Festetics Castle – Keszthecey, Hungary
Keszthely (Hung. Keszthely), a city in southwestern Hungary, is the capital of Lake Balaton. We spent a few days at the resort of Heviz, from which Keszthely was only 10 minutes away by car. There are a lot of attractions in the town. The main one is the homestead of the ancient Hungarian family of Festetich. There is a curious detail. Some people call the residence of Festetics – a castle, others – a palace (Festetics kastely, Festetics Palace).
Keszthely castle-palace bell, collection of Irina Lapina
This landmark doesn’t really look like a castle to me, as there are no fortress walls, gates with bars or a moat with water. It’s more like a palace, especially since its creator took inspiration from the sumptuous Versailles. But, like Versailles, which at first was a hunting castle, and then became a palace, so the estate of the Festetics turned from a small family castle into a palace. In general, it is a castle-palace.
We are at the main entrance. Quite representative gate.
Beautiful openwork lattice.
The castle-palace Festetics is grandiose and most beautiful architectural creation of XVIII century. It was created in the image and likeness of the French mansions in the Baroque style, and is notable for the luxurious decorations of the internal premises and an impressive external appearance.
The Festetics were a noble and rich family that came to Hungary from Croatia, hence the surname with a characteristic ending. The representatives of the family were famous in different fields: among them were experienced landowners, sensitive to progressive trends, brave warriors, they were also famous patrons of the arts, education and literature.
Thanks to the Festetics, the first grammar school, the first agricultural school in Europe, a hospital and pharmacies were built in Keszthely. The first medicinal baths on Lake Heviz, which later developed into a famous spa.
The main building is surrounded by a beautiful park with fountains, sculptures and flower beds.
We went to the ticket office, and at the entrance we were greeted by a hospitable smiling girl. Except that she put on a beautiful ball gown on a sports T-shirt. Girls change, but the dress is the same? Or was the cleavage embarrassing?
There were different tickets for sale. If you have time, buy them all. Limited in time – then only to the palace and the Carriage Museum.
The beautiful lanterns invited you to the palace. How romantic it must be here when it gets dark.
Up the stairs with tracery, as if made of lace, railing, we went to the second floor.
Elegant drawing rooms, ceremonial halls, quiet offices. Beautiful antique furniture and family portraits. Luxury and refined taste.
One thing was frustrating. It is difficult to take good pictures when there are other visitors beside you, when there is no opportunity to find a more advantageous position, when there is glare, when the light is not good. I tried to take as many pictures as I could. It would be many years before I could be transported back to this enchanting place.
The Festetics family was one of the most noble in Hungary. The family, which had its roots in Croatia, moved to the Hungarian kingdom in the 17th century. In 1730, Krisztof Festetich acquired the Keszthely estate and decided to make it the center of his possessions. The manor house and the palace were built under him.
This may or may not be his portrait, I’m not sure.
There is one more ceremonial portrait of a woman to be remembered. This is Lady Mary Victoria Douglas-Hamilton (1850-1922). It is a very interesting biography in which the history of many noble European families is intertwined. Maria Victoria was a Scottish aristocrat. Thanks to her maternal grandmother Stephanie Bogarne, she was a fourth cousin of Emperor Napoleon III, a cousin of the Queen of Saxony, the Queen of Portugal, the King of Romania, the mother of the King of Belgium and so on.
In 1869 she married the Crown Prince of the Principality of Monaco, Albert I Grimaldi, and gave birth to her only son Louis, later Prince Louis II. In 1880 her marriage was dissolved, and she found herself with her son in Austria-Hungary, where she married Count Tassilo Festetich von Toln (1850-1933).
During her 40 years of marriage to Count Tassilo, Lady Maria guided the expansion and improvement of her husband’s estates. A great friend of Mary’s was her brother William, the 12th Duke of Hamilton, who in turn was a great friend of the heir to the British throne. The Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII of Great Britain, visited Keszthely twice in 1885 and 1888. In 1911 Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary granted Tassilo the title of prince.
I wanted to document everything, and it was possible to take pictures (for a fee, of course). There were massive fireplaces, magnificently decorated, paintings in gilded frames, sumptuous furniture, and household items.
The lacquered cabinet I wanted to look at endlessly. Such an ornate painting. And decorative gilt plates in the form of caryatids made it even more luxurious.
A blue cozy living room with portraits of young women.
Candlesticks with antique female figures reinforced the impression that this was a women’s parlor, The ladies must have had tea parties here.
And looking at this photograph, it was hard to tell what attracted more attention: the sculpture of a rider on horseback, the marvelous woodwork, or the luxurious Chinese vases on the sides.
Surprisingly, the furniture differed in style and design, but the overall harmony was unbroken.
The Festetics had five vases of Meissen porcelain decorated with outlandish birds and fruits. They were made in a very difficult and labor-intensive technique, the porcelain, as if it were corroded with hundreds of honeycomb cavities. It is difficult even to imagine how to clean such a vase. I remember two such vases, the second one I found in the library.
In that green living room I wanted to sit down at a table and have a cup of tea. In rooms like this I always get a sense of the presence of the owners of this beauty. The lovely ladies and gallant men seem to have gone into the next room. Perhaps the bouquet of flowers was “to blame” for everything. They seemed to be alive. Or did I think I felt their fragrance?
