossoming of economic, cultural and intellectual life. Budapest attracted immigrants from all over the Hungarian ruled part of the empire in addition to investment from central and western Europe. The creation of wealth due to rapid industrialization, led to grandiose building and transport projects. One of these projects still thrives today. Unbeknownst to many, Budapest has the third oldest underground metro line in the world. Line One of the Budapest Metro (M1), also known as the Millennium Underground Railway, was constructed between the years 1894 and 1896, as part of public works projects built to celebrate the thousand year anniversary of the Magyars arrival in the Carpathian Basin in the year 896.

Line One was built by the German engineering firm Siemens (which is today the world’s largest engineering firm). It was constructed by excavating a tunnel in the shape of a box running beneath Andrassy Avenue, Budapest’s grandest boulevard and what many have termed the city’s Champs Elysees. Originally known as the Franz Josef Underground Line, it was dedicated by the Emperor/King of Austria-Hungary as part of the millennial celebration. This glorious dedication is matched only by its legacy. As an integral part of Hungarian and Budapest history it is now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tourists as well as citizens of the city still flock to the line today. It is considered an experience that should not be missed.

One of the original cars from the Millenium Underground Railway can be seen at the Budapest Metro Museum at Deak ter (Credit: Petr Sporer)

One of the original cars from the Millenium Underground Railway can be seen at the Budapest Metro Museum at Deak ter (Credit: Petr Sporer)

An Elegant Past – Riding the Millennium
The small stations are only a flight of stairs away from the surface.  Entering one of the original ten stations on the line (an 11th station, Mexikoi was added as the M1’s terminus in 1973) transports the rider back in time to an elegant past. This was an age when mass transportation was just beginning to take shape. The city was bustling with an energy and vibrancy born of innovation. Though the city was exploding with growth and the M1 was part of that growth, the stations still have a style that recalls the turn of the 20th Century. There is a quaint, nostalgic feel to the line as well. The yellow metro cars that ply the tracks are compact and intimate, looking as though they could have been part of a carnival ride. Passengers might come under the impression that they are being transported backward in time. This would be the opposite effect of those who rode the line a hundred years prior. Citizens of that booming age must have felt as though the metro was carrying them into the future.

Each station is much like a museum unto itself. On the tiled walls station names are elegantly rendered. Many of these names are a clarion call of famous 19th century Hungarians including Deak, Vorosmarty and Szechenyi. Others evoke a sense of refined exoticism such as Oktogon and Opera, places that have become synonymous with the grandeur of Budapest.  Then there is Hosok tere, Hosok being the Hungarian word for hero. This station discharges passengers a short walk away from famed Hosok tere (Hero’s Square). The name truly matches its meaning.

Metro Line One - 118 years later still in service today (Credit: Sprok)

Metro Line One – 118 years later still in service today (Credit: Sprok)

Time Travel – The Re-Imagination of Reality
Up and out from the underground the traveler steps from the shadows into the bright, beaming light of day. Before them unfolds a grand expanse. Hosok tere, a spectacular urban space, with its massive open square, delimited on one side by a semicircle of statuary celebrating Hungary’s historic heroes. Those gazing up in awe at the magnificently sculptured figures towering above them will have already forgotten that beneath the surface, drowned out by the sounds of the city, the Millenium Underground Railway glides further onward. As it has done now for parts of three different centuries, it transports passengers, between the past and present, to a time of innovation, invention and the re-imagination of reality.

A Crowning Achievement – St. Martin’s Cathedral: Where Hungarian History Reigns Supreme

Over a period of nine hundred years, the monarchs of the Kingdom of Hungary were crowned in four different cities. Three of these four cities still lie in the territory of the Hungarian nation today. They are Esztergom, Budapest and Szekesfehervar. Interestingly, it was the last of these three towns that saw more Hungarian monarchs crowned than any other. From the middle of the 11th century through the middle of the 16th, no less than 37 kings and 39 queens consort were crowned in Szekesfehervar, at the Basilica. This was exactly how the first King of Hungary, Stephen I had planned it. Stephen had ordered the construction of a grand basilica around the year 1010 for just such ceremonies. It was one of the largest and most prominent buildings in Europe during the Middle Ages, a symbol of the power, majesty and Christianity of the Kingdom. Long before Visegrad or Budapest came to prominence, Szekesfehervar was the nerve center of Hungary during the Middle Ages.

