Ceramic & Creativity at the Zsolnay Quarter

The Zsolnay Cultural Quarter in Pécs is one of a kind, an eclectic center filled with creativity and innovation of the mid-19th century Golden Era. The city Pécs has always been ahead of its time, driven by artists, poets and humanists. From being the capitol of the province Pannonia in the Roman age, founding the first university in the country and living a rich heritage from the Ottoman occupation, it is not an understatement to say that its 2000 years of rich past is what made Pécs a historically multi-ethnic city. It is the place where many cultures and values intertwined, beliefs and ideas were born and history was made.

This is what fed the creativity of the Zsolnay family, who established a ceramic factory in 1853. The city was flourishing, the economy was booming which resulted in the increasing demand of luxury goods. During this time, the city produced a champaign factory, a leather glove factory, the famous Angster organ manufacture, a beer factory and many more. It was the perfect timing for the groundbreaking ideas from Zsolnay family, led by father Vilmos Zsolnay, his wife and their three children, Teréz, Júlia and Miklós. It was Vilmos’ vision that inspired the entire family, and later led to the empire of Zsolnay ceramic that conquered the world.

Initially it was only Vilmos’ cutting edge technique that kept the factory running, but as the three children grew up between the ceramic pots and figurines, it wasn’t much of a surprise that his two daughters devoted their life to designing ceramic patterns and the son Miklós picked up the skills of trading and commerce. The whole family lived in the Zsolnay Quarter, just as many of their workers. However, the quarter surrounding the factory was not only used for residential purposes, but it also functioned as their marketing strategy. All their spare tiles, materials and statues were placed outside, decorating the quarter in an unique and creative way. Whenever visitors from out of town came over, they could immediately adore the craftmanship and the colors in an atmosphere that no exhibition room could beat, and inevitably the orders came flying in.

One of the Zsolnay’s early inventions was the Pirogranit technique. The prefix “pyro” (or “piro”) refers to the baking process of the material, which happened at high temperatures, “granite” refers to the strength and durability of products. For this reason, pirogranit primarily can be found on rooftops and facades, like the colorful roof tiles that were placed in the end of the 19th century on buildings in Pécs such as the County Hall and the post office. Those original Zsolnay tiles are still shining on the rooftops until today, no restauration was necessary but only the occasional cleaning, therefore point proved!

Another of Zsolnay’s exquisite technique is called eozin and was mainly used on statues and figurines. The exciting craft was all about the glaze, seemingly dull and grey once applied to the object, but after an intricate baking process at high temperature, the glaze turned into the most mesmerizing colors. The first time they succeeded to produce an eozin vase, it turned red, hence the name “eos” which means red in both Latin and ancient Greek, but also referred to as the ancient Greek goddess of the dawn. However, soon it turned out eozin could turn into any color, from a dark night sky blue to the most vivid green you have ever seen. Trying to pinpoint its exact color would be a waste of time, as it reflects the light and seems to change colors from every angle. The glaze is such a sensitive matter that reacts to the slightest change of temperature or humidity. Therefore it is safe to state that once the object has been baked, it is an unique example and it is impossible to reproduce it. This can be explained by the Zsolnay Well standing in the city center with its four mystique oxen heads. A couple of years ago, one of the heads broke, and the current organization of the factory tried to reproduce its exact color and shape. As you can already guess, even with today’s techniques and knowledge they failed doing so, and you easily identify the odd one out. This only shows us how exceptional and unparalleled the products are that leave the factory doors.

Visiting the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter gives you the complete experience, from a trip down memory lane at the exhibition about the history of the Zsolnay family, a museum filled with the most extraordinary collection of ceramic art and a visit at the working manufacture. If you like pink, don’t miss the pink exhibition, dedicated to Zsolnay’s “pink phase”, and for the full picture make sure to stop by the Zsolnay mausoleum, which is definitely not your everyday cemetery! For families and kids there is also plenty to do, with the Bobita puppet theatre, the playground and the interactive lab full of magic and scientific surprises. The planetarium guarantees a fascinating trip through the universe, and if you haven’t seen enough yet, visiting the M21 gallery with contemporary art is only fitting. A well-deserved break can be spend in the little shopping alley with a handcrafted chocolatier and an old-fashioned candy shop, if you are lucky you can even catch the chef at his work! In summer time it is likely you will stumble upon a cool concert in the Pirogranit courtyard, right across the Zsolnay concert hall and the one and only leather gloves factory, or at the summer stage of the puppet theatre. All these cultural programs make the 5.500ft entrance fee more than worth it (this only counts for the museums, the outdoor sightseeing is free for everyone. Click here for more information)!

There is plenty to discover, learn and explore in the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter for young and old, for culture lovers and the creative craftsmen to be. History is not only displayed behind glass to observe, but it is within arms’ reach, to be touched, experienced and participated in. And if that wasn’t inspiring enough, the Zsolnay Quarter also functions as one of the University’s campuses as it is home to the Faculty of Music, Arts and Communication & Media! Long story short, the Zsolnay heritage hasn’t outlived their Golden Era just yet!

Do you want to know more about the city of Pécs? Make sure to check this article out!

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