Sightseeing in Sopron
Fire Tower | Storno House | Lackner House | Fabricius House | Pharmacy House | Gambrinus House | Statue of the Holy Trinity | Goat Church and Chapter Hall | The Forum of Scarbantia | Old Synagogue | Ursula Square | Eggenberg House | Bezerédj Palace | Saint Michael's Church
Sopron well deserves its designation as the Museum Town, or the Town of Museums. The winding streets of the historic downtown, with their colourful houses, archways, bay windows, monuments, public buildings and remains of the city walls all give it a special atmosphere. Beyond the simultaneous presence of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and modern architecture, the charming provincial atmosphere of the town is undeniable. It is worth walking around the historic downtown without a guidebook first, letting our impressions overcome us, peeping into the inner courtyards of the buildings. The remains of the past that appear here and there immediately enchant the visitor. The valuable exhibitions of the museums and collections additionally offer a multi-faceted picture of the eventful past, rich culture, and vivid artistic life of Sopron. Either a longer or shorter stay both promise an enjoyable way to spend time here.
The best way to start your sightseeing tour is at the Main Square, which has a charm increased by special lights and colours.
Fire Tower (Tűztorony, Fő tér 1.)
The Fire Tower at the northern end of the Main Square is the symbol of Sopron. Its round-shaped lower part was built on the remains of the Roman age town wall, and served as the northern tower of the city from the 13th century onwards. The tower acquired its present form with its Baroque balcony and helm roof after the great fire of 1676. The tower guards had the important role of watching the area, and they signalled the position of the fire with lanterns at night and coloured flags at daytime. The double-headed eagle on the tower was a gift from King Ferdinand II and Queen Eleonora on the occasion of the parliamentary session and the queen's coronation, both held in Sopron in 1622. However, it was placed on top of the tower only after the great fire, on name day celebrations for Emperor Leopold. The foundations of the tower were damaged during the demolition of the old City Hall in 1893. To recover their stability, a wide main port was built based on the plans of Frigyes Schulek.
The Fire Tower is the city's symbol of allegiance. In a referendum held on 14 December 1921, Sopron and eight neighbouring villages expressed their wish to remain part of Hungary instead of Austria. In honour of the referendum, a neo-Baroque door frame and a statue entitled "The people of Sopron paying homage to the mythological figure of Hungaria" were erected, designed by Rezső Hikisch and Zsigmond Kisfaludy Stróbl. Climbing the spiral staircase (200 steps), a splendid view of the historic town can be enjoyed from the balcony, the former post of the guards.
Storno House (Fő tér 8.)
The Baroque corner house with its bay window is one of the most attractive buildings on the Main Square. During the 15th century, the house was the property of the Haberleiter family, who provided accommodation for King Matthias during the winter of 1482–83, when he attacked Vienna. The building became part of the Festetics domain in the 18th century, when it obtained its final shape. The Storno family purchased the building in 1872. In 1840 and 1881, the composer Franz Liszt gave two concerts here. The most remarkable parts of the house are the richly decorated bay window, the arched doorway with the Festetics family’s coat of arms between the two Tuscan half pillars, and the door knockers with their pelican motives. Sopron’s first pharmacy, the Black Elephant (Fekete Elefánt) operated in this building in the 15th century.
The first floor of the house hosts a local history exhibition. The last owners of the house, the Storno family, were ardent collectors of antiques. The second floor of the house, which was their home, is dedicated to their 19th century art and furniture collection.
Lackner House (Fő tér 7.)
The house next to the Storno House bears the name of Sopron’s talented and educated mayor, Kristóf Lackner, who lived in this house and was the first to provide for the protection of the outer quarters of the town in the 17th century. The city walls he built can still be seen along Route 84.
The façade of the house was formed during the time of Lackner. The Classicistic balcony was built later; it dates from 1830. The remains of a medieval residence are located in a courtyard built right next to the city wall. Above the doorway is an epigraph carved in stone: "Fiat voluntas tua" - "Thy will be done". Lackner did not have any descendants. In his will, he bequeathed all of his possessions to the town.
Later, the Lackner House also accommodated the military commandants of the town. This is why the house is also called the Generals’ House.