St. Martin's Cathedral - Coronation site of Hungarian monarchs from 1563 to 1830

St. Martin’s Cathedral – Coronation site of Hungarian monarchs from 1563 to 1830

The Coming of the Turks – The Path to Pozsony 
As with so many things in the history of the Kingdom of Hungary, this underwent radical change with the invasion of the Ottoman Turks.  In 1543, the Turks occupied Szekesfehervar. They proceeded to loot the tombs of the 15 kings and queens buried in the Basilica. Their banditry knew no bounds. It respected neither tradition nor religion. Insultingly, the Basilica was turned into a storage site for gunpowder. With much of their kingdom occupied, Hungarian leaders had little choice, but to move the coronation site. Beginning in 1563, coronations took place in upper Hungary, at St. Martin’s Cathedral in Pozsony (present day Bratislava, Slovakia).  For over two-hundred and fifty years, prospective monarchs strode through the Old Town of Pozsony along the coronation route. They made their way to the Gothic confines of the cathedral where kings and queens were crowned.

Following the expulsion of the Turks from the lands of historic Hungary in the late 17th century, coronations continued to take place in Pozsony. The last one occurred in 1830. In the meantime, the basilica in Szekesfehervar had longed since ceased to exist. It was destroyed in 1601 when a Habsburg Army unsuccessfully laid siege to the city. The gunpowder stored inside the basilica was sparked by fire from the ongoing battle and consequently blew up. Meanwhile St. Martin’s served the purpose of continuity and tradition. As the site for the coronation of 19 kings and queens, including no less a historical personage than Maria Theresa, it played an integral role in both Hungarian and Habsburg history. The coronations may have ended in Pozsony by the mid-19th century, but history was not through with the place.

Coronation of Maria Theresa at St. Martin's Cathedral in 1741

Coronation of Maria Theresa at St. Martin’s Cathedral in 1741

Historical Twists  – The Fate of Hungary’s Coronation Sites
The city was lost by the Hungarians, along with Upper Hungary (Felvidek) to the newly created state of Czechoslovakia, due to the post-war Treaty of Trianon that followed World War I. Today Pozsony is Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Other than tourists, the presence of ethnic Hungarians in the city is minimal. In a historical twist of fate concerning the coronation sites, Hungarians had been detached from their history during the Middle Ages at Szekesfehervar due to an external threat. Nearly four hundred years later, they were once again severed from their historical past, but this time by an internal disruption. St. Martin’s Cathedral with its glorious past was cut asunder from its historical antecedents.

Today the cathedral still stands on the western edge of what was the Old Town of Pozsony. Within a stone’s throw, a major highway acts as a conduit for automobiles racing back and forth over the Novy Most Bridge and the Danube. In the last decade and a half, the church has undergone stabilization due to the vibrations caused by the nearby traffic. In this case, the past has become present once again, in prior centuries the church survived fires, earthquakes and lightning strikes. Today the question is whether it will survive the rumblings of modernity? Perhaps this is an apt metaphor for the presence of Hungarian history in Bratislava. It rests on shaky foundations.

Crowning achievement - The gold plated replica of the Holy Crown of Hungary atop St. Martin's Cathedral

Crowning achievement – The gold plated replica of the Holy Crown of Hungary atop St. Martin’s Cathedral

St. Martin’s Cathedral – Where History Reigns Supreme
The question today is how will the rich history of St. Martin’s Cathedral be viewed in a Slovakia which looks more toward the future?  As opposed to a Hungary which is obsessed with its past. Strangely enough, there is a magnificent reminder that all has not been lost. Quite literally a crowning achievement tops St. Martin’s. Atop the church’s Gothic steeple is a gold plated replica of the Holy Crown of Hungary. At 85 meters (279 feet) it soars above the Old Town, just as it did when it was first placed there in 1847. It was meant to commemorate the church’s historic role in royal coronations. The crown is still there today, resting on a gold pillow, a spectacular reminder that no matter what nation rules over this land today, it is still history which reigns supreme.


