Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs

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The Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs (Sopianae) contains a number of underground tombs with impressive murals depicting Christian themes.

In the first half of the 4th century Pécs (then named Sopianae by the Romans) became an important Christian city. This Christian cemetery dates back to this age.

The nomination comprises 16 monuments, among which are burial chambers, chapels and a mausoleum.


Community Reviews

Hubert Scharnagl - March 2015

For World Heritage enthusiasts Pécs is located in the middle of nowhere, the next WHS is in a straight-line distance of 170 kilometres (Budapest), which is quite a lot on a continent that is so densely covered with World Heritage Sites. Initially the nomination included the entire historic old town, but I think it was a wise decision to reduce it to the Early Christian necropolis. Pécs is a charming town and has a lot to offer, buildings from all important periods of the city's history and interesting museums, but the necropolis is by far the most outstanding monument.

The settlement of the Roman period was in the area of today's city centre, the early Christian necropolis is located in the north-west below the cathedral square and the surrounding buildings. The WHS comprises four sites with separate entrances. Best to start at the new visitors centre, the Cella Septichora. After the ticket desk you first come to the remains of the eponymous building, it is also the largest structure of the whole complex, with a length of about 20 metres. The Cella Septichora got its name because of the seven apses. But the main attraction are the burial chambers with wall paintings dating from the 4th century. The largest tombs are two-storey buildings: a crypt and above ground a mausoleum or chapel. Models illustrate the presumed architecture of the most important tombs.

First we went to the Chamber with the Jug with well-preserved wall paintings, the jug is painted in the niche on the back wall. A spiral staircase leads to the upper level, from there the tomb is better visible (photo). It is a bit tricky to take good pictures because everything is protected with thick reflecting glass panes.

In the rear part of the necropolis are several tombs close to each other, with the most impressive wall paintings in the Peter-and-Paul Chamber: the apostles on the front wall and plants and animals (peacocks) on the vaulted ceiling. Between the ornaments portraits of four young men, possibly the people buried there? The paintings are fragmented, but you can still see a lot of details.

The mausoleum is the second site, it should not be missed, although only one room is to be seen. But the frescoes are impressive: the Fall of Adam and Eve, Daniel in the lion pit, and a beautifully decorated sarcophagus.

There are two other tombs with entrance at the Apáca street, but they were closed for renovation (August 2014). These sites are regularly open only on weekends (Friday to Sunday), but the pictures in our booklet suggest that we have not missed much.

Like other reviewers, we also stayed in the Hotel Palatinus, a nice Art Nouveau building that exudes a bit the old charm of the Belle Époque.

john booth - December 2012

Taking the good advice I visited on a Tuesday with no hassles. The underground chamber with its frescoes and sarcophagus was spectacular despite the glass wall. The other sights in Pecs were less spectacular, although I liked the interior of the Mosque Church in Szechenyi Square.

I went there on a day trip by train from Budapest, and had plenty of time to see everything.

Solivagant - November 2011

The first advice about visiting the Pecs site is don’t go there on a Monday – you need to go “inside” really to appreciate the WHS and it is “closed” on that day. I put that in quotes since, in our case, this turned out to be “negotiable”, but I wouldn’t want to rely on a successful outcome!

The site consists of 4 small locations around the cathedral square. Only 1, the ground plan of an early Christian mausoleum due south of the cathedral, is visible from the exterior. But even this seemed to have an “entrance” to an underground portion which was shuttered we were there –the “open” part was unremarkable. 2 further sites are behind the entrances of buildings in nearby Apaca St – only 1 was marked with a UNESCO sign and the door was firmly locked so I can’t describe what might be on show. The descriptions in guide books are fairly low key. Which leaves the main location. This consists of a series of underground tombs which can only be entered through the Cella Septicora Visitor Centre situated NE of the mausoleum.

The original structures consisted of an above ground monument and a subterranean tomb. The passing centuries have seen the hillside slip on top of the remains together with further covering by a sequence of subsequent (re)building/destruction etc – the result is a 2 storey subterranean archaeological site consisting of remains from both levels. Those reached via the Visitor Centre are largely “tunnelled” well into the hillside and are reached via spiral staircases etc.

