Murska Sobota Castle
Murska Sobota Castle and its Renaissance concept go back to the 16th century. Among the outstanding Renaissance architectural elements are stone window frames and the stone arch of the northern portal. The castle’s present appearance largely shows the major reconstructions undertaken in the 18th century: the courtyard wings were surrounded by arcades and the façades were re-articulated with the northern Baroque façade standing out among them; a castle chapel was added and the owners commissioned illusionist paintings in the salon on the first floor. The paintings in the salon feature flower motifs, angels, and an allegory of the eternal struggle between the god of war and the goddess of sciences and arts, completed by an exquisite rococo tiled oven. Another element belonging to the 18th century is the eastern portal, where two Atlases on round pillars support the balustraded balcony. The portal is thought to have originally been part of a demolished palace in Budapest, and to have been added in the later 19th century. At that time, most windows were replaced, and the arcades on the first floor of the interior courtyard were walled up. The medieval castle with name Bel Mura probably stood in the same place already in 1255. After changing owners several times, the castle was acquired by the Széchy family, originating from Rimavská Seč in present-day Slovakia, in 1365. With its present name in the form of Mura Zombatha it is first mentioned in 1398. The last owners of the Sobota estate from the Széchy family were Julija Széchy and her husband count Franc Kery, who sold it to Peter Szapáry in 1687. The latter had been made baron by the king, but his sons were made counts. The family originated from Szápár in the municipality of Veszprem in Hungary, and their members have held high posts in the military and government to the present day. The Szapáry family had an English park laid out and changed the until then Renaissance castle into one of the most sumptuously furnished castles in the present-day Slovene territory, with Baroque reconstructions and paintings based on a collector’s excellent taste. Towards the end of their ownership of the castle, however, their wealth dwindled and its furnishings were sold in an auction in 1930, followed by the castle itself, which was acquired by the municipality. From then onward the castle was used for various needs and by different administrators. The saddest part of its history came about during the Second World War, when it housed courts and when two people were executed by hanging.
Until the 19th century the main access to the castle building was from the north and a visitor would first lay eyes on the stone Renaissance portal and the dynamic façade, including the salon’s high semicircular windows. A Baroque portal was added to the former eastern side façade in the late 19th century and a new access to the castle thus created. The wide avenue connecting the castle and the Evangelical church’s neo-Gothic complex of buildings was designed by the architect Feri Novak in 1937. The avenue carries the name of the first writer of a Slovene book, Primož Trubar, and on the 500th anniversary of his birth his bust, made by Drago Tršar, was installed here. The bust joined the monuments of the first Prekmurian writers dating from 1939, and the monument of the Second World War dedicated to the fallen teachers, dating from 1959. In terms of architecture, the avenue today connects with the Martin Luther Avenue, while aesthetically it opens up a beautiful view of the town’s buildings and the park, and it certainly is one of the most exquisite views of the town.
Together with its park, Murska Sobota Castle is an important centre of cultural and social events in the town. Since 1956, it has housed the Regional Pomurje Museum, Murska Sobota, featuring a permanent exhibition on the life of people on the Mura from the first settlement to the present, the Kološa Cabinet of Art Photography, based on the legacy of the local art photographer Jože Kološa, and a permanent exhibition of portraits of the Slovene impressionists by Drago Tršar. The museum’s activities are completed by occasional thematic exhibitions, workshops, and other contents for children and adults, as well as a museum shop with selected products. The castle also houses the Youth Information and Culture Club (Mikk), which organises programmes of modern visual arts and music by young artists, selected concerts, and presentations in the club’s café. There is also a multi-purpose hall for minor stage performances and shows, events, and meetings. The former castle chapel, renewed and including new furnishings and paintings by Sandi Červek, has been turned into the central municipal venue, used for civil weddings. From spring to autumn, many events take place in the castle’s courtyard, on the square in front of the castle, or in the open green areas of the town park, featuring a background matched by very few others. A special festival and tourist event are the Sobota Days at the end of June, when the town launches a very diverse programme of summer musical and stage events.