A Maze of Imagination: The Hungarian Parliament Building

There is hardly a more fantastical structure in the whole of Europe than the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest. Sitting astride the Danube, on the Pest side of the river, this architectural wonder is an eclectically astonishing mix of neos: Gothicism, Medievalism, Renaissance and Baroque. Viewed from the Buda embankment, it looks as though it is literally floating on the slate gray river waters of the Danube. When the sky is blue and the sun is shining bright, the building’s reflection unfurls upon the ripples of the river, a shimmering image, sparkling in lustrous splendor. If Disney’s Magic Kingdom was ever to have a stone and mortar counterpart, than surely this must be it.  The building looks as though it is out of a fantasy, a reimagining of grandeur on a scale that can be interpreted as confident, prideful and chauvinistic. It is a symbol of both independence and rebelliousness, infused as much by emotion as symbolism. More than anything, it stands as a singular reflection of the people for whom it was built.

A Maze of Imagination - the Hungarian Parliament

A Maze of Imagination – the Hungarian Parliament

A Transformative Optimism – The Building of Budapest
By the early 1880’s Budapest was in the throes of a transformative belle époque. The trigger for this golden age had taken place a decade and a half earlier. A compromise with the Austrians in 1867 led to the creation of the Dual Monarchy. The emperor of Austria was also crowned as the King of Hungary. At the same time, Hungary was offered virtual independence. One result of the compromise was that Hungarians were allowed their own parliament to practice self-rule.  In 1873, the three cities of Buda, Obuda (Old Buda) and Pest were consolidated into one. From this agglomeration came the city of Budapest. Soon it was the fastest growing metropolitan area in the whole of Europe. People poured in from the countryside, leaving the landed estates behind, while looking to take advantage of the industrial revolution.

The city was literally bursting at the seams with economic activity. Hungary was now an equal part of an empire and virtually independent. The Magyar people, having been liberated from what they believed were centuries of oppression by foreign interlopers, cultivated an economic and cultural renaissance. Much of the newly created wealth went into architectural projects. Banks, universities, market halls, churches and a grand basilica rose from the flatlands of Pest. These constructions were the result of a tremendous optimism. The Magyar nation was ascendant. What followed would be the most optimistic construction project in Hungarian history, a brand new Parliament Building.

Crowning acheivement - A Renaissance dome under siege by Neo-Gothicism (Credit: Alex Proimos)

Crowning acheivement – A Renaissance dome under siege by Neo-Gothicism (Credit: Alex Proimos)

Medievalism Without Reason – A Parliament For the Ages
A contest was put on to see who could create the best design. The competition was fierce. Among the runners-up was Alajos Hauszmann, the famed architect who had designed numerous palaces and would go on to lead the renovation of Buda Castle. All was not lost for Hauszmann. For his entry in the competition would become the Ministry of Justice. This building, along with another runner-up which would become the Ministry of Agriculture, occupied positions directly across from the new Parliament. While each of these might be called stately and grand, they were dwarfed in size, scope and scale by the winning entry from architect Imre Steindl. One critic in the late 19th century termed the prize winning creation, “medievalism without reason.” Some of its stylistic elements certainly seemed to recall the Middle Ages, yet more than anything it redefined architectural possibility. It showcased a broad array of styles placed adjacent or piled on top of one another. For instance, the renaissance dome was topped with a gothic spire. It was a little bit of everything and a whole new thing. It was a building both of the ages and for the ages.

The style was both elegant and grandiose. Its size was otherworldly. This became readily apparent to those who visited the interior. The place seemed endless and unknowable even to those whose job brought them to work within its confines. There were no less than 691 rooms, a third of which were offices (big government was around in the 19th century as well).  The main entrance led to the first of 29 staircases, so many in fact that if stretched end on end they would cover twelve miles. Public officials could enter through 27 gates, use up to 13 elevators and relax in one of ten courtyards. It took over two decades to finish construction. It was finally completed eight years after it was dedicated. The architect, Steindl, went blind and died before it was finished. This hardly mattered, since his vision had little to do with sight and everything to do with imagination.

The Grand Staircase - the path to splendor

The Grand Staircase – the path to splendor

The Art of Possibility – A Building and Its People
Beyond the splendor, the building is, as it was at the time, really about a reverence for the past. It was everything Hungary had been. It looked back at various golden ages in Hungarian history. Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture were all inspirations. On the walls facing the Danube every former ruler of the Kingdom of Hungary, leader of Transylvania and famous Magyar military figures was sculpted in stone. On and on it goes. The message is clear. Hungary and Hungarians represent greatness, it is the architecture of exuberant nationalism.

