SOPRON – A MAGICAL HUNGARIAN TOWN
The city of Sopron is located in western Hungary on an isthmus of land that pokes into Austria, near Lake Fertö. I love this city for lots of reasons. It is a charming medieval village with quirky theatre groups, Hungarian dumplings, goulash, and great Hungary Sopron wine. However, I also love its history.
Sopron is one of those magical hidden places in Europe. Its history includes its origins as part of the Roman Empire when it was known as Scarbantia. Scarbantia is still here – it’s Forum building and ancient walls have been excavated and are right next to the old town main square.
In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire occupied most of Hungary, but Ottoman Turks who ravaged Scarbantia in 1529 didn’t occupy the town. During the 9th–11th centuries, the Hungarians came to Scarbantia, built a castle, and named the town Suprun. It was also during this time that many Croatians settled in the area to tend the abandoned farms. The Croatian language is one of the recognized languages of the region including Hungarian and German.
During the early part of the 20th century, the area was settled by Germans as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Sopron became known as Odenburg in German. It was during the aftermath of WWI when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up that the German-controlled areas were given to Austria. The local people didn’t welcome this and civil unrest was rife. Because of it, a plebiscite was held in 1921 and the eight surrounding villages and Sopron voted to remain Hungarian. This date became an annual holiday in the region.
The Second World War saw Sopron suffer bombings, invasions, and eventual capture by the Soviets in 1945. During this time under Soviet rule, the socialist government attempted to turn Sopron into an industrial city. Sopron did manage to maintain its medieval town center and many of its landmarks.
In 1989 Sopron was a catalyst for the mass flight of East German citizens escaping to the west during the Pan-European Picnic. This was a protest held on the borders of Hungary and Austria. The lifting of the Iron Curtain created a moment when hundreds of citizens could escape from GDR. This successful crossing paved the way for the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall in November of 1989.
Today, Sopron, as a member of the European Union has turned its economy around and become a bilingual city with both Hungarian and German as the official languages. The population of Sopron is around 63,000 citizens with 10% of the Sopron population being Croatian which is why you will also see Croatian signs around the area (and why there are some great Croatian pubs here)!
How to get to Sopron
Sopron sits near the Austrian border and Vienna is only 70 km away and Hungary’s capital, Budapest, is only 200 kilometers to the east. Visitors also come from Slovakia as well as international destinations. One of the reasons for Sopron’s popularity it that it has become known as the “dental capital of the world” and offers first-class dental treatment that is affordable.
Sopron is within easy reach of Vienna by car and you can take the A2 from Vienna to the A3 and then onto the Sopron exit directly to the city.
From Vienna, trains leave for Sopron every hour. The journey will take around 1 hour and 20 minutes and Sopron is the last stop on the line.
Sopron can also be reached from the nearest international airports, which are Vienna and Bratislava. There are direct trains from both cities to Sopron although you must take the train from the airport to the central train stations in both cities.
Why visit Sopron?
I can think of so many reasons to visit Sopron and so many things to do in Sopron, including exploring the baroque Main Square with its cobbled streets, fascinating medieval villages, an old Roman archaeological site in the middle of town, lovely Croatian pubs and Hungarian cafes and restaurants, the best local wines from the vineyards in the hills around Sopron, and really cheap dental work – what else do you need? Did I mention the centuries-old monasteries converted into ridiculously cheap accommodation around Sopron?
Sopron Hungary Map
What to See in Sopron
Old Town Main Square
On the Northern side of Old Town, Sopron is the main square, which is surrounded by some beautifully elegant architecture. The center of the square’s focus is the Holy Trinity Column which is a striking baroque monument erected to commemorate the end of the Black Death. Decorated with figures of patrons and saints the monument was a tribute of gratitude to God for ending the plague.
The square itself encompasses the Town Hall, Storno-ház, and Fabricius-ház. The Storno-haz is a baroque building that dates back to the 15th century and now a museum that holds the treasures of Ferenc Storno and his family. The rooms are decorated with stunning antiques including furniture, paintings, arms, weapons, and china and glass treasures collected by the family over the centuries.
Fabricius-ház is another museum that centers on the life of Storno citizens. It holds excavated treasures from the Roman ruins and items used in everyday Storno life from centuries past.
The Goat Church
The Church of the Assumption in the main square is nicknamed the Goat Church. It got its name because local stories say a goat herder uncovered a treasure on the site and you will see on the Holy Trinity Column a goat being hugged by an angel. A gothic church the interior is mainly Baroque with a stunning red marble pulpit. The church is decorated with fading frescos and animal stone carvings representing human’s deadly sins.
Tűztorony (Fire Tower)
The main landmark in Sopron is the Tűztorony or Fire Tower that stands 58 m high. Watchmen used to stand on the balcony to warn the people of encroaching fires and potential enemies. The watchmen were also known for their musical prowess and were often a feature of weddings and celebrations taking place in the center of town. The tower itself stands on Roman foundations and consists of several architectural styles including a baroque crest placed on top in 1676.
Scarbantia Roman Ruins
Scarbantia’s Forum is next to the main square and has been excavated deep below the lines of multi-storied houses all around it. At one time Scarbantia guarded the Roman road north to Italy and was designated by the Romans as a municipium. It was a city with a Capitolium, amphitheater, waterworks, and the Forum that you can see today. it’s also possible to see some of the remains of the oval-shaped wall that was 3 meters thick and 8 meters high and had mighty gates and fortified towers between its lengths.
Wine and Food in Sopron
During the Roman occupation farmers in Sopron began cultivating wine grapes and producing both white and red wines. According to stories from the winemakers, Napoleon’s soldiers who invaded Sorpon paid for their wine with a blue frank note, which the name of the most famous Hungarian wine Kékfrankos came from.
Although famous, for its reds, Sopron does grow white grapes and in the communist era, both wines were mass-produced. The area is becoming known for quality wines that match Austrian varieties but they are much less expensive.
The farmers who grow the grapes were masters at using all the available areas for growing crops and they began to grow beans among the vines. This has led to Sopron’s traditional cuisine incorporating many bean dishes from salads to main courses and even a sweet bean strudel.
Spiced cabbage is one of the Hungarian dishes that is commonly served in the Sopron area and usually meals are meat-heavy with substantial goulashes and stews. The local restaurants also serve Croatian favorites many of which include cabbage but also veal dishes and pasta surprisingly.
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Where to Stay in Sopron
A little outside the main center Vadászkürt Panzió is an affordable combined guesthouse and restaurant
Sopron Monastery hotel is set in a former monastery, just 3.5 km from the center of Sopron. Its newly renovated rooms are stylishly furnished with wooden floors and modern bathrooms. Of all the hotels I have stayed in in the world, this is one of the most magical.
Pannonia Hotel is situated in the heart of Sopron. The hotel is the oldest in Sopron and was built in 1893.
Hotel Palatinus another lovely hotel right in the historical center close to the Fire Tower.
Links and Further Information
There are so many things to do in Hungary in central Europe. See all of the best things to do in Hungary, from Get Your Guide here
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