Galanta, Slovakia is my hometown. Every time I had to answer questions about where I came from, I always said: “Galanta is a small town, it’s not the nicest, there’s not much to see.” Safe to say, my views have changed and so has my answer. Now I proudly call it my home and talk about its rich history everywhere I go. Why, you may ask. Well, let me try to explain.
Once upon a time in Galanta, there was a park.
The park was popular and beautiful because people went there to hang out in the shadows on a hot day. Hidden behind the trees, there was an old castle but no one gave it much attention because it was abandoned; basically a ruin with piles of bricks everywhere. It was a hotspot for vandals and thieves, who took and destroyed every single remainder of the past. Only the elderly, who remembered “the olden days,” and a handful of chosen ones knew about its historical significance. But there was nothing they could do about it because the property belonged to the state. As you might be aware, this problem didn’t only concern Slovakia and its historical places; it involved all the countries that belonged to the Soviet bloc.
After the war, when the Socialist regime began to spread across Europe, many buildings of historical significance were given a new role; no more were they used for their original purposes as museums, galleries, or long-term residences of old families. The majority of them became properties of the state and served as offices or political seats. When they stopped serving their newfound use, they were left to decay. That was the case with the Neo-gothic castle in Galanta and I am sure you can think about numerous other examples, even in Leipzig.
After 1920, the castle belonged to the state and was home to numerous offices for almost 60 years.
Later, the district museum became the administrator of the premises and when there was no use for the building, it fell victim to nature and vandalism. In 1993 the town finally became the owner and the name Esterházy was talked about once again.
The house of Esterházy de Galantha
The aristocratic house of Esterházy de Galantha was a very important family during the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, especially from a political point of view. Many family members served in the parliament; they were given important titles and became responsible for different parts of the Hungarian Empire, together with other important names such as Pálfy, Thurzo, even Bathory. At the end of the 17th century, the family split into numerous branches and settled in Hungary, Austria, later Germany, and some even moved to the United States.
The castle wasn’t built on a whim during the Romantic period; it already stood on the foundations of an earlier fortress built by the Esterházy family during the later middle ages. It was surrounded by water and proved to be resistant to Ottoman raids for years. In the 18th century, the castle was rebuilt in baroque style and after almost 100 years the castle was reconstructed again in the Neo-gothic style, inspired by famous castles such as the Windsor Castle in England.
The castle today
And now, fast-forward to 2012 when a civic association for saving the Neo-gothic castle in Galanta was founded. The association is lead by Zsolt Takáč, a member of the Town Council.
Thanks to Mr. Takáč and his friends and colleagues, the name Esterházy and our beautiful castle are coming to life again.
They were able to repair the roof and further preserve the building to stop the decay, reconstructed some of the important parts of the castle, and what is more, they were able to rebuild a long-lost balcony that was bombarded during the war.
Although there were several sponsors, who were able to help with some of the reconstruction works, the majority of the money that funds the restoration comes from numerous cultural events that are organised in the park and in the courtyard of the castle. Mr. Takáč and his wife opened a café and winery located in the already restored wing of the castle, which not only boosts local tourism but also pays tribute to the Esterházy family.
Walking into the café is like time-traveling: there is a bit of history waiting for you with every step you take, from original paintings to historical artifacts borrowed from and given by some of the last remaining members of the noble family.
The Takáčs are the only ones (except the family members) who are given the right to use the name and the official coat of arms for commercial purposes. And let me tell you, they deserve it, for all the work they are doing to keep local history alive.
Mr. Takáč lives and breathes history and is always willing to guide you through the castle and talk about its history and significance. This September, our beloved LeipGlo team member Ana and her husband visited me in Galanta, and Mr. Takáč was nice enough to give us the coolest “tour de castle.” He explained everything in English, gave us a historical run-down, and even talked briefly about future plans for the café as well as castle renovations. We were even allowed to explore a part of the interior by ourselves! Cool, isn’t it?!
I am sure you understand why I changed my mind about my hometown now. It’s full of history, kept alive by people who really care. I just hope the same fate awaits all the other beautiful buildings and places that stand forgotten and frozen in time.