The building may have been officially finished in 1902, but it never really will be complete. It seems to be in a constant of becoming. Renovations have occurred throughout its history and there are, few if any times that it can be viewed without intrusive scaffolding. In this way, it mirrors the Hungarian nation, which is still a work in progress, never quite complete. The building is reflective of the people it was built for. Magnificently seductive, bursting with creativity and filled with a fierce, energetic pride, it is Hungary and the Hungarians, a nation and a people redefining the art of possibility.

Death Knell for the Central Powers – The Battle of Dobro Pole

Serbia was at the heart of the troubled Balkan region during the 20th century. Its influence in political and military affairs was pervasive in the area and ended up having an effect far beyond its own borders. It is hardly surprising to find Serbian involvement in two of the most important events of World War One. The one at the beginning is famously well-known, while the other which helped lead to the war’s conclusion is almost entirely forgotten today. The first event which sparked the war is world famous. A Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy.

This set off what has become known as the July Crisis, where diplomatic efforts failed and the Great Powers ended up on opposing sides based largely on treaty commitments. By the end of that month, artillery shells were falling on Belgrade, as Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia. What flowed from there was a war that expanded across much of Europe, the Middle East, Asia Minor and the High Seas. The blood of millions was spilled on fields of battle that are still recalled with horror today. Such battles as Tannenburg, Gallipoli, Verdun, the Somme and Paschendaele evoke memories of massive clashes over weeks or months. All of these were indecisive in either a tactical or strategic sense. Yet they have helped define the war, though none of them decided it.

The Way To Skopje & Victory

The Way To Skopje & Victory

Lost to Memory – The Defining Moment of Victory & Defeat
It is difficult to recall one battle that brought the war to an end or even the beginning of the end. Battles were subsumed within campaigns. The Allied offensive that finally was able to roll the Germans inexorably backward during the late summer of 1918 seems to be more a prolonged push rather than a rout. The Allied blockade that slowly squeezed the life out of Imperial Germany is symptomatic of the lack of a singular, triumphant event. Neither quick nor tidy, its success was based upon duration. As for the armistice of November 11, 1918, this final defeat of the Central Powers was more an agreement, than an infliction.

It as though World War I lacks that one defining moment where triumph is finally crystallized. Perhaps that is a proper coda to a war which caused such widespread destruction of men and material. Because such a moment is so hard to define, it also means looking in less obvious places.  Searching beyond the Western Front also means looking at other theaters of the war. Was there a forgotten battle of historical significance that has been overlooked?

The name Dobro Pole scarcely comes to mind when memorable battles of World War I are discussed.  The name sounds cryptic. It could be almost anywhere or anything. Actually it means “Good Field”  just the opposite of what it actually was for the Bulgars defending it. Conversely, it was a very good field for the Allied “Army of the Orient.” An unforgettable scene would unfold high up in the Moglenitsa Mountains stretching across central Macedonia. A scene which no one could have predicted based upon what had occurred on this part of the Balkan Front over the eighteen months prior to the battle.

Soldiers waiting in their trenches on the Macedonia Front

Soldiers waiting in their trenches on the Macedonia Front

Southeastern Approaches – Appearances of Deadly Deception
The much maligned Army of the Orient consisted of a polyglot force of Serbs, French, British, Greeks and Italians. Their most notable hallmarks were complacency and mismanagement. Only through slow and haphazard efforts had they gained a bit of ground from their original base at the Aegean coastal port of Salonika. Attempts to dislodge the Bulgarians from the position in foothills and mountains had made only tepid progress. Four attacks by the Allies over the past eighteen months had been miserable failures. The rest of the time, the Army of the Orient tried with little success to fend off the dual scourges of malaria and boredom. Meanwhile, the Bulgars were also plagued with morale issues and limited food rations. Their front line was stout, but beyond these troops was an armed rabble of starving reservists. Nonetheless, the high ground was well fortified and the Bulgarians were still the one major European Army that had avoided defeat in the war. It record was unblemished and looked as though it would stay that way.

