Kecskemét is a town with county rights, the seat of Bács-Kiskun County and of the Kecskemét District. Considering its population, it is the eighth largest, considering its administrative areas, the seventh largest town in Hungary. Approximately 22% of the population of Bács-Kiskun County live in Kecskemét.
The Town Hall, a gem of Art Nouveau architecture designed by Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos built in 1893-96, is situated on the main square. It is one of the best-known buildings and most visited tourist attractions in the town. Since 1983, at every hour sharp the chime of the town hall plays works of Kodály, Erkel and Beethoven. The Town Hall walls are decorated with Zsolnay majolica tiles, which you can also find in other buildings in Kecskemét. The paintings in the assembly hall are by the famous Hungarian painter Bertalan Székely.
The oldest architectural monument in the town, the Franciscan Church built in the 14th century and also known as Friars’ Church among locals, is situated opposite the Town Hall. Originally built in Gothic style, it was rebuilt several times until it acquired today’s baroque atmosphere. The church has a Calvary erected at its external wall. It is of religion historical significance that, until 1564, the church was jointly used by Catholics and Protestants.
The theatre building constructed on the occasion of the thousand years’ anniversary of the foundation of Hungary was named after the playwright József Katona, who was born in Kecskemét and was the author of the first Hungarian national drama. It is not by accident that it resembles the Comedy Theatre (Vígszínház) of Budapest, both buildings having been designed by the renowned Viennese architects Hellmer and Fellner. It is nicknamed by locals as “Jewellery Box”.
Holy Trinity Column
The Holy Trinity Column in front of the theatre reminds of the plague that took its toll on the population of the town. The column erected in 1742 is decorated with the figures of St. Sebastian, St. Roch, St. Elisabeth of the Árpáds and St. Stephen.
Reformed Protestant Church
If you follow Kéttemplomköz Street (literally meaning “between two churches”) you can reach the Reformed Protestant Church built in the 1680’s in early Baroque style as the only stone church in the area occupied by the Turks. The Main Square is almost unique in the country in that you can find here churches of all congregations (see photo on the right).
In Kálvin Square, opposite the Reformed Church, you can find the New College built in 1912. The building reminiscent of Art Nouveau, decorated with Transylvanian motifs, houses the Primary and Secondary Schools of the Reformed College.
To the right of the New College, there are two renowned monuments. The building that catches your attention on the right is Cifrapalota, i.e. “Ornamented Palace”. Designed by Géza Márkus in 1902, it was so popular that there was a song composed in its honour. Its wavy wall surfaces, shiny roof tiles and plant- and animal-shape ceramics decorations make it a unique architectural beauty.
Opposite the New College you can find the building of the former Synagogue built in Moorish Romantic style.
The Big Church, a dominant building on the main square, took rather long to build – from 1774 to 1806 – as its tower was destroyed by fire and earthquake. The church is the biggest Zopf-style cathedral in the Great Plain; its bell weighs 2400 kg. The tower is 74 m tall with 94 steps leading up to the top.
FAMOUS PRODUCT OF THE TOWN
Apricot brandy of Kecskemét
What Whisky is for the Scots or Cognac for the French, is apricot brandy (barackpálinka) for Kecskemét: a spirit known and deservedly popular in other parts of the world, too.
The Southern Great Plain tourism region is the part of Hungary richest in sunshine. Thanks to its abundance of ever-renewing hot springs, the region is a paradise for people longing for recreation and healing.
The thermal water in Kecskemét was declared as medicinal water in 1987; it contains alkaline hydrogen carbonate, chloride, iodide and fluoride. It has beneficial effects on locomotor disorders, gynaecological problems as well as sports injuries. Uniquely in the country, the water can be used, thanks to its high iodide and fluoride content, for the treatment of Bechterew’s disease, too.
The swimming pool operating all the year round, the three thermal pools of various temperatures and the experience bath and slide-park inaugurated in May 2003 (and operating from May to September) are located at the same site.
The learners’ swimming pool of the Reformed New College inaugurated in 2004 offers guests looking for sports activities a 25m pool with heated water (30 C) and a baby-friendly environment.
REGULAR PROGRAMMES IN KECSKEMÉT
Kecskemét Summer Festival - July
Kodály Arts Festival – July & August
Hírös Hét (Famous Week) Festival - August
Kecskemét Harvest Festival - September
Kecskemét Folk Music Days - September
The Rut of Deer in Császártöltés - September
Visit to Kecskemét Cartoon Studio
Horsemen’s show in Bugacpuszta – guaranteed programmes for individual guests
Factory visit to the Zwack Fruit Brandy Distillery
"The gems of Art Nouveau" – a visit to Kecskemét Town Hall and its Assembly Hall
Hiking in Kiskunság National Park
A day in the Puszta plain – a Hungarian goulash party
Hot air balloon ride
Kodály Zoltán Institute of Music Pedagogy
Kodály Zoltán Institute of Music Pedagogy is housed in the building of the former Franciscan monastery in Kéttemplomköz Street, the old shopping street of Kecskemét, accommodating an exhibition featuring the life and career of Zoltán Kodály ( 1882 - 1967 ), the famous Kecskemét-born composer and music pedagogue. The institute founded in 1975 offers theoretical and practical education about Kodály’s music pedagogical concept.
Kecskemét awaits tourists with a wide range of museums and unique collections among which everyone can find some matching their interest.
