It is probably not sufficiently well known that the city of Pécs has been one of three European Capitals of Culture for 2010 – along with Istanbul and Essen. It is Hungary’s fifth largest city and deserves to be better known. It is now, as it nears the end of its year of European recognition, moving to establish itself more solidly as a destination under the banner of: ‘Gateway to the Balkans’. It is not equipped to be an important conference centre, but for incentives and small gatherings of people who have otherwise ‘seen it all, been everywhere’ it could be a very pleasant surprise.
Pécs (pronounced ‘paych’) nestles on the Mecsek mountains in south-west Hungary not far from the border of Croatia. Founded by the Romans in the second century, it has some of the most picturesque and extensive Roman remains in Europe. It became an early Christian settlement and some of that inheritance is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire for 150 years and remarkably for a town with a population of about 170,000, it is home to Hungary’s largest and oldest university, founded in 1367 and now boasting 34,000 students.
The city, therefore, is almost a personification of multi-culturalism. There is even a building that was a Turkish mosque and is now a Catholic church. It is for that reason that its bid to be elected a Capital of Culture had the umbrella slogan: ‘The Borderless City’. Pécs has enjoyed an increased number of visitors during 2010 and with a view to continuing this trend, a delegation of notabilities from the city, including the Mayor, Dr Zsolt Páva, and Csaba Rúzsa. Director of the Pécs ECC 2010 project, has been in London to give a presentation at the Hungarian Embassy. According to Endre Kardos, Director of the Hungarian National Tourist Office in London, an important step forward for Pécs has been the recent extension of Hungary’s M6 motorway that has reduced driving time from Budapest to about one and a half hours. ‘It is now very easily accessible from anywhere in Europe, by flying to Budapest and then taking road transport’. A brand new concert hall, able to seat up to 1,000 for a recital or for a conference, is to open in December 2010. It will be named after the Hungarian composer, Zoltan Kodaly. The main Hungarian hotel group, Danubius, which has a London office, has two hotels in Pecs – the Patria with 116 rooms and one suite and three function rooms able to seat up to 110 people and the Palatinus City Centre with 88 rooms and six suites and two function rooms able to seat up to 300.