The first and most famous street of Debrecen carries its history in its name: the famous Debrecen fairs were held here from the 16th century on for 300 years. The streetscape of Piac utca came to being at the turn of the 19th and 20th century when Debrecen underwent a large wave of construction. The previously almost only single-storey, two-storey houses were replaced continuously by three-, four- or multi-storey buildings that were constructed by the town, financial institutions or other investors. The palaces of the turn of the century as the Debrecen inhabitants called the multi-storey buildings erected at the turn of the century and the trading houses remained from earlier centuries reveal a number of values in local history and architecture. If you walk in Piac utca from the Reformed Great Church to the Great Railway Station, it is worth casting a closer look at these buildings as they tell you a great deal about the history of the town itself but also you gain insight in the world of architecture.
Bishop’s Palace (Hatvan u. 1)
It is an investment that the Reformed church started a major-scale construction at the corner of Hatvan utca, at the old residence of Péter Méliusz Juhász reformed bishop, where a multi-storey atmospheric old apartment house was planned. A call at the national level was awarded to Zoltán Bálint and Lajos Jámbor architects from the capital to plan the building in 1910. The construction of the building lasted 15 months between 1911 and 1913, the first residents could move in the completed flats still before the occupation permit already in November 1912. Because of the high rental fees, the first tenants of the buildings were mainly town notables – land owners, factory owners, bank executives, attorneys, professors etc. – but there were also teachers, painters, confectioners and restaurateurs. Several famous persons lived here such as Elek Szabó secretary at the mayor’s office, Magda Szabó’s father as well as Alfréd Hajós and Lajos Villányi architects, designers of Hotel Arany Bika and school for the deaf. The building also known for the public as Bishop’s Palace has a number of particularities. One of these is that a 40 m high water tower built on it to provide the pressure necessary for the apartments on higher floors. Another particularity is that the building faces four streets and it has three closed and one open courtyards, nine staircases, hanging corridors, many shop rooms, apartments, wash and dry rooms. The Secessionist building amalgamating the Hungarian-style Romantics style elements are made by András Tóth, father of Árpád Tóth and the colour ceramics of the building interior were supplied by the Zsolnay factory of Pécs. Under the tower the coat of arms of the reformed church can be seen on the facade, hold by angels.
Hotel Aranybika (Golden Bull) (Piac u. 11- 15)
At the place of today’s hotel stood the plot and stone house of a Debrecen citizen János Bika in the 16th century. The town bought the real estate in 1690 from his widow, in which one of the first inns of Debrecen were opened in 1699. The building was extended by a second floor in the 18th century. The signboard showing the famous charging bull was placed on the facade in 1810 (referring to the first owner) forged from iron and covered with copper. This is how János Bika’s old stone house was transformed into Hotel Aranybika. Due to the economic and touristic upswing of Debrecen, the management of the town planned a new larger hotel at the place of Aranybika at the end of 19th century. Imre Steindl, one of the most significant architects of the time was commissioned with the design of the new hotel building whose name is also linked to the Parliament. The new two-storey hotel with 50 rooms was completed on 20 August 1882. The Aranybika however well attracted the well-off and white-collar guests in vain it was not able to serve the increasing traffic of the first decade of the century, thus, the building built almost three decades before was demolished, at its place a new still larger and atmospherically older building was planned according to the design of Alfréd Hajós and Lajos Villányi, architects from Budapest. The Secessionist-style grand hotel opened in 1915 awaited guests with a number of services such as café, restaurant and bath but it was also home to a concert hall and movie theatre. The hotel was extended by a wing in 1976 that is very substandard in terms of architecture, its appearance being quite controversial the old wing. The hall of the hotel is ornamented with stained glasses showing the prominent persons of the Hungarian history and cultural life that are linked to Debrecen in some way. The paintings depict among others Gyula Krúdy, Mihály Fazekas, Zsigmond Móricz, Mihály Csokonai Vitéz, Endre Ady, Mihály Munkácsy, László Holló, Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók, the key figures of the revolution of 1848-49, Lajos Kossuth, Sándor Petőfi and General Bem as well as musicians, dancers and representatives of the old traditions such as usher, pretzel-maker, cow-man and honey-cake-maker. The imposing restaurant, the Üvegterem (Glass Hall) of the hotel opens to the left from the lobby. Many famous persons called in the hotel. At the end of WWII, when Debrecen became the capital city of the country for the second time, the members of the provisional government stayed here. Béla Bartók called here, who gave a concert three times (the concert hall is named after him up to day) but returning guests were Magda Szabó and Zsigmond Móricz, too. Prominent guests in the hotel were General Bem, Ferenc Deák, Mihály Vörösmarty, István Széchenyi, Austria’s Bruno Kreisky and Germany’s Helmut Kohl chancellors.