Appearances in this case were not just deceiving, but in the Bulgarian case turned out to be deadly. During the summer of 1918 the Allies began to prepare for what would become a remarkable offensive. Specifically, Serbian and French forces worked under the cover of night for two weeks to push, pull and lift artillery into positions up to heights of 7,700 feet in the Moglenitsa Mountains. From here they would be able to unload devastating barrages on the Bulgarians. The Bulgars unwittingly believed that their fortifications were impregnable. Even the German officers and troops sprinkled in to stiffen the Bulgarians spine did not believe the Allied forces would attack the rocky slopes, precipices and peaks covering the area. Yet that was exactly what they intended to do.

Serbian soldiers on the Macedonian Front

Serbian soldiers on the Macedonian Front

In & Above the Clouds – The Battle of Dobro Pole
The Allies had set their sights on Dobro Pole, a broken ridge six miles in length that ran between the Sokol and Ventrenik, names which respectively meant hawk and wind swept one. These were apt pseudonyms for land forms that were in and above the clouds. The common belief up to this point on the Macedonian Front was that an attack on this area would be suicidal. It was steep, heavily fortified and offered the enemy open fields of fire. Conversely, if the Allies did somehow manage to take Dobro Pole, the entire Bulgarian defenses might entirely collapse. It offered an opportunity to unhinge the entire Bulgarian defended part of the front. The risk was worth taking.

At 5:30 a.m. on September 15th, just as dawn was breaking over the high peaks of the Moglentisa, the French and Serbian artillery began to rain shells onto the exposed Bulgarian positions. The barrage was part of an eighteen hundred gun, storm of shot and shell stretching for over a hundred miles across the entire front. It was the greatest assemblage of artillery on the entire Balkan Front during the war. The thunderous roar shook the mountain sides softening the Bulgarian defenses The Bulgars were able to withstand the initial barrage. Dobro Pole would have to be conquered by foot soldiers. Serbian forces slowly fought their way up the steep slopes. The closer they got the more ferocious and frequent the Bulgarian counterattacks, five were launched in a matter of hours. The inhospitable landscape had once only been the haunt of goats and shepherds, now the Serbs and French followed in their footsteps. The machine gun nests of the enemy unleashed a deadly torrent. The Serbs had to use flamethrowers to finally root out the defenders. In the early afternoon, eight hours after they had begun, Dobro Pole was surprisingly conquered. The Bulgarian front line had been breached.

The Way To Skopje – The Way To Victory
The same process was repeated in other areas all along the front. What lay beyond the first formidable defenses was the fragile Bulgarian second line, filled with those starving reservists. They offered scant resistance. Two days after Dobro Pole fell, the Allies had managed to carve a salient six miles deep and twenty miles wide into the enemy lines and this was just the start. Ten days after the offensive had begun the Serbs took Gradsko, the main communications center for the Central Powers along the front. Now the German commanders were unable to coordinate a defense with their Bulgarian counterparts. The breakthrough continued at an incredible pace for what had been heretofore one of the most static fronts of the entire war. On September 29th, the city of Skopje and its important rail yard fell to French and Serbian forces. Meanwhile on the eastern end of the front, British forces had managed to break out as well. The Bulgarians were in full retreat. The Germans had no other recourse, but to abandon this ill-fated area of the Balkans.

Erich Ludendorff in 1918 - his look only got worse

Erich Ludendorff in 1918 – his look only got worse

Beyond All Repair – The Ramifications of Dobro Pole
For the once mocked Army of the Orient, the road to Budapest and Vienna lay open. In just two weeks the entire course of the war had changed. Bulgaria sued for peace. An armistice was granted on September 30th.  The Bulgars, once a bulwark of the Central Powers, had been decisively defeated. It would not be long until the others surrendered as well. The Battle of Dobro Pole was a tipping point. What had been thought all but impossible, the conquest of this high mountain area had been brought about by planning, surprise and innovative tactics. With its fall the Bulgars were suddenly exposed. Their rugged façade had finally cracked and what lay beyond offered little to no resistance.

