Rising above the bend in the Danube, on Esztergom Castle Hill, stands one of the largest and thickest masonry basilicas in Europe, known to most of us as the Esztergom Basilica. The distance from the floor to the top of the cross at the top of the dome is 100 metres, making it the tallest building in our country, but to understand its historical and ecclesiastical significance, it is worth visiting all four levels.
Seven churches have been built on the Castle Hill since the Middle Ages, and the history of two of those are more closely related to the basilica we know today. One is the Cathedral of St. Adalbert, which was ruined during the Turkish occupation and is mentioned in written sources dating back to 1010, and the site of which is perhaps the closest to the present basilica. The other chapel, the Bakócz Chapel, built in the 16th century, survived the Ottoman period intact, and was dismantled in the early 19th century into 1600 pieces to be built into the basilica as a side chapel. Today this chapel is the only intact Renaissance monument in our country.
But that's not the only reason why this institution, built from 1822 for nearly fifty years, is so special. Few people know the fact for example, that the Esztergom Basilica has the thickest wall structure in the country. So if you go down to the Ancient Egyptian-style lower temple, you should do so knowing that the hundreds of tomb chambers are surrounded by 17-metre-thick walls.
And if you continue your way up one level, you will find the largest single canvas painting in the world (13.5 metres high and 6.6 metres wide), painted by Michelangelo Grigoletti on the main altar, entitled The Assumption of Mary.
On the next level is the Treasury of the Cathedral, where, in addition to the liturgical instruments of the past, the oath cross used in coronation ceremonies is kept. And in the Panorama Room, which can be accessed from the Treasury and the Dome Observatory as well, – you can see an exhibition on the history of the basilica's construction, as well as a new exhibition with several digital elements on the ongoing renovation and the 176-year-old time capsule. If after all that you're just craving a cup of black coffee, you can sip it in the café with a panoramic view of the Danube.
Did you know?
During the last phase of the construction of the basilica, on 19 August, 1845, a time capsule was placed on the highest point of the building. The hermetically sealed copper cylinder was lifted out of the apex cross by archaeologists in the spring of 2021, and its contents can now be seen by the visitors in the Panorama Room.