Sesztina House (Piac u. 23)
Many of the older Debrecen residents still name the light blue ‘palace’ at Piac u. 23 Vasudvar (Iron yard) where an iron hardware shop operated for over one and a half centuries as of 1819. János Sesztina ironmonger founded its company in 1819 in Debrecen, and as he was a good trader, he opened his shop in the main street. The company became soon a standard in ironmongery and developed into one of the most prestigious shops of the town. After the death of Lajos Sesztina his son Jenő Sesztina inherited the business, which reached its height under his management. The Sesztina Ironmongery was nationalised in 1949, it still run as a hardware shop for decades, after the regime change it ceased to operate. In the Piac utca part of the building, one of the best restaurants of Debrecen, Ikon operates and Sesztina Gallery is located in its rear part, Hal passage.
Twin apartment house in Simonffy utca (Simonffy u. 1-2)
The last decades of the 19th and the first ones of the 20th century are outstanding in the building history of Debrecen and in its evolution into a big city in its modern sense. In more or less quarter of a century until WWI, spectacular constructions started across the town, the new buildings reached the level of the modern big cities of that age both in terms of their size and ornamentations as well as in their shape and location. The state, the town, the financial institutes and the churches undertook building ‘palaces’ in word use of residents of Debrecen of impressing size until that date located in several plots that dominate the image of Debrecen even today. The beautiful twin apartment house located at the corner of Simonffy utca and Piac utca still visible today was an investment of the municipality. First the house at Simonffy utca 2 was erected in 1899 (Piac utca 27.) then the one at Simonffy utca 1 (Piac utca 25) in 1900 mainly by Debrecen entrepreneur constructors. All rooms for business and residential purposes of the town apartment house were rented almost as soon at the acceptance date. At Simonffy utca 2 there were among others a chandlery, a clothier shop, a precision grinder shop, a linen-draper and ladies outfitting shop, a grocer’s, a butchery and a meat shop. The bourgeois suites of the first floor were rented by engineers, doctors, justices, clerks, shop tenants as well as companies, bodies. At the ground floor of the building at Simonffy utca a lamp shop, a cigar shop, a coffeehouse, a pastry shop, a book shop, a clothier shop, a haberdashery as well as a fish and meat hall opened. The flats on the first floor on the Piac utca side were rented mostly by shop tenants. The first floor hosted among others a fencing training room and the second one a banquet hall, a reading room. The houses in Simonffy utca also were severely damaged in the bombardments of 1944. So were devastated the corner towers, the roof structure suffered bad damage. The ornamented corner towers were reconstructed in December 2003. The buildings dominating the beginning of Simonffy utca are today home to catering establishments, offices and private apartments, its Hal (Fish) Passage hosts the rehearsal room of Kodály Philharmonics.
Rickl House with Foots (Piac u. 41)
The two-storey Classicist Rickl house is at Piac utca 41, the elderly know it as Lábasház (House with feet) as the building is an extension of a house with feet (a former warehouse) still standing. Magda Szabó’ maternal great-great-grandfather Joseph Rickl German tradesman lived in the house as of 1786. According to the family legendary, he chose the plot when he was in Debrecen for the first time, he measured how many steps long the main street was and this house was in the very middle. Here he opened his convenience store called ‘The Turkish Emperor’ known in the whole town whose broad range of goods was spiced up by a prepared shark hanging from the ceiling. The Rickl family lived in the house for almost one and a half century up to its nationalisation. There were famous dwellers in the house: in 1849 when Debrecen was the capital city of the country Pál Nyáry, vice-president of the National Defence Committee and József Patay deputy, and Sándor Petőfi called here several times, who swapped his ceremonial sabre for the cavalry service sabre of József Zelmos Rickl II national guard lieutenant who owned the house at the time. Petőfi’s sabre were retained here bricked up by the family. At the time, the house had 9 rooms, many offices and storage rooms, now it is home to smaller shops, offices. In the Lábasház standing today in the courtyard, a pension and pizzeria were opened.
