Vajdahunyad Castle was rebuilt for The Museum and Library of Hungarian Agriculture, founded 125 years ago

Hungarian version of the article: A 125 éve alapított Mezőgazdasági Múzeum számára építették fel újból a Vajdahunyadvárát

Written by: H. Kinga Dabasi

July 27, 2021 at 9:00 AM

Vajdahunyad Castle, located on the former Széchenyi Island of the Városliget Lake, has been very popular since 1896. With its special appearance and unique atmosphere, it attracts tens of thousands of visitors. Walking between its walls and characteristic parts of the building, one can travel a long way in time and space from the Highlands to Transylvania, from the Romanesque to the Baroque period. And the walls hide one of Europe’s largest agricultural collections and museums, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

Already in the early 1890s, professional circles called for the establishment of an independent economic museum, which not only provides an opportunity to present the history and development of Hungarian agriculture but also introduces the latest achievements and developments to the sector.

The success of the National Millennium Exhibition held on the occasion of the millennium anniversary of the Hungarian conquest also confirmed the legitimacy of the initiative and the need for the museum. Namely, at the millennium exhibition, agricultural, forestry and hunting collections were exhibited in separate halls and pavilions, which attracted many visitors. 

The forestry and hunting pavilion at the National Millennium Exhibition (Source: Vasárnapi Ujság, 3 May 1896)

The agricultural pavilion at the 1896 millennium exhibition, photographed by György Klösz (Source: Fortepan/Budapest Archives, No.: HU.BFL.XV.19.d.1.09.103)

From the beginning, Ignác Darányi, the former Minister of Agriculture, supported the idea that "the agricultural production and development of the country should be presented in a permanent and modern museum". In his description sent to the Hungarian Economic Association on 20 June 1896, the Minister officially confirms the plan to establish the museum. Thus, legally, this can be considered the “founding document” of today’s Museum of Hungarian Agriculture.

The Minister also defined the tasks of the state-run collection: 

 “The aim and vocation of the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture are to present all that is of interest and importance to Hungarian agriculture, from which the Hungarian agricultural, horticultural or vine-farmer can learn reliable, practical lessons and from which both domestic and foreign industrialists, consumers and traders get to know the products of Hungarian agriculture most directly and honestly.”

The 125 years old description also states that "the best opportunity to acquire future museum objects is to provide the objects exhibited in the agricultural part of the millennium exhibition for the indicated purpose”.

The statue of Ignác Darányi - the work of Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl - was erected in 1931 in the courtyard of the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture. Made in 1935 (Source: Fortepan/No.: 19996) 

Although the millennial exhibition closed on 31 October 1896, the Main Historical Group, i.e., today's Vajdahunyad Castle - the work of architect Ignác Alpár - was so popular that the members of the Hungarian Economic Association initiated: the home of the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture should be in the complex of buildings to be demolished. The capital handed over the entire group of buildings to the museum and renovations began.  

The original statue of Ignác Darányi was damaged and demolished in World War II. The new statue of the former Minister of Agriculture was inaugurated in 2017, the re-cast work was made by sculptor Sándor Györfi (Photo: pestbuda.hu) 

As already indicated, according to the description of Minister Darányi, the museum used the material collected for the millennium agricultural exhibition, but they also started to collect it further. They asked the “agricultural audience” to contribute to the enrichment of the collection with their voluntary donations. The Minister called on the bodies and institutes belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture to hand over objects and documents suitable for museum illustration. As a result of the call, the museum already had a collection of more than 12,000 pieces at the end of 1896.

