As one of the murals in the VII. district of Budapest says: “Hungary is not just Budapest!” and I couldn’t agree more. Are you looking for inspiration for a day trip from Budapest? Then scribble down Zsámbék to your list.
Little bit of history – Zsámbék monastery church ruins
This town is around 30 km west of Budapest. It has a population of 5,500 people. Celtic, Roman and Avar artefacts were found during archaeological research. It has been estimated to be inhabited already in the Palaeolithic era. Zsámbék played a significant role in the merchant history because of its convenient location. It lies behind the Buda hills, and in the middle of the route from Esztergom to Székésfehérvár.
Zsámbék – place where history breaths
Zsámbék is at the southeastern foot of the Gerecse Mountains. Its dominant are the ruins of a monastery church. This Romanesque-Gothic Premonstratensian three-aisled basilica was built around 1220, and it got destroyed by Mongolian invaders in 1241. It was lucky to get renovated and modernised several times throughout the centuries. It served as a fortress for the Turks in 1541 (for incredible 145 years). It witnessed the conquering by János Bottyán, and it got rebuilt by the Zichy family in the 17th century who also brought German settlers – Schambeck is this town’s German name.
The power of nature – earthquake in Zsámbék
Sadly, it was not the human who put an end to this dominant of Zsámbék, but nature. An earthquake with an epicentre in Komárno shook the foundations of the church in 1763. The magnitude was estimated as 6.2 – 6.5. The earthquake took the life of 83 people, and 102 people were injured. The church was never renovated, and many of its stones were used for rebuilding the town of Zsámbék. There are still houses nowadays that contain stones from the walls of this impressive monastery church.
My experience visiting the monastery church in Zsámbék
That is the little that you need to know about the monastery church when you set off for your day trip from Budapest to Zsámbék. Why did I summarise it? Because, although close to Budapest, this monument is far from ready to accept foreign visitors. Never mind!
When you arrive at the Zsámbék monastery site, you have to enter a little booth to buy tickets for the monastery and the museum. The entrance fee was in December ’16: 800 HUF (2.5 €, 2.7 $). The cashier also sells magnets, postcards and many other souvenirs (FYI handmade wooden ducks!!). Do not expect him to speak English, but that’s not a problem if you have enough fingers to show (or just scribble it down on a piece of paper if your group is bigger than 20).
A tour without a guide
Then you get a ticket, and you can explore the ruins. Maybe I am just too spoilt by all the Czech castles and services they provide. I expect to learn something about the place I am visiting – even if it would be a short introduction for 5 minutes. I am not demanding; it doesn’t have to be a real person like back at home. I could also do with a leaflet guide to be able to read about the place I am visiting while I am exploring it. None of this was available, not even in Hungarian. Thumbs down, Zsámbék!
Once you have to swallow the bitter pill of needing to pay to inspect the ruins, you get to see the museum – which is an underground cellar with various stones. Displays are telling some story, but sadly it was only in Hungarian. I tried using Google translate – camera option, but it was too dark in the place for the phone to read it. I hope it was about the earthquake because that seems to be an interesting part of Zsámbék’s history or about the Turks, or about how it looked before the ground shook.
Travel tip: if you want to enjoy your 800 HUF to the fullest, I recommend to play a game in the museum with the stones. You will notice that they are all numbered – try to find the stone with the smallest and the biggest number. If you make this day trip from Budapest with your family and there’s a lot of you, try to make the whole sequence. If you are artistic enough, you can draw them, too! This activity should entertain you for some time as there’s a lot of stones. Do not try to move them; they seem to be authentic (aka heavy). I suppose, the guard would not be happy about it (although he might not notice as he doesn’t exit his hut at all).
Amazing Monastery Church ruins in Zsámbék
The Premonstrate monastery church in Zsámbék is in late Romanesque and early Gothic style with not so many decorative elements. It is stunning and majestic! The rosetta at the front of the nave is broken, only the western wall is somewhat standing. You can see that this place was relatively big judging from the aisles. It’s awing. I couldn’t get enough of the views of the Buda hills and at the lowlands and the town extending under the hill. You can use your imagination to picture how this place must have looked like in the past. It somewhat feels like time travel a bit. I had quite some acrobatic moments as I wanted to capture the entire Zsámbék monastery from many sides. The barb wired fence was, however, a bit limiting (Hungary – your wall expert since 2015). Check the amazing pictures at the end of the post!
The whole visit to the monastery church will not take you more than 30 minutes. If you play the game in the museum, then the time spent could be maybe 60 minutes. If you have some spare time in Zsámbék, grab a chance to visit the Lamp Museum – Guinness World Record holding a showcase of more than 1,000 lamps. It seemed like a nice additional program to the day trip from Budapest. Scroll down below for more places to see in Zsámbék.
A few words as a conclusion for this day trip from Budapest
Hungary is successful in capitalising the recent flow of tourism. However, it is still missing or neglecting some basic infrastructure. We should not resign on telling people the story of these places, teaching them some history and showcasing them the life during the old times. Especially when they made an effort, arrived at Zsámbék, climbed the hill and bought a ticket! Maybe food for thought, but I believe that’s what should be a basic tourist service. What else do the people get that it deserves a price tag of 800 HUF?
What do you think about this? Am I too demanding? Do you like having a guide? Do you want to hear the story when you visit places of interest?
Movie industry in Hungary – possible shooting location
The film-making hype is on its high in Hungary these days. This site is in the film locations database of Hungary. It can be rented to shoot films. No wonder, it is a fantastic place, and it could portray many historical dramas very well. I hope to recognise the Zsámbék church ruins once when I will be watching a movie during a cold winter day! Do you know of any film that was made here? Shoot me a comment below. I am curious!
Practical information for visiting Zsámbék:
Monastery Coordinates: 47°33’15″N, 18°42’46″E
Transportation to Zsámbék
You can reach Zsámbék easily by car (and park for free in front of the monastery and the cemetery) – follow the motorway M1 direction Vienna and get off on the exit 27 Zsámbék. If you want to avoid the highway, ride through Budakeszi and Páty.
If you do not have a car, check the bus timetables. Buses to Zsámbék depart very frequently either from Széna tér or Kelenföld vasútállomás. The trip takes around 45 minutes from Széna tér and 1h 10 min from Kelenföld. Once you arrive in Zsámbék, have a look around, you will see the Premonstrate monastery church on the top of the hill. Head over there.
Admission costs: 800 HUF (in December 2016)
Opening times: depends on the season, a safe period is anytime 10-16. Mondays closed.
Other things to do in Zsámbék:
- Lamp Museum
- Nativity of St John the Baptist Church
- Turkish Well
- Zichy Palace