The Jewels of Hungarian Art Nouveau architecture in Subotica
The turn of the century – an expression that has become a synonim for the golden age of Subotica, an almost poetic phrase used to describe the blossoming of Kostolany’s dusty, wineful Subotica, the industrial revolution and a new era of inovation which had brought with it the spread of one of the most intricate and wondrous styles of architecture - the Hungarian folklore inspired art nouveau style - also known as secession.
Art nouveau has made Barcelona world famous mostly because of Antonin Gaudi – but in Europe, there is another city in which Gaudi’s contemporaries have created using motifs that originate in Hungarian art and tradition.
Walking through Subotica, it is nearly impossible to find a street with no Kalocsa or matyo embroidery style motifs, and you might even suddenly find yourself surrounded by thousands of hearts, like the ones that decorate the Synagogue garden. While visiting Subotica, join me on a secession themed walk to get to know more about the most beautiful art nouveau buildings, the stories behind them and their former owners and perhaps learn something new about how people used to live at the turn of the century.
Here I will point out a few buildings amongst many built in the style of secession:
- Subotica Synagogue: Did you know that this is the second largest Jewish place of worship in Europe? And the only one that is preserved in the style of secession? Can you believe that the imposing Synagogue in Subotica, built from the donations of the Jewish community in 1902, had been built in just one year? The walls of the temple are no wider than the lenght of a brick, but it is still grandiose, impressive and demands admiration. The building, restored in 2018, is rich with symbols, and once the most celebrated Hungarian artists contributed to its beauty like Marcell Komor, Dezso Jakaba and Miksa Roth, the stained glass artist.
- The City Hall: A few years after the Synagogue had finished construction, the city had already grown so large that it was the third biggest in the Kingdom of Hungary. This is why the mayor Dr. Karoly Biro decided it was time to build a city hall worthy of this important city. Without much hesitation, after the foundation was placed in the same spot where the old town hall used to be, in 1908. construction began and only two years latter a new building in the style of secession was towering over the city. 105 meters tall, with an imposing 76 meter tower, spellbinding stained glass windows full of Zsolnay ceramics, Turul birds, combinations of red, white and green with decorations that reflect life in Subotica, it is one the most beautiful and romantic buildings in the world.
- The ‘Golden Lamb’ hotel: Have you read the story ‘Lark’ by Dezso Kostolany? Can you remember the detail about the lark’s parents dinning in the same restaurant on the main promenade? Did you know that this novel is actually inspired by everyday life in Subotica and numerous characters were actual people? The characters in the story visit a restaurant that existed back then, and that is the ‘Golden Lamb’. It was built in 1857, and the several times reconstructed art nouveu look was the work of the city’s head architect, Titus Mačković.
- The Savings Bank: It is perhaps best to walk around Subotica with your head held high. Not only should you feel pride in walking through this historical city, but you might notice interesting hidden details on many of the buildings. To name some, you might notice the squirrels, hives and little owls on the Savings Bank’s façade. Secession does not only use traditional motifs but can also generously represent the utility of a particular place. Therefore, in handling money we should be tenacious as bees, frugal as a squirrel and as wise as an owl!
- Raichle Palace: Have you ever visited a house which you had to enter through heart-shaped doors? No? That’s what I thought! I will take you into the residency of the most talented architect that ever lived in this town, Franc Raichle. This building is indeed the most beautiful secessionist palace in the region, maybe even in this part of Europe. In this elite palace the architect stayed with his family for 4 years only. Murano glass, Zsolnay ceramics, red marble. Should I say more? A tobacco salon for the men, a women’s salon for socializing, a ballroom, dining room, winter garden… The city uses the building today as a Modern gallery, so to an extent we might say the wishes of the owner are fulfilled, since his last words leaving were: ‘I hope that this miracle I have created and loved serves all people’.
- The Palace of Shalamon Zonenberg: Once, in today’s Hungarian Embassy in Subotica a well-known shoemaker spent his days, unafraid to build a secessionist styled house in the neighborhood of Franc Raichle. This palace truly looks like it was transported from the animated show ‘Hungarian Folk Tales’. Gazing at it you can almost hear the doves from the opening credits, as if they are complementing and creating these intricate details from Hungarian folklore with their melodious song.
- Palić: Once a renowned spa center of the Monarchy, Palić is among the crown jewels of Hungarian secession. The first place where the prince Eugene Savojski could water his thirsty horses on his way to Wienna after battling to victory in the Senćan battle (1697) was the Palić Lake. However, after the first gulp the horses refused to drink, which Savojski angrily attributed to the ‘salty lake water’. Yes, salty, because Palić used to be full of sodium, magnesium and calcium which gave the water a strange, salty taste. At the same time, there was potential in this. During the 1800s Palić had become a well-known spa center, and at the turn of the century it was decorated with a Water tower in the shape of a peacock, parks and numerous vilas and regulated beaches for the public. Did you know that the famous diva Katalina Karady spent her summers in Palić? Take her lead, and let’s take a walk through the romantic paths of Palić
In Subotica, close to 120 buildings in the style of secession had been built. The city has many hidden treasures, like old houses with recognizable motifs from hungarian folklore. In this text I have accented the most popular ones, which are always the main attractions on these secession routes – like the synagogue and the city hall. On this themed secession route we will go on a real treasure hunt and acquaint ourselves with the buildings made in this style of architecture. We will also talk about the people who inhabited and owned them and how their everyday lives are inextricably tied to secession in Subotica, which to this day makes it a unique place on the map of Europe.