The largest cultural building complex of Central Eastern Europe was born by the renovation of Zsolnay’s porcelain factory founded in the 19th century. Zsolnay Cultural Quarter opened in 2012 on the site of the Zsolnay Porcelain Manufactory in Pécs with an area of 5 hectares and 4 segments of exhibition area.
Zsolnay Cultural Quarter opened in 2012 on the site of the Zsolnay Porcelain Manufactory in Pécs with an area of 5 hectares and 4 segments of exhibition area. It contains nearly 30 listed buildings, huge gardens, exhibitions, playgrounds, a planetarium, a puppet theatre and many other attractions that await visitors of every age.
“Míves Negyed” (Crafts’ Quarter) includes the Street of Shops for Handmade, where a range of handmade products are sold, as well as a traditional gloves workshop and a traditional candy workshop are open to visitors too. There are several atmospheric coffee shops, wine bars and restaurants here, and once a month an artists’ market is held. “Alkotó Negyed” (Creative Quarter) is home to cultural institutions and restaurants as well as serves as a venue for festivals. “Gyermek és Családi Negyed” (Quarter for kids and families) hosts the most significant attractions of the complex, such as the Planetarium, the new Gallery of Pécs, and Bóbita Puppet Theatre.
Zsolnay Exibition - history of the family and the factory
In “Míves Negyed”, the oldest building of the whole quarter is home to a permanent exhibition on the history of Zsolnays and their factory. The factory opened in 1853 and by the early-20th century, it had reached a staff headcount of around 700, which made it the biggest of the country (The next three factories in the ranking employed less than half of it together.). The company continued to flourish until the mid-20th century, when it was nationalized. When the production of fine China was stopped in 1948, the company was managed by Tibor Mattyasovszky, great-grandson of founder Miklós Zsolnay. Renowned artists who later produced designs for the factory included Victor Vasarely, Ferenc Martyn, Amerigo Tot and Eva Zeisel. Tha company has been in the hands of the 6th generation of the Zsolnays.
Pink Zsolnay Exhibition - Barnabás Winkler Collection
Pink Zsolnay is one of the exhibitions in “Míves Negyed” with around 1,200 products for everyday use glazed in pink as part of the “pink experiments” by Vilmos Zsolnay. The “Pink Division” heavily boosted company results as the products, mainly kitchenware, sold quite well. Colour glazing began in the 1880s and in the first decades, products were made entirely by hand. As a result, there were no identical pieces among them. Items of the collection clearly show traits of use, some of them being chipped or their surface cracked. Pink glazing remained a signature feature of Zsolnay products until the late-19th century. The same building hosts the Demonstration Workshop (Látványmanufaktúra) too.
Zsolnay Látványmanufaktúra (Demonstration Workshop)
Visiting the workshop grants an insight into the making of Zsolnay porcelain. Separated by a glass wall, visitors may observe the manufacturing stage of shaping and painting products. Zsolnay ceramics are especially noted for the application of eosin glaze. The word “eos” means “flush of dawn” in Greek, probably referring to the light red iridescence of the first items. The eosin glaze was introduced in 1895 achieving enormous success in the early-20th century and has enjoyed popularity ever since. Although its origin dates back to medieval times the technique was perfected by Vilmos Zsolnay in 1895 on the basis of experiments by Univ. Prof Vince Wartha and chemist Lajos Petrik. The recipe and the know-how are still top secrets of the factory.
The demonstration begins with shaping a specific article. Next the contours of a pattern are repainted on a pre-kilned porcelain and eosin dye is applied. Then the finished article is marked with IDs for shape and pattern, the name of the artist and the logo of the factory. Finally, the porcelain gets kilned and gains its final colours.
The heyday – the Gyugyi Collection
The Gyugyi Collection is exhibited in Sikorski House (“Míves Negyed”). The Hungarian-born American engineer László Gyugyi purchased his first Zsolnay porcelain (a jug with pomegranate and tulip pattern from 1881) in 1974 and in the next decades he extended his collection nearly to 600 articles from the heyday of the factory. This period began when Zsolnay factory won the Gold Award at the Paris World’s Fair and Vilmos Zsolnay achieved the Legion of Honour award in 1878. As a result, international demand for Zsolnay porcelains rocketed. The collection is divided into three major eras: Historicism, the era of Millennium Technique and Vienna Secession. The building itself was constructed in 1877 and served as the home of Júlia Zsolnay and her husband, Tadeusz Sikorski.