Svetits Apartment House (Piac u. 43)
At first sight, this building is less spectacular than its counterparts opposite but it is the largest residential house of Piac utca whose history is connected to nothing more than Svetits Institute. The apartment house built as an investment of the Roman-Catholic Girl’s Education Institute founded from the property of Mátyás Svetits and his wife in 1896 was built according to the design of József Nacsa in 1930 under the supervision of Márton Patzó building contractor who also contributed to the construction of the main building of the university. The construction started in June 1929 and the house was completed by Easter week of 1930. A large press presentation was organised to find tenants for the apartments and businesses. The Svetits Girl’s Education Institute that is a space for nuns received one of its incomes from this apartment house for years. The sculptural works of the building were carried out by designer-architect Márton Patzó’s brother, Pál Patzó, whose several works stand in public places in the town. He created eight carvings on the facade of the Svetits House in total. Out of these, four reliefs depict a child figure each representing the four seasons – left to right: in the order of spring, summer, autumn, winter. The other four reliefs are also allegoric illustrations representing agriculture, industry, trade and science. On the ground floor of the building with a unique U shape there were businesses, on the upper floor there were curving corridors and civil apartments.
Csanak House (Piac u. 51)
József Csanak let the Csanak House at the corner of Piac and Arany János utca built in 1860, the famous peasant-turned-spice trader who was from the nearby Derecske. József Csanak was one of the biggest supporters of the culture of Debrecen during the Austro-Hungarian Monarch. The palace was designed by Antal Skalniczky, who also designed the Csokonai Theatre, too. The particularity about the building is that among others Mór Jókai stayed here while in Debrecen, who was said to have sought inspiration for his novel Aranyember (Golden Man) from the life history of József Csanak. The house is today the building of Generali Insurance Company.
The old Hungária Café (Piac u. 53)
The history of the building dates back in the 1860s, already then a coffeehouse and a restaurant operated here although in a more modest single-storey building. The atmospheric old building seen today was the investment of the First Savings Bank of Debrecen that set a call for construction of the single-storey palace in 1887. At the time large-scale investments, constructions were ongoing in the town that attracted well-known architects thus there was a great deal of interest in the call of the First Savings Bank of Debrecen. The jury found the design of Kálmán Gerster architect from the capital whose project was implemented by Gregersen and Fischer Construction Company from the capital. The atmospheric old look of the building is the result of their work, which was up to par with that of the coffeehouses of the capital. The most characteristic ornament of the building is the statue balancing on the tower showing Hermes, messenger of the gods, the patron saint of travellers and merchants. The small yet very rich in detail statute is Alajos Strobl’s work. The Hungária Coffee operated on the ground floor of the palace built at the turn of the century, the Trading Hall was on its first floor and the Debrecen business management if the Hungarian Royal Railways rented offices on the second floor up to the end of 1895 when they moved to today’s location at the Tisza Palace. At the place of the coffeehouse today stands a McDonald’s fast food restaurant but the huge pillars ground from Bavarian granite from Mathausen still seen today that were the ornaments in the coffeehouse.
Kaszanyitzky House (Piac u. 57)
The building at Piac utca 57 was made in Classicist type at the beginning of the 19th century, but it received Baroque and Eclectic marks in the reconstructions. The Kaszanyitzky glass and china shop with a fame across the country founded in 1852 operated at its lower level, whereas the trader and is family lived on the upper level. The lower part remained for commerce after 1945 and several co-tenant spaces were created on the upper level of the nationalised house. Nowadays it hosts a book shop but the original glory of the building is still illustrated by the renovated domed chamber and its staircase.
