As the UNESCO comments:
Hollokö is an outstanding example of a deliberately preserved traditional settlement. This village, which developed mainly during the 17th and 18th centuries, is a living example of rural life before the agricultural revolution of the 20th century.
First and foremost, I’d like to emphasize that this village is not an open-air museum but a real, authentic village where people still live according to Palóc traditions. In this post, I’ll first of all introduce to you the history and culture of Hollókő and why it was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987 as the first village in the world to have received such a tittle. Secondly, I’ll focus on the Hollókő Easter Festival, which is not only the first event organized in the spring but also the most famous festival of the year. I was lucky to have been invited to attend and though it was raining heavily in the morning, I LOVED the people and their hospitality. As for the third part, if you can not make it to the Easter Festival or any other events, I’ll recommend some sites or attractions that you can visit in the village such as the Hollókő Castle, Handicraft Printer, Palóc Doll Museum, Weaving House, Post Museum and so on. Although I can say that there are things to do in the village all the year round, I really recommend you celebrating Easter together with the locals because it really left me a deep impression. I’ll talk in detail about it in the second chapter. Now let’s see why such a small village is protected by the UNESCO and what outstanding universal value it possesses.
1. Hollokö as a World Heritage site
Hollókő is a Palóc ethnographic village in Hungary and its name means “Raven-stone” in Hungarian. Why this name? You will understand it when I talk about the legend of the castle in Chapter 3. The village is located in Nógrád county, approximately 90 kilometres northeast from Budapest and surrounded by low peaks, it lies in a valley of the Cserhát Mountains. The Old Village, which has been deliberately preserved, is a living example of rural life before the agricultural revolution of the 20th century. The rural architectural ensemble consists of 55 residential buildings, farm buildings and the church and the surrounding landscape and natural environment are characterized by strip farming, orchards, vineyards, meadows and woods. You will have a marvelous view of the surroundings when you are on the tower of the Hollókő Castle. Talking about the castle, it is also included in the property and I’m sure you will see it easily while wandering around in the village. Mentioned as early as 1310, it served as protection for the village whose ruins can be found a bit away from its walls. Please note, this village is not the village that we see today in the valley.
At the end of the Ottoman occupation (1683), the castle and the village next to it were abandoned and the current village began to establish. It developed gradually throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. According to Palóc custom, the first generation of the inhabitants settled on the two sides of the main street and the subsequent generations built their houses at the back of their family plots, thus progressively enlarging the area. The barns were built apart from the village, on the edges of the fields. As I learnt from the official website of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, in 1782, Hollókő was still a simple one-street village. Later, a second street developed to the east of the main street. A plan from 1885 shows that the topography of the area of that time is similar to the one of the present day because the amount of cultivated land had reached its maximum by the mid-19th century and the village could grow no further. In 1960, some limited growth started again but now it’s strictly controlled.
In fact, the village was periodically destroyed by fire partially because the inhabitants never followed a 1783 decree which forbade the use of wood for building as it was considered to be highly inflammable. The last of these fires dates back 1909, after which the houses were rebuilt mostly using the original and traditional techniques of Palóc rural architecture.
Now, let’s take a look at the traditional Palóc architecture in this village. As you can see from the four pictures above, the houses are rather similar and even the Catholic church is a modification of this domestic architectural style. With a wooden tower and shingled roof, the church dates back to 1889. Around it we can find half-timbered houses on a stone base with roughcast, white-washed walls. Almost all of them are constructed with verandas on the street side, which are roofed platforms along the outside of the house leveling with the ground floor, wooden balustrades and hipped roofs, which are roofs with sharp edge or edges from the ridge to the eaves where the two sides meet. Today, these houses are mostly handicraft workshops, museums, exhibition houses and shops and the majority of the community lives in the new village while protecting and taking care of the old one and safeguarding and presenting their traditions. As I said at the beginning of this post, this is not a “dead” village museum because community and religious activities are still held here. In chapter 2 I’ll tell you in detail about the biggest festival and in chapter 3 I’ll introduce to you the museums and exhibition houses.
Thanks to the deliberate preservation of this traditional settlement and its traditions, we are able to witness and even experience not only the culture of the Palóc subgroup within Hungary but also the traditional forms of rural life in the whole of central Europe which were largely abolished due to the agricultural revolution in the 20th century. The old village of Hollókő and its surroundings including the residential blocks, the farmed land, the wider landscape, the natural environment and the castle ruins are protected and chosen to be a World Heritage site based on one of the ten Selection Criteria, which is Criterion (v): to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
In the next chapter, I’ll focus on the excellent Hollókő Easter Festival based on what I read from the official website of the village, of the event and of course based on my own experience. I’m sure you’ll be motivated to join it next year.
