Hungarian Art Nouveau: Kecskemét & Subotica

This continues my “too big for one post” discussion of what we might call the Hungarian Art Nouveau Belt. The region from Szeged and Kecskemét to Subotica (formerly part of Hungary, now in Serbia) is well known for having some of the best examples of Secessionist architecture. I visited Kecskemét on my last day in Szeged, and had lunch with one of my fellow Fulbrighters, Natalie, who is studying at the Kodaly Institute there. (Zoltan Kodaly was a composer and educator who developed the hugely influential Kodaly method for music education.) The most notable buildings in Kecskemet are the Cifra Palace, built in 1902 and decorated with Zsolnay ceramics (more on this to come, when I belatedly write on Pécs), and the City Hall, designed by Ödön Lechner, the architect of Szeged’s City Hall and the fabulous Applied Arts Museum building in Budapest.

I visited Subotica one very cold and rainy November day with my good friends Réka and Robi, who generously sacrificed their Sunday to take me to see the Art Nouveau. Subotica has been dubbed the City of Secession, although I’d say Szeged is another viable choice for that title. There I got a tour from my brilliant graduate student Emma (who lives there), who walked me around in the rain, pointing out some of the main architectural wonders. Afterward, we all had “Serbian burgers”  (beef & pork blend on a kind of pita bun, with toppings of your choice) at a place with a picture of Wimpy on the menu, reminding me of the old Wimpy’s hamburger joints of my childhood. I washed it down with a nice Serbian beer, Jelen (which I enjoyed on my Danube cruise). Then we had coffee and tea and a variety of lovely cakes at the beautiful Art Nouveau Cafe Ravel. On the way back we stopped at Lake Palic, a resort featuring more Art Nouveau. Aside from the rain and the two-hour wait at the border on the way back, it was one of the nicest days I had while in Hungary.

Subotica’s Secessionist architecture includes another superb synagogue, designed by architects Marcell Kumor and Deszo Jakab (who were disciples of Ödön Lechner), and built 1901-1902, when Subotica’s Jewish community was 3000 strong.  It is apparently the only synagogue in full Hungarian Art Nouveau style (and this is a design they submitted for the Szeged Synagogue); the Szeged one featuring some Art Nouveau but also other elements. They also designed the City Hall (built 1908-12). Both feature Zsolnay ceramic roofs and details, as well as Miksa Roth stained glass. Unfortunately, I was unable to go inside any of the Subotica buildings, so I have no great stained glass photos. But if you are interested in Subotica Art Nouveau, you can find much more at the same site listed in my previous post for Szeged.

Another wonderful building is the Raichl Palace, built by the architect Ferenc Raichl as his own home in 1904. It has a fabulous front facade with Zsolnay towers; the blue design, a Hungarian folk motif, is a mosaic, as you can see in the detail shot of the peak over the entrance (with the snake). The main door features a lovely wrought iron gate. The rear is plainer but beautifully graceful, with towers featuring ceramic floral details. Sadly, Raichl went bankrupt in 1908 (guess architecture wasn’t too profitable) and his beautiful mansion went on the auction block. Today it houses a gallery. Another building featuring Hungarian folk motifs is the Sonnenberg Palace, built in 1910 for tailor Salamon Sonnenberg. It has wonderful ceramic floral motifs, and a fabulous door featuring geometrics, which reminded me of the work of the Scottish Art Nouveau architect Rennie Mackintosh.

Lastly (I promise!) is the beautiful little summer resort at Lake Palić outside Subotica. The main buildings were done by Komor and Jakab in Hungarian Art Nouveau style. The Grand Terrace originally featured a restaurant as well as terraces and a stage. The Women’s Lido (bathing area and spa)  provided a secluded spot for early twentieth-century women to take in the lake waters without being seen from the shore. The water tower is spectacular, and connects to the former tram stop, together forming the entry to Palić. The buildings are mainly wood and design features here include carved flower motifs. There is a nice fountain with carved fish and duck. I’ve also included a photo of one of the private residences that I particularly liked.

So ends our epic two-part tour of the marvels of Hungarian Art Nouveau. Whew!

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