24-storey high rise (Petőfi tér 10)
The 24-storey high rise, one of Debrecen’s highest buildings at Petőfi tér might not be among the most beautiful ones, but it is still of local history relevance. The high rise was built in the part of the town where the WWII bombardments were the severest. Earlier this town part was a place for the largest synagogue of the town, the atmospheric old Royal Hotel and old Railway Palace in front of it the ornamental Mediterranean park which was once called Népkert (People’s Garden). The area and the buildings standing in it were almost all devastated in the carpet bombing by the Americans on 2 June 1944. After the rubble removal began rebuilding and landscaping of the square – in 1949 the statue of Petőfi by Medgyesi was erected, multi-storey houses emerged, parks were established, in 1961 the new railway building opened and 24-storey high rise was built by 1973. The ‘skyscraper’ and the belonging building complex were built by the famous architect of the time, Tibor Mikolás between 1969 and 1973. Its location was considerable as it formed the counterpoint of the Reformed Great Church towering at the other extremity of Piac utca. Even today, almost 800 people reside in the 209 apartments who cannot boast of the most beautiful residential house of the town but the greatest view.
Great Railway Station (Petőfi tér 12)
The first railway station of Debrecen was erected mid-19th century after the railway line between Szolnok and Debrecen was established. The original railway depot was demolished in 1900, at its place the famous chief architect of the Hungarian Railways, Ferenc Pfaff designed a new atmospheric old building with a huge glass-paned entrance, red brick walls and a Mediterranean park in front of the building. The Pfaff Palace reached a lifespan of less than half a century as its future had been doomed by the bombing of 2 June 1944 causing a damage to such an extent that it had to be demolished fully in 1959. The first large urban planning after the war affected the railway station and its vicinity. This was when the new railway building seen today was built, whose designers László Kelemen and István Sajó dreamt a fully new modern building complex. The most crucial part of the station building handed over in 1961 is the waiting hall covered with a quadripartite steel concrete shell dome ornamented by gigantic scratch works of Endre Domanovszky. The walls are covered with marble from Siklós, the floor with red marble. The space expanded by the archways and the hall illuminated via the parabola windows provide the feeling of being in a church. Patterns of ancient snail imprints also appear on the marble surfaces. The copious material use and ornamentation in the construction process was justified by the fact that the reception space of the railway station that was meant for representation as Debrecen was as of the 1950s a key Hungarian station on the international line Moscow-Budapest. Beside the VIP reception, the station certainly provided the aesthetics and conform also for everyday travellers, it hosted a restaurant, a tobacco shop, catering kiosks and even ‘futurist’ tables and chairs. The majority of these can no longer be seen, more of instead buffets, new stands, benches. Many refer to the building of the Great Railway Station as a socialist-realistic building but as far as its style is concerned, it is made in the spirit of late-modern architecture based on the traditions of the thirties. As such it matches to railway stations of the turn of the century such as New York’s Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal, whose huge hall reminds of the interior of the station of Debrecen. All these considered it is no surprise that the designer of the Great Railway Station, László Kelemen was awarded the Ybl Prize in 1962.
Building of Industrial Chamber (Iparkamara u. 1)
The palace of Industrial Chamber, one of the most beautiful buildings of the inner city is at the corner of Petőfi tér and Iparkamara utca. In addition to its architectural values its local history is relevant as it is the only building to have survived the 1944 bombardments luckily. The building was completed in 1912 according to the design of Frigyes Spiegel and jun. Károly Engler architects of the capital by local constructors. The facade of the four-storey Eclectic headquarters is ornamented by several statue compositions. Out of these, the most spectacular is the statue composition set up on the dome: three gracious female figures holding the globe, the work of Gyula Betlen. The round balcony of the building complex is a woman representing commerce and a male figure symbolising industry. A multi-figure relief was placed on the arched surface above the windows of the fourth floor: the figure of Hungaria in the centre of the composition holding a Mercury wand accompanied by farmers, merchants, and craftsmen. On the right there is a group of senior men and women raising mugs, on the left men appear bringing crop fruits and driving animals. The Classicist-style relief recalls the frieze of Greek churches and its communication is linked to the intended purpose of the building: to express the combined efforts of Hungarian industry, agriculture and commerce. Before the bombardments of 2 June 1944, this town part acted as an administrative centre: the building of the Industrial Chamber faced the District Court, next to it the Regional Court but both were devastated in the raid.
