Želiezovce. A Small Town with a Big Story

Želiezovce is located in the east of the Danubian Hills (Podunajská pahorkatina), on the right bank of the river Hron. Even though it is a smaller, or rather, a small town based on the population, Želiezovce is great based on its history.

At the end of the 19th century, it became the home of the noble family Esterházy, thanks to whom now famous historic figures such as Franz Schubert or the Sacher family came to Želiezovce. Let me invite you to a short trip into the past. I believe that Želiezovce will excite you at least half as much as it excited me. And it excited me greatly.

The history of Želiezovce and its surroundings is documented by the Town Museum and Franz Schubert Memorial Room in Želiezovce. It is there where I started my visit.

The Museum

The museum is located in the so-called Owl Castle. It is a classicistic building built in 1822 only 125 metres away from the Esterházy manor house. It was named after the image of an owl – a symbol of wisdom – on the front façade of the building – which is still visible today.

The reason for its construction was the return of Franz Schubert, who was invited in 1824 the second time already by Ján Karol Esterházy to teach his daughters Mária and Karolína to play the piano. Unlike during his first visit in 1818, it was no longer appropriate for a young man, who Franz Schubert was at the time, to live under a single roof with young adolescent ladies.

Franz Schubert spent 4 months in a room on the top floor in the Owl Castle. It’s here where the memorial room is located. It looks as if the sad young artist just left for a little while for the nearby park. His correspondence and personal items were preserved as mementoes of his artistically fruitful life.

The today’s museum building offers one more rarity. In the underground, there was a kitchen in which Franz Sacher worked between 1842 and 1843. He was invited by Ján Karol Esterházy’s widow, countess Rozina Esterházy de Galantha.

Does the name Sacher sound familiar? Franz Sacher was the head chef of the Esterházy family and his son Eduard, who was born in Želiezovce, later became the author of the famous Sachertorte cake. After the end of his service for the Esterházy family, he bought a hotel in Vienna, named it, of course, Hotel Sacher – and the rest is history.

In the museum, visitors can admire a wide range of exhibits from the Neolithic age through the times of the Roman Empire, the Second World War as well as more recent past. The exhibits also include examples of Želiezovce culture, the collections of typical Neolithic shards and ceramics.

The Esterházy Family Manor House

The manor house was built in 1720 and its original purpose was to be the summer residence of the family – which it was. The baroque building was rebuilt in the 19th century in the classicistic style. The manor house is surrounded by a beautiful park with a stream, there are precious old and massive trees including sycamores, oaks and bald cypresses.

Even though the manor house calls for reconstruction, it is neither forgotten nor neglected. Sadly, the passing of time and weather are currently winning over the funds. Nonetheless, the manor house is an impressive building. The genius loci is almost tangible and with a bit of imagination, it is no problem to imagine how beautiful it was in its time.

There are benches in the park in front of the manor house and on the wall, there is a shelter and something like a stage. The thing is that the manor house is a venue for various cultural events even today, the most famous of which is the summer Schubertiad, which is an opportunity for young musicians playing serious music to show their skill. The organizer of the Schubertiad is the  and culture patron Mr. Pavel Polka, who willingly accompanied us during our visit of Želiezovce.

St. Jacob’s Church

If you are in Želiezovce, don’t miss out the visit of St. Jacob’s Church. Maybe you will tell yourself that you have already seen many churches. Maybe you have. However, I personally don’t know any with such fascinating history.

In 1350, Želiezovce was under the administration of the main district governor of Tekov, who was also the castle manager of the Levice Castle, Imrich Becsei. His middle son George was the favourite of the Hungarian king Louis I of Anjou. In 1348, he travelled with the king as a member of his closest royal guard to southern Italy to avenge the vile murder of his brother Louis. During this adventurous campaign, he gained huge wealth, not exactly in an honest fashion.

After the return from the Naples military campaign, he transported the stolen loot to Budín under the king’s protection without problems. However, he considered the transportation to Želiezovce too risky. As a hiding place for the transportation, he therefore used a stolen roman sarcophagus from a Roman burial site.

 The transportation of the gold was successful. However, after some time, under the weight of burdensome memories he came to the need of honest repentance. He therefore initiated and richly funded the building of the Želiezovce gothic church, in which he also placed the sarcophagus. Apart from that, he also decided to go on a pilgrimage of repentance through the whole of Europe. He first came to the Spanish town Santiago de Compostela to the worshipped remains of St. Jacob (hence the church’s name). However, not even after the pilgrimage could his soul find peace, so he travelled to Ireland as well, where, during a religious ritual as he descended into St. Patrick’s cave, he died.”

 After various military troubles, during which the church was repeatedly destroyed and renewed, it was finally repaired by the Esterházy family. It was then when this sarcophagus was found in the underground. It has served as the base of the altar to this day.

Esterházy Family Tomb

No life is eternal and the Esterházy family’s final resting place is a mausoleum with twelve tombs. The individual tombs are marked with boards of red marble.

Eleven members of house Esterházy dream their eternal dream in the tomb. The twelfth family member, Ernestína Esterházy, is buried abroad, where she had emigrated. Ján Karol Esterházy de Galantha, too, rests in Galanta. However, since Želiezovce was a matter of the heart for him, his heart is placed in the tomb next to his wife Rozina.

A Farewell to Želiezovce

 I somewhat lost the sense of time in Želiezovce. I didn’t want to leave the beautiful story, I didn’t want to say farewell to the Esterházy family, to Schubert and to the Sachers. The hours spent in the manor house, in the tomb and the church, however, took their toll in the form of hunger. My first aid was a Sachertorte in a local cake shop.

If you’d also like to go on a trip to Želiezovce, group visits of the museum must be arranged by phone or email at least three working days in advance. The general opening hours are otherwise daily from 10AM to 5PM.

Museum in Želiezovce