Fabricius House (Fő tér 6.)
Back in the 14th century, there were two buildings on the plot where the Fabricius House now stands; the one at the back had two floors. The present form of the house evolved in the 17th century. The Gothic hall is a wonderful piece of architecture, but the loggia in the courtyard and the Gothic and Baroque cellars of the rear building also deserve special attention. Archaeologists have also found the remains of a Roman bath in the basement.
The owners of the building have always been middle class families, rich citizens and traders. The house was named after one of the owners, Endre Fabricius, a mayor and magistrate, who purchased the house in 1806. The Fabricius family later donated the house to the Lutheran church. These days, the building hosts three exhibitions: there is a Roman lapidarium in the basement, while an archaeological exhibition entitled "Three thousand years on the Amber Road" can be seen on two floors at the back of the building. The rooms on the first and second floors of the front building feature 17th and 18th century burgher homes, by presenting the objects and furniture of the time.
Pharmacy House (Patika-ház)
This house narrowly escaped demolition in the 16th century, when the City Council planned to destroy it in order to enlarge the square (the house protrudes onto the square). King Louis II denied his approval, claiming that the demolition of the house would disrupt the architectural unity of the Main Square. This regulation dating from 1525 is the first known Hungarian official decision relating to historical protection.
During the 17th century, a chemist named Angel operated in the house, which was also home to a number of families of chemists and doctors. A famous inhabitant was Ádám Gensel (1677-1720), doctor and meteorologist, who detected the influence of weather fronts on the human body.
The house had arcades before its reconstruction in 1850, when the Gensel family enlarged it by bricking up the arcades and the corridor. Since the renovation of 1966-67, the building has served as a pharmacy museum. The exhibition is actually a 200-year-old interior of a chemist’s shop.
The building is divided from the neighbouring Gambrinus House by a narrow passageway. Beneath the grid between them, a section of the former Amber Road (a commercial route) can be seen.
Gambrinus House (Fő tér)
The house of medieval origin next to the Pharmacy House (Patika-ház) is said to be Sopron's oldest Town Hall. Sigismund of Luxembourg granted the building to the town of Sopron in 1422, and it served as a town hall until 1496. Following that period, noble families possessed the house, which bears the traces of several consecutive architectural styles: a Renaissance arch in the gothic doorway, a Rococo window decoration on the first floor, a Gothic niche in the doorway, and the remains of medieval corbels in the courtyard.
The Statue of the Holy Trinity in the middle of the Main Square in Sopron is one of the most valuable masterpieces of Hungarian Baroque sculpture. It is a votive monument offered by a surviving couple following a plague epidemic between 1695 and 1701.
Goat Church and Chapter Hall (Fő tér and Templom u.)
The Franciscan order in Sopron founded a monastery in the centre of town around 1280. They built a church - popularly known as "the goat church" - which is one of the most outstanding works of Hungarian Gothic architecture. Joseph II dissolved the Franciscan monastic order in 1787, and the church was taken over by Benedictine monks. Over the centuries, the church was the venue of coronations and numerous parliamentary sessions. Its well-proportioned, finely-crafted tower is one of the most spectacular buildings on the unrivalled Main Square. The masterpieces of fresco painters and other artists, lancet windows, and unique Capistran pulpit are of extraordinary value.
The late Baroque door of the Benedictine Monastery next to the Goat Church leads to the Chapter House. This room is one of the most beautiful works of early Gothic religious architecture. It first served as a prayer house, later as a burial chapel, and finally as a Loretto chapel. Archaeological excavations unveiled Gothic pillars, beautifully-crafted corbels, and parts of medieval frescoes. The 13th century building was reconstructed during the 14-15th centuries, and the frescoes date from that period. The masks and the figures with human heads and animal bodies hidden in the leaf ornaments of the pillars' capitals represent the seven main sins.
Beyond the architectural values of the hall, medieval stone statuary relics of the Sopron museum are also displayed here. Among the ornaments, the heraldic animal (a goat) of the chief benefactor family (the Gaissels) can also be seen on their armour.
The Forum of Scarbantia (Sopron, Új u. 1.)