Unlike other World War I battles, there were no tens of thousands of casualties to count and victory was no longer measured by a few hundred meters. It was a resounding and resonant triumph, the ramifications widespread. No less a historic personage than Erich Ludendorff, the overall commander of German forces at the time, said that the collapse of the Macedonian Front spurred by the loss at Dobro Pole was the worst day of the war for him. On September 28th just as Skopje was on the verge of being captured, Ludendorff collapsed to the ground, began foaming at the mouth and suffered a nervous breakdown. He must have known that Bulgaria would soon surrender and worse was yet to come. The battle of Dobro Pole and its resulting effects damaged the Central Powers beyond all repair.

Maria’s Story: “I Know How To Survive” – The History of An Unforgotten War: Simontornya (Part Two)

Her name was Maria. She was quietly waiting in the Simontornya railway station for the train to Budapest. She sat on a bench in the station lobby passing the time with a Sudoku puzzle. She made nary a sound for over an hour, not noticing the comings and goings of prospective passengers. Just before the train’s arrival she slowly made her way out to the platform. That is when she asked my wife in Hungarian if I would help get her suitcase onto the train. She was elderly, but seemed to be energetic and in good health. I gladly obliged. The suitcase, though relatively small, was heavier than I expected. It felt as though it contained a couple of bowling balls. Once we got onto the train, stored her luggage and exchanged thank you’s, she took the seat directly behind us.

Do You Remember the War?
Maria soon began to converse with my wife in Hungarian. I noticed that she seemed to be acknowledging me and asking questions. My wife told me that she was asking where I was from. When she learned I was an American a wide smile broke across her face. In turn, I had my wife ask her where she was from. Maria said that she lived in Budapest now, but grew up in Simontornya. She seemed to be open and talkative. With my interest in Hungarian history I thought this might present an opportunity to learn about her experiences.

I took a chance and had my wife ask how old she was. Usually I would be reticent to ask such a question, but she was old enough that asking her age probably no longer mattered to her. I have observed that once a person gets into their seventies, their vanity literally vanishes. She smiled when the question was put to her, replying “How old do you think I am?” She was so lively that I guessed a lower rather than a higher age. Studying her weathered and wrinkled expression, I replied, “Seventy-five.” She grinned widely. “I am actually eighty-eight. I was born in 1926.” Immediately my interest was piqued.

This meant that Maria was nineteen years old in 1944, the year that the Second World War arrived in Hungary with a thunderous roar. I wondered if she had been in Budapest during the winter siege that had begun late that year? I studied the warmth in her eyes, considering for a moment what she might have seen and experienced. Her expression was the opposite of tragic. Perhaps she had been one of those lucky few who had emerged from the war unscathed. Maybe this was a front, perhaps she was hiding something. I wanted to know what she had seen, felt and heard. My wife related my inevitable questions, “Do you remember the war?” I could tell by the rise in her voice and the emotional monologue which followed, that Maria had experienced the war firsthand.

In 1944 all over Hungary many families were homeless, helpless or both

In 1944 all over Hungary many families were homeless, helpless or both (Credit:

“I Know How To Survive”
I asked questions as my wife translated. What follows is a synopsis of my questions and Maria’s answers. This is what she told us:

Where were you during the war? “I was in Simontornya, living at home with my parents. My father was a pensioner by then. He had been a policeman. We knew the war was not going good, we had known that for a long time. We knew the Germans were losing, that we were losing. “

What were the Germans like? Simontornya was a sort of headquarters area. First the Germans were there. They were gentlemen. They treated us kindly. We began to hear though, that the Russians were coming. One night all the Germans suddenly disappeared. They retreated or ran away. Suddenly they were gone. We waited for the Russians, everyone was worried.

What were the Soviets like? When they showed up, they were wild, just wild men. They stole everything. They took everything from our house, robbed us and left us with nothing. They were in Simontornya for weeks. It was awful, we were scared. They raped a woman I knew, just took her and raped her. Sometimes I had to hide, even blackened my face to disguise my looks.

Did you see any shooting?
We heard guns being fired. The Russians took any guns they found. One Hungarian man turned a gun into them. They took the gun and shot him dead with it.

What did you do while they were in Simontornya?
We just waited and tried to survive. My father could communicate with them some. He was originally from close to Poszony (Bratislava) and could speak some Czech. (Russian and Czech are both Slavic languages) My father spoke very directly and was tough with them. He stood up to them as much as he could, but they still stole everything from our house. They did whatever they wanted. There were some ladies in town, upper class aristocrats who had never even gotten their hands wet. They were forced to live in barracks.