The Visitor Centre is partly “glass roofed” and this portion can be walked over. We looked down through the glass to see the remains below – these consisted of a few uninteresting “walls”. But, surprise surprise, there were people walking around despite our being told that the Centre was closed!! The door was indeed unlocked but the desk staff were adamant – it was only open for “Groups”!!! Well couldn’t we be a group of 2?? No, that wouldn’t be possible. So, we went through all those strategies well known to thwarted travellers facing intransigent staff! Pleading, flattering, cajoling, grumbling etc and eventually – success!

Inside, the “star” tomb is the Peter and Paul Crypt with 4th C frescoes depicting, inter alia, Adam and Eve, Noah and Jonah in wonderfully “naïve” style. The entire structure is interesting with its passageways and stairs leading to a number of different tombs.

Pecs has received positive reviews on this site as a town to visit and savour. It is pleasant enough and was a European City of Culture in 2010. The AB evaluation for the Paleo-Christian tombs makes it clear that Hungary’s original intention was to nominate the entire historic centre, and indeed ICOMOS carried out a visit on that basis. Very late on, the nomination was scaled right back to consist solely of the tombs – correctly I think, as Pecs’s other attractions are not at the “World Heritage” level but that hasn’t prevented many other towns getting inscribed!

Klaus Freisinger - September 2010

Located in Southern Hungary near the Croatian border, Pécs is Hungary's second-most visited city, and rightly so. It has a compact old town which can be easily explored on foot, with buildings from many epochs (late Roman to 20th century) and religions (churches, former mosques converted into churches, active mosques and synagogues).

The Roman sites are very central and very well signposted (they make a lot of their WH status). There is a brand new visitor centre above the main site, called Cella Septichora. The remains themselves are reasonably interesting (of course nothing compared to Rome, but nice for a provincial town), and show biblical scenes from the dawn of the Christian era in the Roman Empire.

Pécs is connected by direct trains to Budapest and Vienna. Like Christer, I stayed at the Palatinus, which is a really nice and traditional hotel.

Christer Sundberg - September 2006

As in many places in central and southern Europe, it all started with a Roman settlement. By the foot of the Mecsek Hills they found water, fertile soil and a generally nice place to stay at. They named the town Sophianne and it became the centre of Lower Pannonia. The Romans also brought Christianity with them and the World Heritage Site of Pecs is about exactly this – early Roman, Christian tombs, in a condition not found anywhere else in the world. All the Roman tombs are centrally located around Pecs’s beautiful Basilica of St.Peter with its four towers. The tombs are small and narrow and Christian symbols decorate the graves. There are biblical frescos, Adam and Eve, Daniel in the lions den and the Jug – the Holy Sacrament.

The Roman tombs are easily visited in a one or two hours if you are in a hurry, but in my opinion Pecs is worth a better destiny. The town is actually considered to be the second most beautiful city in the country after Budapest and having stayed around for a couple of days I can surely agree. It’s a fine climate and today the Old Town is just filled with beautiful architecture making it a perfect stop for a couple of days.

After the Romans, Pecs got back on the map again in the Middle Ages as a major stop on the route to Byzantium. But then the Turks attacked and made it into an administrative centre, which is the reason why you find the best preserved mosques in Hungary in Pecs.

See the tombs but stick around for a day or two and I promise you will appreciate the small town of Pecs. And why not stay at the Hotel Palatinus, a beautiful Art-Noveaux palace, located right in the middle of the Old Town.

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Site Info

Full name: Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs (Sopianae)

Site History

  • 2003 - Name change

    From "Pécs (Sopianae) Early Christian Cemetery" to "Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs (Sopianae)"
  • 2000 - Inscribed

    Reasons for inscription
  • 2000 - Revision

    Was reduced from former TWHS Cultural Stratification in the Historic Centre of Pecs (1998)
  • 1998 - Requested by State Party to not be examined

    Bureau - ICOMOS No (later withdrawn by Hun)


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