The design of the mausoleum was assigned to Júlia’s husband, architect Tadeusz Sikorski by Miklós Zsolnay. The necessary construction material was made in the Zsolnay factory. Miklós’ father, Vilmos Zsolnay had already been buried in the family crypt in the local cemetery but when the new crypt was completed on Ledina Hill in 1913 his remains were reburied there. The hill itself used to be an execution site. It was purchased by Vilmos Zsolnay in 1894, who sometimes walked up there to look over his flourishing realm. The crypt is accessible on a pathway bordered by 42 pyrogranite lions. The lions refer to the 42 divine judges in ancient Egyptian mythology who assessed the dead before allowing or refusing admittance to the kingdom of Osiris, god of the dead. The mausoleum was built in neo-Romanesque style and includes a chapel and the burial chamber. The façade is covered with unglazed pyrogranite tiles. The dome has dark green majolica tile cover and inside the sky, cherubs and golden stars were painted. The chapel contains an alter with eosin glazing and an eternal flame, walls are covered with coloured tiles. The burial chamber is accessible on stairs but Vilmos Zsolnay’s sarcophagus in the middle is visible from the chapel too through a circular opening with a balustrade.
After decades of neglect and decay the building and surroundings were fully restored in 2010 on the basis of old plans and photos.
The first planetarium in Pécs opened in 1975, however, being disused it was pulled down. Constructing the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter allowed for the establishment of a new one. The digital projector installed here was the most modern model in Europe at the time.
Laboratory – Interactive Scientific Playground
The Laboratory (Gyermek és Családi Negyed) features more than 20 exciting scientific toys and games, such as a flight simulator, a plasma ball, a levitating magnetic ball that introduce children into the world of Physics.
Gallery of Pécs
Besides an exhibition hall in Széchenyi Square (Gallery of Pécs, est. in 1979) a new gallery was established in the Cultural Quarter (Gallery m21, est. in 2010) with an area of 1,000 sqm primarily for artefacts by internationally or nationally renowned contemporary artists of Pécs and Baranya County
Bóbita Puppet Theatre in the Green House
Mattyasovszky House (aka the Green House) was designed by Tadeusz Sikorski, husband of Júlia Zsolnay for the family. Construction works began in 1912 but finished only in 1930. The eclectic but harmonious design suggests medieval atmosphere with Vienna Secessionist elements, a Neo-Baroque roof covered with green glazed tiles. The building has been the home of Bóbita Puppet Theatre and Museum (est. in 1961) since 2010. The building also hosts a puppet workshop, a Storytime Snug, a cocoa bar and a playground.
“Egyetemi Negyed” (University Quarter) hosts more faculties of the University of Pécs, e.g. the Faculty of Arts.
History of the Zsolnay factory
The predecessor of the factory was founded by Miklós Zsolnay in 1852 to produce stoneware and other ceramics for the local market. He soon passed on management to his elder son, Ignác. However, due to lack of capital, he was unable to fight off competition and after 10 years the company needed to be saved from foreclosure by his brother, Vilmos. He replaced his brother as manager and led the company to worldwide recognition. By the end of the century the company had become the largest ceramics maker of Austria-Hungary. They produced kitchenware, decorative ceramic products, building materials, insulators, stove tiles and pipes. Production, however, was just a tool for Vilmos for his passionate pursuit of development and innovation. His inventions, in the field of sanitary ware and the eosin glazing technique earned international fame to the Zsolnay brand, while pyrogranite inspired a new trend in architecture at the turn of the 20th century resulting in the rise of Hungarian Secession with reputable architects like Ödön Lechner and Marcell Komor.
After decades of economic crises, world wars, revolutions and foreign occupations the factory still exists. However, it is not just a factory any more but was reborn as a cultural centre too.
At the place where the family and the employees lived and worked together, something new was created that matches the glorious past and holds the promise of a creative future too. Visitors may get to know the members of a great dynasty as creators of a gemstone of Hungarian industry and the cradle of our industrial art.
From foundation to Zsolnay Cultural Quarter
The legendary beginnings resulted from the combination of family cohesion and mere coincidence. Vilmos Zsolnay was running a store in Pécs downtown. Being a successful merchant, he could have continued his business all his life. His brother, Ignác, however, ran into financial difficulties with his pottery and Vilmos helped him out. But Ignác soon moved abroad and Vilmos was forced to take an active part in managing the company. Maybe, he did not even realize the moment when the pottery was no longer a burden but a mission to him. His creativity began to unfold and he passionately got engaged in research. He was never satisfied with his own achievements. He invited experts and artists from Europe, launched a school to train workers, he reinvested profits, took a loan, extended the factory, experimented. As a result, the company with 17 workers had reached a headcount of 700. Despite world fame and large orders, he continued to live the same life.
While experimenting with new glazes, new types of kilns and kilning techniques a magical decorative art of magical colours and shapes was born combining eastern, archaic and folk motifs. Although manufacturing luxury products was unprofitable, amazing Zsolnay artefacts in parks and castles of Europe provoked large industrial orders. This is how the colourful fairyland of Secession coexisted in symbiosis with electric and plumbing industries: dinnerware set for 60 with golden glaze designed for an Italian aristocrat and massive, frost resistant tiles from the same company.
Over the 20th and 21th century, the factory was challenged by not only nationalization and changes in ownership after privatization but a decrease in demand for decorative ceramic products due to changes in gifting habits and popular taste. The company could survive, but could not continue operation as before. Production had shrunk but alternative functions could reinvigorate the factory site. This change was facilitated by the “European Capitals of Culture Pécs 2010” project and the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter was born.