How did you survive?
It was hard. I really don’t know how we made it. The winter was brutal. There was snow everywhere. More snow than you can imagine and it was bitterly cold. When I hear young people today complain I just wish they had to live through one week of the war. Just one week, nothing more, just like we had to. They would never complain again. We had nothing. I learned from that. I have never lacked for money in my life. I have always had some money, because I learned to survive on nothing. Today my pension is only 100,000 forints ($450) a month. I live on that, I know how to survive. All my children have become successful and wealthy. I taught them how to get by on very little. Today they have nice houses and cars.

What happened after the Soviets left?
We still had nothing, but because we were in a village in the countryside, we always had food to eat. I remember people would come down from Budapest on the train to trade with us for food. They were riding on the tops of cargo trains. They had taken socks which had holes in them, sewed the holes back up and traded them for a potato. Everyone was poor. Anything else you can tell us about what happened? One time I was on a train to Budapest. When it made a stop a Russian officer got on. He got into our car and began trying to rape a woman. A Hungarian man threw him out of the car while it was flying down the tracks. I don’t know what happened to that Russian, but he went flying out of the train car.

Soviet Tanks crossing the Sio Bridge in Simontornya while leaving in 1990. This was forty six years after the first Soviet forces had occupied the town and Hungary (Credit:

Soviet Tanks crossing the Sio Bridge in Simontornya while leaving in 1990. This was forty six years after the first Soviet forces had occupied the town and Hungary (Credit:

Traveling To The End
Maria talked the entire hour and a half train trip. She told us about her life after the war. She worked as an estate agent for many years. Her husband was an alcoholic who died at the age of fifty-two. I thought to myself how tough it must have been for a single mom with several children in communist Hungary. Then again it was nothing compared to the war. I am sure she never complained. Maria was very proud of her children and grandchildren. She showed us photos of them. They travel outside of Hungary sometimes and send her photos. She said that’s how she travels, by getting to look at the pictures of where they have been.

Maria lived her adult life in Budapest, today she has a flat close to the city park. She is getting close to ninety years old, but is still full of energy, talking with verve and zeal, filled with life. When the train pulled into Kelenfold station we said our goodbyes. We got off, but Maria stayed on for the final stop. She was going to the end. How fitting. I took a photo of her smiling broadly. There was warmth in her eyes, a sense of engagement. It was enough to make me believe that nothing bad had ever really happened to her. Of course that was not true. She had seen horrible things, many of them were probably still left unsaid. Maybe her happiness and contentment came as a counter reaction to her experiences during the war. Perhaps the war had taught her to get on with life, appreciate the simple things, to not waste time complaining. Maria was happy with life, because as she so well knew, it could be – as it had been – so much worse.

Echoes of the Apocalypse
That evening back at our flat in Kispest I googled “Simontornya World War II.” Besides a few results about Operation Spring Awakening – the failed German Offensive in the area that led to Maria’s experiences – there was nothing specific. I decided to give the Google Books search a try. One of the top results led me to a book called “The Road to a Dictated Peace.” It was about the Treaty of Trianon which had led to the dismemberment of the Kingdom of Hungary following World War One. What could this book have to do with Simontornya in World War II? I soon found out in the preface. The author, Laszlo Botos, introduces himself by saying, “I was born in Simontornya in 1935. I have some vivid memories of World War II in my village. Simontornya was on the Russian Front and was occupied alternately by the Germans and Russians. I remember the bombing, the fear, the lack of food. I remember the German soldiers who, although they occupied our village, were always polite and treated us kindly. I remember the Russians coming to ‘liberate’ us from the Germans, demanding food and wine and raping women and girls.”
That’s all Botos had to say about the war in Simontornya. It sounded all too familiar.

