Hungarian culture is extremely unique, and stands out from the surrounding countries, while also borrowing from them. Ancient Hungarian folk customs are primarily Asian in its origins, with lots of influences from the surrounding region, drawing from centuries of coexistence, primarily from Slavic and Central European traditions of the area. But the underlying, ancient, nomadic roots are well defined in Hungarian folk traditions, motifs, music and dance, lending it an unmistakable flavor that sets it apart from any other folk traditions. It is a world of its own. If you want to have a deeper understanding of what makes Hungarians tick, a good, thorough look at their folk customs is essential. And nowhere are these traditions more colorfully and thoroughly portrayed, in all of their majesty, than at the Skanzen in Szentendre.
What is the Skanzen and why should I visit it?
A Skanzen is a replica of a village from a given time period, with artifacts and model rooms that reflect how life was at the time the Skanzen is trying to recreate. It is an outdoor ethnographic museum, which seeks to recreate scenes of everyday life from a time period, or through various ages. Usually, the exhibits are about the life of rural communities of bygone years, with a strong emphasis on the culture, folk customs, traditions and objects used in everyday life. The term “Skanzen” means village museum, and is meant to document the everyday lives of villagers, providing a look at history that is relatable and can help understand the things we encounter in our everyday lives.
If you seek to understand Hungarian folk customs, and the psychology of the Hungarian people, a visit to the Skanzen is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Just as with any historical research, the past can give us insights into the present; plus, this museum is super fun! It features exhibits from 8 different regions of Hungary, and provides timeless insights into what makes these cultures unique, how they have adapted to their surroundings, and the rich Hungarian folklore that they bring into our nation.
Where is the Hungarian Skanzen Museum located?
You can find Skanzen near the beautiful town of Szentendre, one of the most special areas in and around Budapest. Szentendre is located on a peninsula just past the Northern Border of the Buda side, and is an area that is dominated by water, and even has an island, Szentendrei sziget. The town has become a tourist paradise, and a very successful enterprise has grown among the cobbled streets and narrow passages, focusing on rural tourism, and having excellent high quality Hungarian folk products for sale. Farmers markets, artisan food stalls and restaurants, along with traditional Hungarian folk dress and tools line the streets, and a promenade goes all around the peninsula. Szentendre has many excellent hiking and biking opportunities, and there are swamps and natural reserves that are simply breathtaking. The riverside town also has many museums and historical monuments, including the one of a kind and rightfully famous Skanzen. There are a number of famous Baroque churches, including a very old Orthodox church. Szentendre is, and always has been one of the hotbeds of Hungarian culture and art, and so many galleries, housing the works of obscure and well known artists, have set up shop in the town, most notably around “Fő tér”, the town’s main square. Great meals, local artistry and a chance to understand folk customs a little bit better are what await those who take the half hour or so HÉV ride from Batthyány Square, so if this sounds like something you are interested in, we highly recommend visiting Szentendre.
What do you do in a Skanzen?
The Skanzen or Village Museum is a bit different from other museums, and so, some of our readers may feel deterred from going, simply because they aren’t sure what to do there or how one goes about the business of looking at an outdoor ethnographic museum. Don’t worry. We got you covered.
This museum is outdoors, so prepare for plenty of walking about, looking at the different households and other exhibits. Aside from the 8 permanent exhibits, which are a series of houses and work stations, there are temporary exhibits, just as with any other museum. These exhibits deal with a wide variety of topics, spanning numerous intervals of time, and we recommend checking out their website to see what current displays you may be interested in. There are several themed, guided tours of the Skanzen, which is also a great idea, especially if you are new to Hungarian culture. These will show you certain sides of Hungarian folk traditions, music, dance and culture, in digestible, easy to understand bites.
The Skanzen has been open since 1967, and has amassed a huge amount of content. It can be a daunting task to go through all of it at once, but the different exhibits can be viewed independently of each other, so there is no rush. You can always come back to see more.
As mentioned earlier, the Skanzen is divided into 8 large exhibits, each showing the imprint of a village of a given region. Take the Northern Hungarian village, for example. The exhibit has 26 buildings that you can go into, and is interesting both historically and geographically. Some of this area is now in Slovakia, and this has been a region that has historically always been multi-ethnic, and yet, the folk traditions of the villages differ very slightly, and is dominated by regional picanteries, that manifest across the shifting borders of nations, languages and states.
The best time to go
The Szentendre Skanzen is open from spring to late autumn, March to November. This is an open air museum, where a considerable amount of time is spent outdoors, walking about, so it is closed for the winter. They are also closed every Monday, but are open during the weekend, everyday, until 5 pm. The best time to visit this extraordinary place is during the summer, as that is when the most special, temporary exhibits are open. The last open day is the feast of St. Martin, a traditional Hungarian folk celebration, when they eat goose and goose liver, and try the new wines that have just been harvested. This falls on November 9-10, and is a splendid opportunity to see the Skanzen, one last time, in all of its glory, for a very special occasion.