Eszterhaza

Fertod, Hungary | C.1766

Photo Credit: @saranaim

This palace in Fertod, Hungary is often called the “Hungarian Versailles”, but it is better known as Eszterhaza. Built by Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, it is considered the country’s grandest Baroque structure.

Located on swampy land along an isolated shore of the Neusiedler Sea, Eszterhaza was considered an eccentric idea by Prince Nikolaus considering its massive size and the health risks associated with the area. Nevertheless, construction began around 1765, led by architect Melchior Hefele.

The palace contains 126 rooms including an ornate banquet room with a ceiling painting of Apollo in his chariot, a library that holds nearly 22,000 books and the Sala Terrana, a grotto-like room inspired by the Italianate style popular at the time. An opera house was built in 1768 and a marionette theater years later. However, it wasn’t until a fountain was added in 1784 that Prince Nikolaus finally considered his castle complete.

Despite its distant locale, the opera house would come to be filled with the symphonic sounds of celebrated composer Joseph Haydn. An occupant of the palace for 24 years, Haydn lived in a four-room flat near the servants quarters. He wrote the majority of his symphonies for Prince Nikolaus’ orchestra and debuted his opera “Lo Speziale” in 1768.

Prince Nikolaus passed away in 1790, six years after completing his beloved palace. None of his successors wished to inherit it, so the structure stood vacant for centuries, enduring minor damage during World War II. In 1993, the World Monument Fund launched an initiative to preserve the historic structure. Today, it is a center of Hungarian culture, hosting music festival and contemporary art exhibits.

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