County Hall (Piac u. 54)
One of the most beautiful buildings of Debrecen is the County Hall built in Hungarian-style Secessionism. The building was erected in 1912 but its history goes further back. This is where once the first guest house of Debrecen stood, the Hotel Fejérló (White Horse) opened in 1688 which had many famous guests such as in 1770 the to-be King Joseph II and Lajos Kossuth in 1849, whose favourite gypsy violinist, Károly Bóka played here. Another particularity of the building in addition to the guests of fame is that Miklós Wesselényi’s National Theatre Company held the first official theatre play in Hungarian of Debrecen here on 11 August 1798. The Company staged nothing less than the Shakespeare’s classic, the Hamlet to be played for the second time in Hungarian after Kolozsvár. The location of the building has a significance in local history as the 670 m long wooden bridge spanned as long as here from the Great Church which facilitated traffic in the town for three centuries. The building of Hotel Fejérló was assigned to be seat of the newly established Hajdú County in 1876 and demolished in 1908. A call for construction for the new County Hall was announced that was won by two architects of the capital, Zoltán Bálint and Lajos Jámbor. The designers dreamt a building imposing from all aspects which was a worthy companion of the palaces being built one after the other at the time in Piac utca. The ceremonious handover of the new County Hall took place on 27 February 1913. The building imposing in every respect is one of the most beautiful examples of the Hungarian-style Secession in the country. Its facade are ornamented by pyrogranite ceramics of the Zsolnay plant of Pécs, festoons and a statue of four armed Haiduks. A bronze statue of Árpád chieftain stands on the top of its tower, in the centre of facade the coat of arms of Hajdú County. The walls and ceilings of the building named after Árpád chieftain are ornamented by stuccos and coats of arms of the municipalities of the county, the stained glasses of its windows show the seven chiefs. The building hosts the Hajdú-Bihar County Municipality even today. It may be attended for individual matters and at conferences and professional events.
Ant Apartment House (Piac u. 40)
Many of the older Debrecen residents still call the building at Piac u. 40 ‘Hangya’ (Ant) or ‘Hangya House’ (Ant House) that received its name after the fact that it was built for the Hangya (Ant) Cooperative running a country-wide shop network in 1938. There was always a food shop on the ground floor of the house whereas there were private apartments on the higher levels. The particularity about this building is that this was one of the first modern buildings in the town. Its designer was Aladár Münnich who also designed the Déri Museum in a fully differing style and the Post Palace in Hatvan utca. Miraculously, the six-storey condominium survived the 1944 bombardments, thus, it remained rather unchanged in the last 80 years. The green balcony ballusters, the colourful sunshades, and the food shop on the ground floor remained, only the gate was replaced. The original lift grid was replaced to a new green steel gate whose interesting thing is that 78 ants ornament it linked to the name of the house. The work was created by Zoltán Magyar and cast by Imre Kovács, master smith of Tiszaörvény.
Löfkovits House (Piac u. 38)
Arthur Löfkovits Debrecen jeweller, art collector opened his jewellery shop in 1883 in the main street of Debrecen, in Piac utca 38. As a keen art collector and localist, he left his collection of 2500 pieces of archaeology, industrial design and arts in 1902 to Debrecen to establish a municipal museum. Moreover, to increase the stock of museum, he promised to pay an annual amount of 500 crowns during 10 years that is 5000 crowns. This was how the fundament for the Debrecen Municipal Museum, the predecessor of Déri Museum was created. The wording of its shop was reminded by Lőrinc Szabó spending his student yeas in Debrecen in his cycle pf poem called Cricket Song.
The old Hajdúsági Warehouse (Piac u. 34-36)
The history of the building less atmospheric at first sight is just as exciting as its companions in Piac utca and reveals a number of particularities from an architectural aspect. At its place was a wonderful palace from 1904 to 1944, in which Hegedűs and Sándor Literature and Printing House Plc. operated between 1918 and 1933. The private company of the town largest at the time was specialised in book printing and book trading. The Debrecen residents, however, do not remember the Hegedűs and Sándor palace but more of the department stores that were in the building first by the name of Hajdúsági then Centrum Department Store. At the place of the palace destroyed in the war a building was erected in 1961 that is seen today by the then young Tibor Mikolás who was about to become one of Debrecen’s best-known architects. The building attracted great attention already while constructed as experts of the capital criticised its small-scale model at a fair of architecture of Budapest, they called a jury together to decide whether it can be built or not. The then council president liked the design, the building was completed and became a gem in Piac utca by its modern design world, strong pillars, facade loggias, red and white marble walls as well as ceramic inserted facade ornament items. Its designer, Tibor Mikolás was awarded in 1961 with an Ybl Prize. The facade of the building is ornamented by a colourful ceramic picture showing patterns related to the history of Debrecen such as the Sun symbolising vital force appearing in also the coat of arms as well as Hermes, the allegory of commerce and Mercury wand together with the grey cattle, the typical animal of Hortobágy meadows once owned by the citizens of Debrecen. The ceramic ornament was created by Árpád Csekovszky. The building hosted always a department store on the lower two levels and private apartments, offices on the upper levels. One of the largest book shops of the country operated here from 2008 until 2020.
