197km (122 miles) SW of Budapest
Pécs (pronounced Paych) is the largest and most beautiful city in the Mecsek Hills region. Although far from the Mediterranean sea, it has a Mediterranean feel with a generally warm and arid climate. Due to this, the hills produce some of the country's premium fruit.
Pécs is located just 32km (20 miles) from the Croatian border. Sopiane, as the Romans named it, has over 2,000 years of history still visible to speak of its past. In evidence are remnants of the Roman era which date back to around A.D. 350-400. The early Christian burial chamber dating back to the 4th century is the most noteworthy remains.
The later period of the Turkish rule and their structures are even more evident. The Turks occupied the city for over 140 years from 1543. The Inner City Parish Church is an incredibly beautiful place of worship, with an interesting history. It is located at the top of Szechenyi Square in the city center and you may not recognize it as a church, because it looks like a mosque. The Turks used the stones from St. Bartholomew's Church at the other end of the square, to build the mosque of Pasha Gazi Kassim. When the Turks were eradicated from the city in 1686, the mosque was occupied by Jesuits who restored it to a Catholic church.
It was in Pécs that the first university in the country was founded in 1367 while under the rule of King Louis the Great. While that university no longer exists, Pécs remains a university city. The current University of Pécs was founded on January 1, 2000, the merger of three institutions of higher learning: Janus Pannonius University, the Medical University of Pécs, and the Illyés Gyula Teacher Training College of Szekszárd.
Pécs continued to be a vibrant city through the 143-year Turkish occupation, in part because the greatest ruler of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman II, made this his home. The Turks introduced a new culture with baths, and decorative and drinking fountains. Some of the most important Turkish remains in Hungary are landmark reminders of this historic time in the city life, such as the Mosque of Pasha Gazi Kassim.
The first public library in the country was created here by Bishop György Klimó in 1774. Maria Theresa, empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, gave the city the rank of Free Royal City in 1780. During the 19th century, four major companies opened factories: Littke (champagne), Hamerli (gloves), Angster (organs), and later in the century, Zsolnay (porcelain).
Those who live in Pécs declare it is the best city in the country. Pécs is a growing city. The people do not exhibit the inertia you might notice on a hot summer afternoon in Great Plain towns like Kecskemét or Szeged.
Walking up Janus Pannonius utca toward Széchenyi tér, about a block up the street, you cannot help but notice a small wrought-iron fence covered with padlocks. There are even padlocks hanging from padlocks in chains. The story goes that one young couple in love placed a padlock there as a token of their love. Others followed and now the fence is at risk from toppling under the weight. Someone started the same tradition on yet another fence just a minute's walk away from the original. If you look closely at the locks, you'll see names and dates engraved on them.
In 2010, Pécs will have the moniker "European Capital of Culture," sharing the title with Essen, Germany, and Istanbul, Turkey. Other than failed plans and the firing of the executives hired to spearhead the projects, it is uncertain at this writing what actually will be accomplished to celebrate this title. It has been fraught with problems that continued through the autumn of 2009.
Drinkers be aware that the consumption of alcoholic beverages in public areas was banned in Pécs from January 1, 2009. Violators are liable for a fine of up to 30,000 Ft. Smokers don't get any breaks either. No smoking is allowed within 50m of cultural, educational, health institutions, or churches, nor at bus stops or in playgrounds.