2. Hollókő Easter Festival
To be honest, I was quite frustrated when I first arrived at the village because the weather was really horrible. It was rainy, windy and much colder than Budapest. I was even doubting whether it’s worth coming here or not. However, from the opening dance on the main stage to the concerts in the cafe, to the group dance in the courtyard, these amazing local people did bring a lot of warmth, happiness, excitement and festive spirit and atmosphere to not only me and the other visitors but also the entire village and the castle. It was them who made the village lively and dynamic. I still remember when the opening dance was about to begin, almost all the performers were trembling because of the cold rain and wind and yet they finished it perfectly and won the applause from the audience immediately. What surprised me was that the enthusiasm of the audience was super high as well. Even though it was raining, there was a huge crowd and some of them were not even holding umbrellas. Can you see the little boy standing in the middle in the second picture above? I remember clearly that the wind blew off his hat in the middle of the dance and for five or ten seconds, he was just standing there, holding his hat and looking shocked. I guess that was not part of the rehearsal (haha). When I was listening to the casual concerts in the cafe, during the break, the man who was playing the clarinet came to me and picked up my scarf which fell off the chair. I wanted to take a picture with a girl who was in the traditional costume but I was hesitant because she was eating. After noticing me and my intention, she dropped her fork and came to me. I said “thank you thank you” and she kept smiling and saying “not at all not at all”. I really fell in love with the people here. Such a lovely boy, such a harmonious community. All of them make the village so real, so honest and so authentic.
Though Hollókő is just a small village with a population of around 380 people, its rich traditions and culture have been preserved and handed over from generation to generation. What are the most attractive aspects of its Easter Festival? I would say Palóc food and drinks (gastronomy), traditional folk music and dance, Easter arts and crafts, and the absolute highlight, locsolkodás. What is it? You will understand instantly when I show you the pictures later.
In 2018, the Hollókő Easter Festival was a four-day event (30th March – 2nd April) and I attended it on Sunday. As I read from the official website of this festival, on which you can check various programs on the main stage, in the old village or in the castle, the events on Saturday were organized in the spirit of gastronomy. As a big food lover, it was a pity that I missed it. I heard that Easter Ham was prepared on this day and delicacies from not only the village but also the Palóc land were presented. Afterwards, a concert by Lajkó Félix, an internationally well-known violinist, was also held. On Sunday and Monday, after the morning Easter Mass, the whole area including the old village, the main stage and the castle was livened up by processions, folk music and dancers dressed up in traditional folk costumes. Be careful, if you pass by some people with buckets in their hands, you will very likely be sprayed. It’s part of the tradition and don’t worry, if you look like a tourist, you will just be touched by a few drops. (This is one of the few times that I feel the advantage of being a tourist :).)
If you plan to celebrate Easter in the village in the following years or simply visit the village, here are some tips that I’d like to give to you. First of all, the transportation. I read online some people are complaining that Hollókő is not easily accessible but I have to say I don’t agree with this statement. I’m not sure about driving here but if you plan to take public transport from Budapest, you don’t even need to transfer. From Autóbuszállomás Budapest Stadionok (Budapest Stadionok long-distance bus station), Bus 2114 takes you to the entrance of the village directly (which takes around 2 hours). The schedule is available on Google Maps and tickets can be bought from the driver directly. During the Easter Festival, one universal ticket, which costs 3,500 HUF (about 11.3 euros) allows you to participate in the events and visit the museums, exhibition houses, and the castle. Parking is also included if you decide to drive here by yourself. If you are visiting Hollókő when no festivals are being celebrated, I read somewhere that you can also purchase a combined ticket to visit the museums, the castle and the exhibitions venues. It costs 3,500 HUF (about 11.3 euros) as well if I remember it correctly. Now, let me show you what happened during the 2018 Easter Festival in Hollókő.
Locsolkodás, which mean sprinkling in English, is in my opinion the absolute highlight of Hollókő Easter Festival. It is one of the village’s most famous traditions and involves men splashing women with well water in a ritual which has its roots in pagan beliefs connecting water and fertility. In return, women would offer men with painted eggs or a cup of pálinka, one of Hungary’s national drinks. This tradition is enjoyed across Hungary and even across central and part of eastern Europe but it’s at its best in Hollókő. Though this custom has been modernized in most places, where people use perfume instead of water, in Hollókő, it’s still celebrated in the authentic way! From 10:00 in the morning onwards, men with buckets of water can be seen soaking women throughout the village.