Headquarters of First Savings Bank of Debrecen (Piac u. 22-24)
The beautiful rose palace at the corner of Kossuth utca stands out among the buildings of Piac utca. Few of the locals know that the atmospheric building was built as the headquarters of the First Savings Bank of Debrecen at the beginning of the 20th century. The First Savings Bank of Debrecen purchased the corner plot for investment purposes in 1868 where jun. Kálmán Rimanóczy, architect of Nagyvárad designed a new four-storey headquarters in Secessionist style predominant at the time. The headquarters of the savings bank was built with a designer’s feat. The client space was established in the ground floor peristyle on the Piac utca side, the official residences were on the first floor. A clothing department store was in the corner shop, a casino moved to the first floor in Kossuth utca but also lounges, reading, billiard and card rooms, a banquet hall, a street entrance converted into conservatory and 17 luxury flats were included. The majority of work in this gigantic construction was performed by Debrecen residents. Sándor Somogyi made the stuccos and sculptures of the facade that present the professions of industry, commerce and farming. The old copper portal of the building was made in a famous Berlin workshop, its interior earthenware was produced in the Pécs Zsolnay factory. The building was completed with its final form by 1911-12 as is seen today. In 1951 it was taken in state ownership and thereby the original rooms were given new functions. The client space in the building wing on the Piac utca side was rented by the military for the purposes of an Officers’ Club (now a clothing department store operates at its place). The casino in the building wing on the Kossuth utca side ceased to operate, its rooms functioned as community and youth club, the luxury flats of huge ground area were split into smaller ones. The majority of the building wing on the Kossuth utca is still occupied by the Community House of Inner City, on its street front shops, on the upper levels private houses, offices.
Old Town Hall (Piac u. 20)
The administrative centre of Debrecen since the 16th century has been at the same place, at today’s Piac u. 20. The Town Hall in Classicist style with tympanums was built in 1843, but its history goes back to much earlier times. The core of the ‘ancient’ town hall was the stone house of András Tar chief justice of Debrecen that was purchased by the town in 1531. This was expanded by the surrounding citizen houses and plots in the coming centuries that in part hosted the office and in part shops rented by traders. The ‘Domus senatoria’ as the town hall was called in the past was a home to chief judge, senators and other executives of Debrecen for 300 years. The building of the ‘ancient’ town hall added fragmentarily during decades suffered severe damage in the fire of 1802. At its place a fully new building followed by the design of Ferenc Povolny and József Ságody. The building of the imposing tympanoned-arcaded Town Hall was handed over to the town in 1843, the first general meeting took place in May 1844. In line with the puritan style of Classicism, the Town Hall has a sole ornament: the coat of arms of the town. The town outgrew the two-storey building by 1888, thus, it was further expanded in the last decade of the 19th century. In the reconstructions, among others a simplified ramp was built, the jail was eliminated, the prison rooms were converted into offices and the house was connected to the neighbouring trading house with a hanging corridor. This corridor was called by the locals ‘Bridge of Sighs’. The town and as such the town hall played a relevant role in the civil revolution of 1848-49. The Hungarian government moved its seat into Debrecen on 7 January 1849. Here lived Kossuth with his family and the National Defence Committee had its office here and the Hungarian Holy Crown was kept in the ‘secret archives’ of the town. Later on, Franz Joseph emperor of Austria and King of Hungary also resided in the upper level rooms. The building of the Town Hall hosts today the Self-government and Mayor Office of Debrecen. In its street front shops and catering establishments are located and so is a Tourinform agency.