Shadows Over the Village & Against the Sky – The Ruin Church at Zsambek

Half an hour west from Budapest, beyond the hills of Buda, where the landscape of Transdanubia rolls off towards the horizon stands the village of Zsambek. Like many other Hungarian villages west of the Danube, Zsambek is neat and well kept. Behind row after row of wooden fencing and iron gates the ubiquitous bark of dogs echoes forth, the piercing call of a rooster intermittently adds a quixotic note to this symphony of village life. In courtyards, women who look as though they live in their pajamas sweep the entrances to their homes clean. Small and medium sized houses of every shape, size and color imaginable line the tidy streets and clamor onto the hillsides. The houses, surrounded by gardens and orchards, make it seem as though the entire village is in bloom. A full spectrum of vanilla and purple blossoms cover the trees lining Zsambek’s sidewalks. And above it all, looms the thirteenth century Rom Templom (Ruin Church). Its gigantic stone walls and gothic archways appear stoic, silent and spectacular.

The Rom Templom (Ruin Church) in Zsambek

The Rom Templom (Ruin Church) in Zsambek

Shadows Over the Village & Against the Sky
A small visitor station with requisite attendant can be found at the entryway. A fee of 700 forints ($3.50) is charged for admission to the ruins and the grassy park surrounding them. A small exhibition can be found in what must have been for centuries a stone storage vault. Inside their pieces of stone on display, arranged not so much for comprehension, but instead to make an impression of reverence and awe. The effect is rather lost on the visitor, at a loss in trying to make a coherent whole out of random parts. Nonetheless, this is nothing more than a sideshow to the magnificent remnants looming above ground. As the visitor approaches the towering walls, they may feel a touch of fear, hoping that the massive remnants do not suddenly collapse upon them.

The aesthetics of what is left of Rom Templom are enough to completely humble the visitor. There is just enough left that one can imagine the enormous size and scale of the church centuries ago, when it stood above all. There are bigger churches in Hungary, but given the quaint nature of the village townscape surrounding it, the Rom Templom inspires awe. Wherever one stands on the grounds or even in the town, it as though the Rom Templom is forever looking over ones shoulder, casting shadows over the villages and against the sky. In its fragmented and crumbling state, it is in a word magnificent.

Árpád Age Romanesque church in Ocsa - originally built by the Premonstratensian Order

Árpád Age Romanesque church in Ocsa – originally built by the Premonstratensian Order

Bastions of Faith
The exceptional aesthetics of the Rom Templom should not obscure the historically minded visitor from learning about the ecclesiastical order which created it. The miraculous fact that remnants of the Rom Templom still exist over seven hundred and fifty years after its initial construction is only matched by the improbable survival of the Premonstratensians, the canonical order responsible for its construction. The Premonstratensians take their name from Premontre in northeastern France, where they first arose in the early 12th century guided in their founding by Saint Norbert. He believed in a life of common prayer and austerity. The order flourished over the next two-hundred and fifty years, extending to points all across western and central Europe.

In Hungary, the Premonstratensians founded at least twelve abbeys including ones on Margit Island in the Danube and on the western shores of Lake Balaton at Keszthely. Another magnificent legacy of the order still exists today just to the east of Budapest, at the 13th century church at Ocsa. Hundreds of similar works were built as bastions of the order’s faith. By the mid-14th century the Premonstratensians had over 1,700 monasteries, including 400 for women, spread all across Europe. This proved to be the pinnacle of Premonstratensian influence. Historic upheavals in the succeeding centuries, including the Reformation and the French Revolution severely weakened their influence. This led to a steady decline. By the 19th century they had been reduced to a mere eight monasteries, all located in Austria. It looked as though the order was in fatal decline. Yet from the edge of oblivion it enjoyed a resurgence over the next two hundred years.

The Test of Time – The Test of Faith
During the 20th century alone, Premonstratensian monasteries increased fivefold to number almost one hundred, including at least one on every continent. The Premonstratensians may only be part of a very remote past in Hungary today, but they are thriving in more places than Saint Norbert could have ever imagined. Even in Hungary despite the physical carnage wrought upon the landscape by World War II and the spiritual vacuum of enforced atheism by the communists, the Rom Templom has entered the 21st century as a testament to the abiding legacy of the Order.

It has withstood the invasions, conquests and occupations of the Mongols, Turks and Soviets, not to mention a devastating 18th century earthquake. All the while, the Rom Templom managed to outlive the vestiges of civilizational, societal and architectural change. It has not only stood the test of time, but most importantly it has stood the test of faith. Perhaps that is because the Rom Templom like the Premonstratensian Order was built to last.