The six pictures above recorded the time when I was so close to a woman being splashed. How did it feel? Well, I can only say I felt so lucky that I am a man and just a tourist. This happened after a group dance and the “lucky” girl was chosen randomly, or maybe she was chosen because she was the slowest runner. As you can see in the first picture above, it was obviously thrilling for her as well as for the observers. I guess she felt scared, worried and at the same time excited while the audience were full of expectation. On such a cold rainy day I had thought the men would just sprinkle some drops of water on the women but it turned out they did respect the traditional way. When I sent my friend the photo, she asked me “What’s happening? It looks disturbing…” To be honest, I also felt a bit uncomfortable when I saw her soaked in water but her smile by the end assured me that everything was ok. I was so afraid that she was gonna cry and splash water on everyone lol. Again, such lovely and brave people. I just couldn’t love them enough.
2.2 Traditional folk music and dance
Besides the Locsolkodás, I think the festival is featured with music and dance. A number of musical performances by traditional folk artists can be enjoyed on the main stage, in the cafe, in the castle or simply in the courtyard of one of the residential houses. The entire village was filled with the sound of music and festivity during my visit. If you ask me which concert or dance performance I enjoyed the most, I would say the one in the yard as you can see in the 3rd, 4th and 5th pictures above. It was for me very casual and welcoming because you could sit next to the locals or to the musicians in the porch or join the folk dancers for a dance. In fact, if you are shy, you don’t need to join them by yourself because these friendly people will “drag” you in with their warm hearts. Is it difficult to learn their dance? Was it embarrassing? Well, you are not expected to dance perfectly or learn their dances of higher levels so I would say just enjoy yourself. All you need to do is to move along with them and your steps should match the speed and rhythm of the music. Even the kids were enjoying it, so just “squeeze in” and feel the tradition. By the way, I really enjoyed their music though I had no idea what they were singing about.
2.3 Easter arts and crafts
One of the most popular traditions in Hungary is egg painting and during Hollókő Easter Festival, you can test your own skills. I have tried dying eggs with different materials such as onion skin, tree leaves and various flowers forming the patterns but as for actually painting an egg, I’m not sure I’m up for the task. By taking a look at some of the amazingly painted eggs in the shops, I just can’t believe that they are actually decorated by hand. Besides the painted eggs, you will find a lot more handicrafts in various shops such as wooden kitchenware, embroideries and so on.
Talking about arts and crafts, I’d like to say a bit more about the traditional costumes of Hollókő. They are not only keenly worn by the elderly during various festivals but also used by young people at family events and weddings. As I learnt from Holloko.hu, on these special occasions, a man wears tight black pants and boots, a fine linen shirt, a ribbon around his waist and a round hat on this head but as for a woman, the dressing is much more complicated as she will wear numerous decorated skirts. In old times, on weekdays she would wear only two but at festivals she would wear seven or eight underskirts under the beautiful silk or cashmere skirt. On top of the skirts, she would usually wear a small but richly decorated apron. On top, she would wear a lace bodice and a shoulder scarf with decorative tassels and at the bottom, she would wear lacquered boots on her feet. Girls used to wear ribbons in their ponytails while women used to wear fringed headscarves on their beaded bonnets. Rather difficult to imagine what they look like right? As you can see from the pictures above, during the festival, all the local residents were dressed in the traditional way and I felt I was traveling back in history. It was embarrassing to stare at them but the skirts were so beautiful that I could hardly look away. The colors are so bright and energetic while the decorations are so detailed and elegant. I heard that you can actually try them on by yourself but I didn’t find the opportunity. I guess I would look rather funny in them.
2.4 Palóc gastronomy
The reason why I put Palóc food and drinks in the last section of this chapter is not I didn’t enjoy it or there was nothing special. The events about gastronomy were held on the Saturday before Easter and unfortunately I missed it. Here is what I learnt from theculturetrip.com and hollow.hu. As I mentioned above, a range of traditional Hungarian delicacies can be enjoyed at the village’s gastronomic events on the Saturday before Easter. The highlight is the Easter Ham, which is smoked and preserved for months before being offered to the guests. Some other local products such as homemade jam, baked goods, honey and more can be found in a food market. The village’s cheese house will also open its door to those who are interested in learning about the traditional way of making cheese. Some of the traditional dishes include Palóc soup, strapachka (potato dumplings served with sheep cheese and fried bacon), tócsni (which is similar to the Swiss dish rösti), kenyérlángos baked in a furnace and homemade pies such as curd pie and milk pie, all of which are prepared using authentic and centuries-old recipes passed down from one generation to another. It would be such an amazing and unforgettable experience to have a meal at a Palóc family.
