Székesfehérvár, which was known by the name Alba Regia in the middle ages, is one of our most ancient towns in Hungary. The town witnessed a lot of glorious events of our history over the centuries. Our kings and their relatives were crowned and buried inside the walls of this town. This was the place where the throne as well as the other symbols of the royal power were treasured, and where from faraway lands assembled for the lawful days. Walking in the centre of Székesfehérvár you can sense the unique atmosphere of the town even more nowadays. The restored ancient monuments and buildings, the street-lightning that fits the atmosphere of the town, and the stoned town square all recall the historic atmosphere of Székesfehérvár.
I. The princely dwellings
During his principality (972 - 997) Géza the Grand Duke established Székesfehérvár as his princely dwelling on the hills surrounded by swamps and therefore considered safe. His palace was fortified by ditches and ramparts, and the Byzantine-style, quatrefoil church, which was one of the first Hungarian stone built churches and later served as his resting-place. The ground plan of the church is marked by differently coloured paving stones in the square in front of today's episcopal cathedral.
II. The town of St Stephen
The name Alba Civitas was first mentioned in the bishopric diploma of Veszprém in 1009. During the reign of King St Stephen (1001 -1038) it was a populous and extended settlement, surrounded by palings and walls built of soil. The significant role of the settlement also appeared in King Stephen's state organising work. It was him who had the provostship and the basilica in it built up, who established the illustrious capitular school - where the fundamental knowledge was taught on a level, which was up to the European standard - and founded the seven free trades. King Stephen's basilica was one of the most monumental buildings in Europe at that time; a real technical miracle. The basilica was the most significant place of the mediaeval Hungarian State throughout five centuries. There, in the cathedral stood the throne, was kept the crown, the symbols of the royal power as well as the treasury and archives of the state. It was the venue of forty-six diets, and on each lawful day thousands and thousands of people crowded under the mighty arches.
III. The glorious centuries, the golden age of Alba Regia
The pilgrimage routes to the Holly Land as well as the important trade routes leading through it and the royal markets held weekly contributed to the development of the town. The suburbs got attached to the centre in the 12th century. This was the time of great building operations in Székesfehérvár. The monks settling in the city as well as the inhabitants enriched Alba Regia by building pompous churches, monasteries, and dwelling houses. The construction of Saint Peter's cathedral - next to Saint Peter's church, built under the principality of Géza - was started in the 13th century. King Béla IV was crowned in this cathedral. The city was fenced with walls in the 14th century. The change in the social and administrative system decreased the political significance of Alba Regia to some extent, but the royal coronations and funerals were still held in Alba Regia even after the Árpád dynasty had died out (1301). The Turks occupied the strategically important town in 1543 and kept it under their rule for 145 years. During the days of Turkish rule the pompous buildings of Istolni Belgrád - Turkish name of Alba Regia - were rebuilt into dzsámis, and mosques, and the graves of the royal basilica were completely despoiled. The basilica itself was used as a gunpowder house and burnt down to the ground by a thunderbolt.
IV. The Baroque centuries
The rule of the Turkish crescent ceased in 1688. At the same time when renovating and rebuilding works were still in process the town had to carry on a fight against the Austrians to get back its privileges and rights. The imperial commissioner wielded the actual power over Székesfehérvár until 1703 when the city gained back its former title as a free royal city again. After the Turkish rule German and Moravian settlers increased the number of inhabitants. However, the Turkish war and the Rákóczi's War of Independence hindered the economic growth. In the 1720s major construction were started: first the Franciscans then the Carmelites built churches, and under the rule of Maria Theresa there were Baroque-, rococo-, and so called copf-style town-houses built, which gave new atmosphere to the town. The aspect that characterises the appearance of the downtown today was formed within a hundred years, from 1740 to 1840. The town establishing work of that period was toped off by building the copf-style pontifical palace in 1780. Some neo-classic style building, e.g. the County Hall - one of the first Hungarian county halls - designed by Mihály Pollack completed the appearance of the town in the 19th century. The expanding town pulled down most of the surrounding walls, dried up the swamps, thus made it possible to expand South- and Northwards. The population increased to 12 thousand, craftsmen and traders came to the town, and by the end of the 1800's there were more than 500 masters of 64 crafts working in the city. This era was the period of cultural prosperity: the first Hungarian and German primary school opened its gates, the education was started at the Jesuits' secondary school, and our town was the first to embrace the cause of the Hungarian theatrical art. In the 1930's Székesfehérvár got into the centre of attention again by spreading the idea of "St Stephen's Hungary". As a result numerous new establishments advanced the town: new streets and roads were built, the construction of the Mediaeval Park of Ruins was started furthermore the works of the period's famous sculptors were set up mostly at that time. The industrial development of the town also started at that time and many big industrial enterprises began the production. Because of its strategic location, Székesfehérvár was one of those Hungarian towns that suffered the most during World War II. One third of its buildings became uninhabitable and 8-10 thousands of its inhabitants were killed or reported missing. After the war a rapid development began in Székesfehérvár. After the reconstruction the number of inhabitants leaped up to one hundred thousand, new industrial branches settled in so an economic prosperity could be seen, which laid the foundations of the new future.
V. Strolling about in the downtown
A lot of sightseeing can be found in the historical downtown. We can start our walk in the Town Hall square, where the Orb the symbol of Székesfehérvár is. From here, the old streets and narrow alleyways lead us to the most beautiful buildings of the Hungarian national past and the works of our illustrious artists. The Town Hall and the Pontifical Palace - from the time of Maria Theresa - can be seen in that square. The big churches of the old monasteries as well as our museums - the City Gallery, the Deák Collection, the Ybl Collection, the King Stephen Museum, the Town History Museum, etc. - are in the old town. You can see our famous statues, that awake the memories of the town's history on the small squares, let us mention a few of them: the statue of our hussars, the King Matthias monument, the equestrian statue of St Stephen, the Varkocs statue, etc. Walking up the narrow streets next to the Town Hall we can get to the King St Stephen's Cathedral, in front of which we can see the remains of the church built under the principality of Géza. Next to the Cathedral there is the Saint Anna Chapel, and in front of the Chapel there is the statue of Domonkos Kálmánycsehy. The ruins of the Royal Basilica established by King Stephen are in the Mediaeval Park of Ruins, which is in the old town. Next to it there is the park which encloses the ruins of the fortress walls, and here we can see the statue of Ferenc Watthay, a gallant warden of the fortress as well as the bust of King Saint László that has been unveiled recently. It is worth visiting the so-called Palace-town Skanzen (Rác street), which is about 1-1,5km from the downtown. Székesfehérvár won the Europa Nostra award for establishing it in 1990. This is where you can see the Rác church, which is decorated with Byzantine style frescos. On the other side of the town, the so-called Old-hill there is the Bory-castle, a little fantasy castle invented by Jenő Bory sculptor. Walking in the castle and its park we can get familiarised with his life.