The exhibition recalls life in the former Roman town. It's worth noting that the Forum in Sopron is the only one in the former Province of Pannonia which was built in the Roman style.
Old Synagogue (Sopron, Új u. 22.)
The exact date of the Jews’ settlement in Sopron is unknown, but it is certain that about 10-16 Jewish families lived in Új Street as early as the 13th century. Although the Jews of the town dealt primarily with commerce and finance, they were not particularly rich. Despite this, their Gothic synagogue built at the beginning of the 14th century is a unique piece of architecture in Eastern Europe.
The synagogue served as a house of prayer, and a place for congregations and education. Near the synagogue was a hospital providing accommodation for wanderers and a ritual bath, which is open to visitors today. A corridor from the entrance leads to the main hall, the main entrance of which dates from 1300. The two focal points of the synagogue are the ark (Aron kodesh) and the pulpit. The ark is decorated with a richly-ornamented stone frame and a tympanum, with motifs of grapes and leaves fashioned in the colours of nature. Only the foundation of the hexagonal pulpit is original, but its layout, stairs, high railings and the reader’s table (bimah), oriented to the East, follow the original design. Women had their own house of prayers, which had its own exit. They could follow the events in the main hall only through narrow window slots. Another interesting part of the museum is the ritual bath. The Jewish religion has always differentiated between clean and dirty things, so baths have typically played an outstanding role in the spiritual life of the Jews. The laws of Moses originally ordained submergence in clear running water, but here the natural water of the fountain was used for this purpose. After the expulsion of the Jews from Sopron in 1526, the synagogue gradually perished; it was later converted into private homes. The building regained its original beauty as result of research and restoration in 1967.
Ursula Square (Orsolya tér)
The square was a salt marketplace in medieval times, with slaughterhouses later operating here. In 1747, the Ursuline Order instituted a convent and school and built a church on the square. The two-storey building seen here today obtained its final form in 1860 and is the work of architect Nándor Handler. The oratory of the convent hosts the Roman Catholic Ecclesiastical Art Collection. The Romantic-neo -Gothic church of the Immaculate Conception was consecrated in August 1864 by János Simor, Bishop of Győr.
An interesting building on Ursuline Square is a house with an arcade at the corner of Új Street and Szent György Street. It is of medieval origin and slaughterhouses operated in it once. The house now hosts temporary exhibitions.
The Fountain of Mary in the middle of the square was a present of atonement by citizens to the Franciscan Order.
Eggenberg House (Szent György u.)
The eponym of the house was the widow of Prince János Eggenberg, who purchased the house in 1674. The Baroque building has a beautiful inner courtyard with loggia and a pulpit, which - with the permission of the Margrave of Brandenburg - once served as a venue for Lutheran services.
The Bezerédj Palace has foundations that date from the middle ages, and obtained its present form around 1710. It is one the most impressive Rococo buildings in Sopron.
Saint Michael's Church (Szentlélek u. 2.)
On the highest point of Sopron stands the town's oldest church, dedicated to St Michael. Originally Romanesque, it was built in the 13th century but was reconstructed in the Gothic style in the 15th century. Its current shape was achieved during a 19th-century neo-Gothic refurbishment.
The medieval origin of the lower level of the spire dominating the west facade is evident, but the porch with its archivolts, the tower's lancet windows and the round balcony of the steeple all date from the 19th century. The buttresses holding the nave are also of medieval origin.
The stone ribs in the sanctuary accentuate the neo-Gothic altar designed by the restorer Ferenc Storno. The 13th-century octagonal St James Chapel has preserved its Romanesque characteristics to this day. Another unique feature of the chapel is the figure of a dragon carved into the pediment of one of its entrances.
Inside the church, 15th-century statues have been preserved, and fragments of wall paintings from the same period have been uncovered and partly renewed. A stunning wooden Madonna carved around 1460-1470 can be admired in its original splendour.
The earliest headstones displayed in the churchyard date from the 17th century; some are in a late Renaissance style.
The church can be visited upon appointment (+36 99 508-080).
For sightseeing in Sopron, the following services are available:
Sightseeing mini train: www.sopronikisvonat.hu
Electric bus: www.electrobus.hu
Electric taxi: www.electrotaxi.hu