Katona József Museum
Cifrapalota – Kecskemét Art Gallery
Katona József Memorial House
International Ceramics Studio
Collection of the International Enamel Art Workshop
Museum of Hungarian Photography
Museum of Hungarian Naive Artists
Medical and Pharmaceutical History Museum
Szórakaténusz Toy Museum and Workshop
Fáklyás Cellar Wine Museum – wine tasting, wine shows, lectures
Folk Industrial Art Collection
Leskowsky Musical Instrument Collection Public Foundation
House of Science and Technology
Town Hall General Assembly Room, Kossuth tér 1
Zwack Fruit Brandy Distillery and Exhibition
Kecskemét “KK” Narrow Gauge Railway Station and Rail Vehicle Museum
Ciróka Puppet Theatre
Katona József Theatre
HISTORY OF THE TOWN
Kecskemét is considered to be one of the most remarkable examples for urban development in Hungary. Although similar to other towns in the Great Plain in its major aspects, the development of Kecskemét is different in several respects. During feudalism, the settlement holding the rank of ‘town’ for almost six and a half centuries had significant rights and freedoms as a borough and a reginal, later seigniorial estate, which ensured a development opportunity free of feudal restrictions. During the Turkish reign, the town survived thanks to its special legal status; later it was the animal husbandry in the Puszta and cattle trade that formed the basis of development. The town having got rid of feudal dependence, there was a major change in its agriculture and it was its role in vine and fruit production and the introduction of garden farms that made it different from other towns. The diligence in turning the bare shifting sand into “golden sand”, expertise, openness towards the new, receptivity, adaptivity and an incredibly strong will to live were the key factors that genuinely made Kecskemét into a town.
The peoples who settled in the area and neighbourhood of the town can be traced back to the polished Stone Age. In the 1st century B.C., there were Sarmatians and Germanics living in the area and, as archaeological evidence proves, they were followed by Avarians who withstood the storms of the Migration Period for centuries. Before the settlement of the Hungarians, Bulgarian-Slavic peoples settled here for shorter or longer periods.
In the early Árpád-age, the Northern part of the Kiskunság plain was a royal estate and Kecskemét itself was a part of the queen’s estate. Thanks to its location along the North-South trade route and its market town and toll collection functions, Kecskemét soon excelled from among the neighbouring settlements.
The 16th century was the age when reformation spread in Kecskemét, too. First the teachings of Luther and then of Calvin were adopted. The size and organisation of the Protestant community soon enabled them to establish their own church. In 1564, the devotees of the old and the new religions made an agreement on their use of the church as well as on peaceful coexistence. Their tolerance was for a long time exemplary even at the national level. It was in this era that Psalm 55 was translated, to later rise to world fame in the composition of Kecskemét’s famous citizen Zoltán Kodály, under the title Psalmus Hungaricus.
After the defeat of the battle at Mohács in 1526, Kecskemét became part of the Turkish Empire, but its special legal status saved it from the unscrupulous exploitation by the Turkish lords. From 1565 on, it had special privileges as a Sultan’s estate and its inhabitants had relative independence compared those of the neighbouring villages. However, in addition to the heavy taxes, tolls and gifts expected by the Turks under various legal titles, the town also had to pay tax to the county and to the feudal lords living further away. Yet, despite all the hardship and burden, Kecskemét was one of the most significant towns in the region between the Danube and Tisza rivers in the years of the Turkish reign. Inhabitants from the neighbouring villages sought refuge from the Turkish and Mongolian attacks and exploitation between the walls of Kecskemét in mass numbers. The territories of abandoned and ruined villages were used by Kecskemét in return for low rents paid to the Hungarian and Turkish lords.
“An Island in the Great Plain” is how Ferenc Erdei spoke of Kecskemét in the 1930’s, while the town, leaving the burdens of the years of war, the short and contradictory period of the Republic of Councils and the years of retaliation behind, struggled to find its place among Hungarian cities and towns in the country’s new situation, as well as a way out of the crisis which Kecskemét, too, had suffered. The way out, according to the leaders of the town, was in making wine-, fruit- and vegetable production more intensive. The horticulture in Kecskemét raised nationwide attention. When the festival Hírös Hetek (Famous Weeks) was organised for the first time in 1934, its major goals were to boost the economy and tourism. It was the writer Zsigmond Móricz who first drew attention to the event. The writer László Németh, who came into closer contact with Kecskemét from the 30’s, said: “When I spread the concept of “Kertmagyarország” (Garden Hungary) in Hungarian thinking, what I actually meant was modelling the whole country upon Kecskemét.”
Between the two world wars Kecskemét called itself the Town of Fruit and Children and made great efforts to become a significant academic centre. They spent remarkably high amounts on school-related expenditure. Kecskemét was a prominent participant also in the school construction programme of Minister of Culture Kuno Klebelsberg. In those years, cultural life in the town rose to a standard in several fields that surpassed the hopes of the local patriots. Musical life in Kecskemét and the town’s library and museum raised the appreciation of the most renowned experts. From the printing houses operating in the town, Részvény had an outstanding standard and an advanced intellectual spirit. The most prominent representatives of Hungarian literature of the time, including László Németh, Lőrinc Szabó, Zsigmond Móricz, Gyula Illyés, Lajos Kassák, had their works published here.
By the end of the 1970’s, the transformed structure of the economy, the new role in public administration and the new constructions and facilities broke the framework of the traditional borough. This brought about a spectacular change especially in the townscape, while the town leaders made efforts to broaden the central role of Kecskemét in the fields of culture and science primarily. Through this they tried to compensate for infrastructural problems and the fact that the industry and agriculture were heading towards a crisis by the second half of the 80’s.
The political change opened up opportunities for enterprises of all sorts and brought about the revival of citizenship, which, in turn, gave new energy for the development of the town.