hidden europe 20

Market forces: the city of Pécs

by Amanda Wilson


What is a city that does not respect its markets and its open spaces? Cherishing communal assets does not always rest easily with the search for profit, as Amanda Wilson finds in the south Hungarian city of Pécs.

The sunny microclimate of the Mecsek hills near the city of Pécs in southern Hungary is one of only two regions in the country where fig trees grow. The sweet, golden fruits swell and drip from their stems while a gentle wave of distinctly Mediterranean warmth marks the arrival of summer.

Pécs is a verdant city of hillside gardens, vineyards, and terracotta roofs. It shelters below the hills which, through the changing tides of history and a rolling succession of great empires, have been its only anchor. The old city centre stretches south from the slopes of the gently rolling Mecsek hills and melds into suburban clusters of bland blocks of flats - their thousands of identical windows like glazed, unblinking eyes.

A city that does not respect its markets and its open spaces is a city that has lost its soul.

(André Gorz, 1923-2007)

Pécs is caught in the tension of two contrasting worlds - which, like the soulful and haunting pentatonic notes that typify Hungarian folk music, are without resolution. Outlying villages rich in tradition, ancestral knowledge and a medley of languages and dialects, abut an indifferent monoculture of modern shops which are part of worldwide retail chains. In the very centre of Pécs, a mosque built during the city's Ottoman period is the dramatic focal point of the main square. Today, it is a Roman Catholic church where restored Arabic script on one side of the sanctuary faces a Christian prayer on the other.