The heritage of the Festetics Family
Updated: Sep 22
Balaton is Hungary's largest lake. It attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year who take advantage of the good weather and come here to bathe, sunbathe and cruise. However, there is a special place at Lake Balaton where one can learn about the history of the region and this time we are going to travel back in time and discover its story.
A long line of cars hinders the progress towards our destination as this road leads to one of the many thermal and spa resorts in Hungary. It's Saturday morning, but the traffic is more like a Monday morning rush hour. As we move slowly on the road, we see the townlet bustling, cars come and go at the gas station and the mechanic, the shops are full of buyers and woodwork and pottery are waiting for their new owners. The sun is shining, and the budding trees and the chirping birds create a pleasant atmosphere. Not long ago, wagons, horse-drawn carriages and carts filled these streets and the whole city was owned by one family.
Our journey leads to the home of this family, to the Festetics Castle in Keszthely. The Festetics were a rich family who beautified and enriched their home over the centuries. They contributed largely to the development of the city, establishing and supporting pharmacies, hospitals and schools. The World War caused much damage throughout Europe, but the Festetics Castle had partially escaped the looting and the dilapidation. The castle was recently renovated, and the purpose of our journey is to learn about the lifestyle and the heritage of the Festetics family.
Getting out of the traffic jam we arrive at the Festetics Castle. As we enter the castle garden, we see a tall, asymmetric building. Our visit begins at the Main Staircase where we go upstairs on a red carpet. The staircase is well-lit with baroque lanterns; thus, the sophisticated picture frame-like wall designs are well visible. Our first stop is in the Kristof room where the full-body high relief statue of Kristof Festetics is greeting the visitors.
Festetics Kristof, landlord of Somogy County and member of the Parliament contributed throughout his life to the development of Keszthely and he was the one who started building the Festetics Castle. The room houses an exhibition of paintings featuring buffaloes and horses. These paintings testify of the life of Kristof, who loved nature and animals and was the first to use buffaloes to clean the drainage channel of the Lake Hévíz.
The ornate György Corridor reflects the style of the 18th and 19th centuries. The ceiling is covered with stucco, the fireplaces are made of marble, while the walls between the windows are decorated with paintings of Hubert Robert, a French classicist. This hall was used as a corridor connecting the room of the prince and the princess. Nowadays it is a hall with a rich historical exhibition dedicated to György Festetics, the son of László Festetics de Tolna and Princess Josefine Hohenzollern-Hechingen.
From this room we get to the Oak-wood staircase where the picture-gallery of the Festetics family is exhibited. The Festetics family is of Croatian origin who moved to Hungary in the 17th century. II. Mátyás gave them noble title and Maria Theresa count title. This title was to be inherited by all male descendants of the family. With the titles, their political and military services, the Festetics family gained great wealth. Pál Festetics had 30 copy-hold estates, a total of 11976 copy-hold acres, 753 serfs, 646 cottars and 158 houseless. Pál Festetics, György and II. Tassilo contributed significantly to the enrichment of the castle.
The Green Room, the Tassilo Room and the Red Salon takes us further through the history of the Festetics family.
While the Green Room served as the hallway of the Prince's Suite, the Tassilo Room was a salon, later dedicated to the memory of II. Tassilo Festetics, the first Hungarian noblemen given the title of prince.
On the wall hangs the painting of Tassilo II. The Red Salon tells us about the personality of II. Tassilo´s wife, Lady Mary Hamilton, a Scottish princess who loved the classicist decoration. The salon overlooking Lake Balaton with wall woodwork, ceiling stucco, marble fireplace, mahogany and maple floors testify of an exquisite taste. On the wall hangs the portrait of Mary Hamilton and on the ceiling the coat of arms of the Festetics family.
Tassilo and Lady Mary loved each other and lived in a happy marriage for 40 years. Lady Mary died in 1922. Her husband had a mausoleum built in her memory on the shores of Lake Balaton. After his death Tassilo was buried in the mausoleum together with his beloved wife.
From the Red Salon we get to the Helikon library, where the oak furniture stores 86,000 books collected by the Festetics family for two centuries.
Currently, it is Hungary's largest whole preserved aristocratic library.
Its survival was due to the Russian commander who, at the time of the occupation of Keszthely during the II World War, was the first to see the library and appreciating its historical and cultural significance, decided to wall it up and hide it from looters.
Beyond the working room is the Oratorio, looking down to the little Chapel where the alabaster statue of St. Sofia is placed behind the altar.
Leaving the chapel, we get to the tiny suites: the Maria Theresa salon (the princess' suite), the Blue Salon (the princess´ toilet room), the Corner Room (the princess' office). The White Salon was the great women's salon where the princess welcomed her guests.
The White Room is the last room open for visitors, but our visit does not end here. The renovated Victorian Castle Park offers a pleasant walk to the Palm House and the coach exhibition. The Coach Museum was once a barn and housed the staff upstairs. There are more than 50 carriages and sleighs on display from 18th and 19th century.
In addition to the castle, there is a Hunting Exhibition meant to display the trophy collection of more than 200 species owned by the Festetics family. Unfortunately, this collection disappeared during and after the Second World War. It was replaced instead with the unique collections of Ferenc József Windisch-Grätz, Baron György Dózsa, Zsigmond Széchenyi and Kálmán Kittenberger. The animals are exhibited in their natural habitat.
At the top level of the museum we can see one of Europe's largest historic model railroad exhibitions. The 2.7 km long rail network transmits 75 different passenger and freight trains across Hungary, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. 1800 miniature buildings decorate the railway stations, the towns and the villages. The exhibition is a great experience for both young and adults.
The World War changed the life of the city. The family lost its wealth, the castle became the property of the state. Currently, the Festetics family lives in Austria and the castle is open to anyone who wants to learn about the history of the family, the history of the town of Keszthely and its surroundings.