During my visit, there were a lot of visitors and of course, all the restaurants in the old village were so full during lunch time. First, two strudels with poppy seeds and a cup of coffee in the cafe saved my life as I was starving. I’m not sure whether the strudels are part of the Palóc traditional food or not but they are surely popular in Hungary, Germany and Austria. As I was about to leave, I got hungry again and this time a bowl of soup and a cup of mulled wine save me. I’m 80% sure that the soup is Palóc soup as I could taste meat, potatoes, carrots and parsley and I really loved it. It tasted quite similar to goulash soup though. (I hope what I said is not offensive to the Palóc people.) As for the mulled wine, for several years, I’ve had it in the Christmas markets in Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Czech Republic and this was the first time that it appeared to be not red. As you can see from the picture above, it looked like apple juice. I would say it tasted exactly like the mulled wine I had before so I guess the same or at least similar spices had been used. As for the color, maybe rose wine or some local wine was used? Anyway, it warmed me up and helped me sleep on my way back to Budapest (as I’m very sensitive to alcohol).
Above is my experience of and what I learnt about the Hollókő Easter Festival. In general, I loved the festive spirit and atmosphere and of course the amazing people. If I have the opportunity to visit it again, I’d love to know more about its gastronomic traditions. Though I strongly recommend you visiting the village during Easter, it doesn’t mean you’ll have nothing to do or there’s nothing to see when no event is happening. In the next chapter, I’ll introduce to you some of the top attractions in and around the village and let’s start with the Hollókő Castle, the former safeguard of the region.
3. Attractions in and around the village
3.1 Hollókő Castle
- from the middle of March to the end of October: every day from 10:00 to 17:30
- adult: 900 HUF (around 2.9 euros)
- student and senior: 600 HUF (around 1.9 euros)
There are in general two ways to reach the castle, one of which starts from the entrance to the village while the other one starts from the end of the village. The former is a bit longer but more smooth while the latter is shorter but a bit steeper. If you walk to the castle on a sunny or cloudy day I would recommend the route starting from the end of the village because it won’t take too much of your time or effort. However, if you walk to the castle on a rainy day, please remember to take the route starting from the entrance to the village as the other route will be slippery, muddy and quite difficult to walk on. How do I know? Because I experienced it. During some sections, I even felt I was walking in a shallow river… At that point, I understood what NATURAL environment meant…
Do you remember at the beginning of this post I mentioned that Hollókő means “Raven-stone” in Hungarian? The name is connected to the legend of this castle. It is said that once upon a time, a lord named Andras, a member of the famous Kacsics family, lived here. He kidnapped a neighbouring lord’s beautiful girl and imprisoned her in one of the cells of the castle, which was being built at that time. Unfortunately, the girl’s nanny was a witch. She made a deal with the devil and his sons, in the form of ravens, came here every night to steal the stones one after another. Finally, the lord released the girl and the “ravens” stopped interrupting the construction of the castle.
Throughout centuries, the castle switched lords on several occasions. After the Treaty of Szatmár, which was concluded at Szatmár (present day Satu Mare, Romania) in 1711 between the House of Habsburg emperor Charles VI, the Hungarian estates and the Kuruc rebels, the castle was destroyed. After 30 years of partial reconstruction and renovation, it reopened its door to the public in 1996. Inside, you can visit a wax exhibition presenting the first lord of the castle and his family, a stone collection demonstrating the plan of the castle at different stages, an armory exhibiting weapons from the 11th to the 16th centuries, a chapel, and several rooms imitating the bedroom, living room and kitchen of ancient times.
During the Easter Festival, there was supposed to be various activities and performances in and around the castle such as Medieval life and fair outside the Castle, try on medieval clothes and play games, performance of cavaliers, Medieval music and so on but due to the bad weather, it was even difficult to climb up the tower, let alone performing or playing music. However, I have to mention again how dedicated these lovely people were because though it was rainy and windy, they still climbed up to the top of the tower and dressed like cavaliers, just in case there would be tourists asking to take a photo with them.
Last but not least, the ultimate reward of climbing the tower is the panoramic view of the village as well as of the hills of Cserhát. To be honest, during my visit, it was cloudy and rather misty because of the rain but I believe if you come here on a sunny day, you can see pretty far. As I mentioned above, not only the old village but also the surrounding landscape and natural environment are protected. If you are interested in the flora and fauna in this mountain range, please click here for more information.