An antique piano. Music evenings are still played on it.
The fabulous crystal chandeliers and sconces with burning candles reflected in the mirrors.
Quite impressive men’s clothes, decorated with silver embroidery and trimmed with fur.
And, of course, a bell! I assume it’s the famous Herend brand, the porcelain favored by kings.
The library made the biggest impression on me. The only surviving in its original form private aristocratic book collection in Hungary is preserved here. More than 80 thousand volumes! Many rarities – among them the first printed books. Or, for example, autographed sheet music by Joseph Haydn.
The mezzanine railing is decorated with crossed branches. Wonderful work of cabinetmakers.
Thanks to György Festetich, the palace library was enriched with 35,000 books!
Another Meissen vase.
The “feminine beauty” – marble sculptures and busts – fits perfectly into the interior of the library.
Some magical picture on the spread of the book. It feels like a secret door will open and I’ll find myself in the Looking Glass and go to this cute little town with red tiled roofs on the road with other travelers.
Books for Kids. Curious about what kids were reading at the time.
The magnificent clock refers us to the history of ancient Rome. A painting from the Louvre by David Jacques Louis, “The Oath of Horace,” comes to mind.
O my sons, swear this day to me To serve the Roman people So destined; Whether Horatio’s race shall become glorious, Or sink in silence In obscurity, or perhaps in dishonour, To be decided here, now, in this place Oath to me!
I swear it! Victory or death! To cut down the enemy with a sword given by you As only I can, I swear by the armor of battle For my kind, for Rome, I’m not afraid to die But slavery to Rome and dishonor – I’m afraid For glory to fight fair and brave I swear!
Poem by Andrew Schwalbe, 2011
One of the display cases caught my particular attention. I noticed the name Shevchenko underneath the photo. Later, I learned a very dramatic story.
It turned out that a Soviet officer, Major Illya Illarionovich Shevchenko, played a major role in the preservation of the palace library. When the Red Army, which was liberating Hungary, entered Keszthely, the palace was not destroyed. Major Shevchenko was the first to see the huge collection of books and was able to speak to the keeper of the palace in French. He said he feared for the library, the loss of which would be a tragedy for Hungarian culture. The major quickly found a cunning solution: the windows and doors of the library were bricked up. Outside, they wrote in two languages (Russian and Hungarian) that there was a chemical contamination zone. No one dared to get inside, the books were saved.
The continuation of the library is a study with bookcases. Behind the display case glass is a gorgeous man’s suit.
I want to digress, as I am partial to vintage books. Everyone knows that the first books were written by hand. The material used was parchment – calf or goatskin. Paper was invented in China long ago, but came to Europe not at once. Ink was made of alder or oak bark with the addition of resin and honey… Each scribe had his own recipe and each cooked the ink in his own way. They wrote with bird’s feathers. That’s why we needed pens sharpeners and special inkpots (I remember my first class and my hands in purple ink). We also needed blotters! And binders! One could write a whole treatise on the subject. Pages were fastened with plaques, the cover was covered with leather or velvet, and decorated with metal details and precious stones. Often the books had a special clasp so it could be closed.
How many years these books are standing, and their spines still shine with gilt.
And another thing that struck me – I saw the bookmarks! These books were not just standing on the shelves – these books were being read! I wanted to hold at least one of them in my hands.
Here it is – the uniform of a Hungarian aristocrat! And at once you can imagine the hussars.
In this hall there are luxurious chandeliers, which sparkle in the sunlight or in electric light, and crystal pendants. They are repeatedly reflected in the mirrors in gilt frames. There are golden stucco in baroque style on the snow-white ceilings and walls, light delicate petals of ornament, console tables near the mirrors, decorated with candlesticks and rich clocks. The floor is paved with an expensive rug.
Famous singers and musicians perform here. It is said that Imre Kálmán’s music is most often heard here. It’s a great place to perform arias from his operettas!
The New Year’s Eve celebrations are held here with great brilliance.
And several rooms in the palace are devoted to displaying the entire family history of the Festetics: names, photographs, and documents.
The last member of the Festetics family to live in the palace was Tassilo II’s son George III, who died in 1941. His wife the Polish Countess and their son George IV left the palace in 1944.
Prince George IV Festetich will be 80 years old in 2020. In 2015, he visited his native palace.
The same gate near which the prince was photographed.
We were lucky with the weather. Bright sunshine, blue skies. And a white palace.
The central part of the palace – the bell tower above the gate – is decorated with sculptures of reared horses. I remember Anichkov Bridge in St. Petersburg.
In the park we met a fountain. It was guarded by two stern lions.
A bit more history.
The castle was laid in Kryštof Festetić time in 1745 on the ruins of the family manor Gersei Petho. The construction lasted more than a century. According to the original plan, the residence of Hungarian aristocrats had “only” thirty-four rooms. The large and majestic building we see today is the creation of the Viennese architect Viktor Rumpelmaer. His efforts in the period from 1883 to 1887 in the castle were carried out large works. The result was a spacious complex in the form of a horseshoe with a hundred and one rooms.
We were on our way to the Carriage Museum.
Irina Lapina, Montreal, 2019 Photo by Irina Lapina, Keszthely, August 2019