Letter from Minister Ignác Darányi to Árpád Balás, the first director of the museum, asking him to increase the collection of the institution from the agricultural material of the millennium exhibition (Photo: pestbuda.hu)

Founded 125 years ago, the museum finally opened on 12 September 1897, and already on the day of its opening, more than 1,600 visitors were received. Visitors were welcomed with 6 exhibitions in the Gothic part of the building, and 16 in the Renaissance wing. All branches of Hungarian agriculture, as well as the results of the food and processing industry, were presented at the exhibitions, which can be viewed free of charge. Particular attention has been paid to attracting the interest of non-professionals in agriculture. It succeeded, and the exhibitions aroused great interest: in two and a half years, nearly one hundred and seventy thousand people visited the sights.

Vajdahunyad Castle staircase with the agricultural exhibition in 1908 (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)

The operators of the museum had already proposed the construction of a “new and permanent building” because the condition of Vajdahunyad Castle was constantly deteriorating.  In the second year after its opening, it became life-threatening, and on 27 July 1899, the exhibitions had to close. The building of the former Main Historical Group was demolished in 1899.

The museum's valuable collection was transported to 72 Kerepesi (today's Rákóczi) Road, where the exhibition was reopened in a smaller area a few months later, and 18 exhibitions were waiting for visitors at the new location.

The former temporary home of the museum on Kerepesi (today Rákóczi) Road. The building was damaged and demolished during World War II (Source: Dr. Imre Takács: A Brief History of the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture, Budapest, 1967)

However, Vajdahunyad Castle became so popular that a group of artists asked for the building complex to be rebuilt. The museum profession also joined the movement. It was also supported by the Ministry of Religion and Public Education, and Minister Ignác Darányi also argued for rebuilding. Thus, in 1902, the reconstruction of Vajdahunyad Castle from now durable materials began. Ignác Alpár was again entrusted with the preparation of the plans, who prepared them in such a way that the future building complex would meet all the needs of the museum. First, the Gothic-Renaissance-Baroque group of buildings was rebuilt in 1904, and later, in 1908, the Romanian ensemble. 

After the return of the collection, the cultural institution and its exhibitions, then called the Royal Museum of Hungarian Agriculture, were opened on 9 June 1907 by Franz Joseph. 25 exhibitions were completed in the Renaissance building, and 3 in the Gothic wing. From 1908, the library and reading room in the Ják Chapel welcomed visitors.

The excellent naturalist, Ottó Herman, also took part in the design of the Hall of Ancient Occupations (Source: Vasárnapi Ujság, 16 June 1907). 

In the first decades, the institution was typically a practical demonstration and training centre where those interested could learn primarily about modern production methods and procedures. Each of the exhibitions dealt with the fields of crop production and animal husbandry, as well as important issues of mechanisation, food processing, viticulture, vinery, forestry, and meteorology.

Waterfowl and noble game were also available to the public (Source: Vasárnapi Ujság, 16 June 1907).

During World War II, the building was damaged, but several parts remained relatively intact, so “co-tenants", other organisations, were moved in after 1945. It has even been suggested that the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture be liquidated and a pioneering palace built in the building.  To this end, the distribution of collections and equipment began.

Eventually, thanks to the strong action of the new director, Ferenc S. Szabó, the museum was saved and the building was restored under the leadership of the architect Alfréd Hajós, who worked at the turn of the century in Ignác Alpár's office. The reconstruction was completed in 1959.

The famous trophy collection at the hunting exhibition (Photo: pestbuda.hu)

Since its existence for 125 years, the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture has been dedicated to preserving the values and treasures of agriculture. A valuable piece in its collection is the first steam locomotive brought to Hungary in 1852, as well as many domestic and foreign agricultural implements and machines. The world-famous trophy collection presents each wild trophy in chronological order. The museum also preserves a collection of wheat varieties that dominated the European market in the 19th century and between the two world wars. Also, noteworthy pieces are the collection of grey cattle skulls, handicraft horse tools, hunting weapons, and the artefacts of Hungarian viticulture and winemaking.

The main entrance of the museum is in the Baroque part of the building (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)

Cover photo: The Museum and Library of Hungarian Agriculture operates in Vajdahunyad Castle, City Park (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)


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