Now let’s move back to the village and visit the museums and exhibition houses related to its folklore. For me, they are more than museums or venues for exhibitions because by visiting them, I got the opportunity to see the original interior of some of the residential buildings and workshops. In fact, certain buildings (not the museums or shops I guess) are still used by the local residents according to their traditional use.
3.2 Printing Museum
- from the middle of March to the end of October: every day from 10:00 to 17:00
- adult: 200 HUF (around 0.6 euros)
- student and senior: 100 HUF (around 0.3 euros)
In this museum, visitors can easily get acquainted with the life and work of a pressman of the 19th century. You can try out different tools, some of which were invented by Johannes Gutenberg. Particularly worth trying is the 200-year-old Gutenberg metal printing press, which can still be used for printing different souvenirs of Hollokö (as you can see in the first picture in the gallery above). The exhibition consists of not only a few printing presses but also small-sized books, lithographic stones, carved wooden posters and so on. If you are interested, please click here for more information.
3.3 Post Museum
- from 1st April to the end of October: every day except Mondays from 10:00 to 20:00
- adult: 500 HUF (around 1.6 euros)
- student and senior: 250 HUF (around 0.8 euros)
The exhibition held in this museum is called “the Post of the Palóc Region” and in two rooms, you will see the development of this ethnic group’s postal network. The majority of the exhibits are post records connected to the Palóc people such as post cards, stamps, bank notes and so on, most of which show particular Palóc landscapes and traditions. Don’t forget, you can obtain an info sheet in English from the ticket desk and you can read more about the postal history of the Palóc land in northeast Hungary, the people of the Palóc land, Endre Horváth, portrayer of the Palóc land, and fee-paid symbols used by the post office prior to the introduction of stamps.
3.4 Village Museum
- from 1st April to the end of October: every day from 10:00 to 18:00
- from 1st of November to 31st of March: every day from 10:00 to 16:00
- adult: 250 HUF (around 0.8 euros)
- student and senior: 100 HUF (around 0.3 euros)
If you still remember, I mentioned before that the village was periodically destroyed by fire partially because the inhabitants never followed a 1783 decree which forbade the use of wood for building as it was considered to be highly inflammable. The last of these fires was in 1909. Afterwards, the houses of the old village were reconstructed keeping their original settlement structure. The permanent exhibition here is the work of experts from the Palóc Museum of Balassagyarmat, and it portrays the home of a middle class family composed of a young married couple, a grandparent and a child. As you can see from the 3rd and 4th pictures in the gallery above, there were logs burning in the stone stove, which was used for both heating and cooking.
3.5 Palóc Doll Museum
- from the middle of March to the end of October: every day from 10:00 to 17:00
- adult: 350 HUF (around 1.1 euros)
- student and senior: 150 HUF (around 0.5 euros)
Please note, this museum is located in the cellar of a house between the lower well and the path leading to the castle. In it you will find more than 200 dolls wearing different colourful folk costumes of the Palóc region. If you are not in time for the Easter Festival, this could be a very good opportunity for you to take a look at and learn about the traditional costumes of Hollókő. If you look at them closely, you will realize how exquisite these costumes are. By the way, I want to say that there is English translation for the names of the dolls but they are simply “woman in dress, woman with a scarf, man in costume, man with a hat etc.” The translation did make me laugh a bit because of its “simplicity”.
3.6 The former weaving house
This house hosts an exhibition called “From Hemp Seed to Linen”, which as its name suggests, demonstrates to the visitors how hemp seeds are processed through various stages to become linen, a textile valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather. In one of the rooms, you can see works by Fehér Jánosné (as you can see in the last picture above), who used traditional materials, tailoring techniques and patterns to make the Palóc identity recognizable on the costumes.
Besides the museums, there are also some exhibition houses with free admission and shops where you can buy some souvenirs for your family and friends. During my day in the village, I learnt one Hungarian word “Nyitva“, which means “Open” in English (as you can see in the picture above). If you see this word, there’s probably a museum, an exhibition house or a shop nearby and it is open.
I sincerely recommend you visiting the village during the Easter Festival or when some other events are happening but if you can’t make it, you might as well simply visit some of the sites that I have introduced in chapter 3. First and foremost, I loved the local people and the festive spirit in the village. Thanks to all the generations who made great efforts to deliberately preserve the village and its traditions and to present them to us, to the entire world, I wish that the community would keep their innocence, goodness and hospitality and their particular culture would live on so that our future generations could have the chance to experience it.