Wooden bell-towers in the Upper Tisza-Region
Permanent Delegation of Hungary to the OECD and UNESCO
County of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party
The region of the Upper Tisza encompasses, in a broader sense, the plains section of the upper part of the Tisza, above its great bend, which extends, beside Szatmár and Bereg, to the historical counties of Szabolcs, Ung, Ugocsa and Máramaros, the flat region beside the Tisza River. In a narrower sense, the region of the Upper Tisza is the part of the above area that is within the current borders of Hungary.
Written documents related to timber architecture were preserved from the territory of the historical Hungary – encompassing the Carpathian Basin – as early as from the age of Saint László. The history of timber architecture of the Trans-Tisza Region may be followed back to the beginning of the 14th century, albeit no relics survived from that time in their physical reality. Timber architecture and the building of wooden towers really began to flourish in the 17th to 18th centuries. Even former stone churches were often rebuilt from wood in the country, impoverished due to the devastation during the Turkish subjugation. Apart from this, the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation gave a big impetus to the use of wood in construction because the congregations driven out from their churches, first the Catholics then those in the Reformed Churches, built their new church buildings from wood. Church construction was often even regulated by (county or squire, etc.) law, too, with the sizes, shapes and materials to be used prescribed in detail. Out of different considerations (e.g. often in order to express the "temporariness" or "tolerance" applied to certain congregations, and because of its relative cheapness, simple procurability, and fast-to-use nature) the material most often permitted and used was wood. In a region that practically lacked any stone usable for construction certain conditions made it easier to access the necessary amount of wood of the required quality: the closeness of the forests of the Carpathian Mountains and the availability of the Tisza River as a watercourse for transportation (floating of wood). This use of wood as building material is a convincing example of the economical as well as ecological practice of the local communities, which adapted, to a large extent, to the conditions of the environment, in a manner that was clearly necessary at the time of the construction of belfries and that is cabaple of serving as an outstanding example for our age, too.
In today’s Hungary no wooden churches are found at their original location (the log-walled church of Mándok was transported to the outdoor village museum of Szentendre in the 1970s). Only belfries have survived, making the most monumental relics of a once flourishing timber construction. Apart from the region of the Upper Tisza, some significant ensembles of relics survived in Romania: in the open country of Transylvania and in the Partium.
A wooden tower was a structure with a timber-trussed girder, which did not only accomodate the bell(s) of the settlement or of the community ordering the construction but also served the protection of the vicinity functioning as a watchpost and observation site to ensure the security of the community. It is assumed that these complex purpose structures were the descendants, both in terms of their functionality and design, of the castle towers, gate towers and church towers of the late Middle Ages. In the development of bell towers the simplest shape (mass form) used was that of a (generally rectangular) prismatic tower with an open gallery and a pyramid-shaped spire. Later, as an additional development to the mass composition, the eaves appeared followed by the arcaded gallery that was supported by consoles all around: it is believed to have originated from medieval fortress technique. The four turrets, further enriching the mass of the tower, are probably of Gothic origin. They bear resemblance to stone architecture, as does the rectangular, hexagonal or octagonal ogival spire. In general, belfries were without any ornamentation or hardly embellished: the columns of the arcades and of the galleries were sometimes carved and the lower end of the boarding of the gallery railing was often embellished by saw work. The roof of wooden towers was traditionally cladded with wooden shingles. On top of the spire usually a metal globe was placed, from which an iron rod would stick out to support a revolving flag made of iron plate. The flag would have the year of construction or repairs engraved into it. The appearance of symbols of religious denominations, such as a star or a cock, is the result of a later phase of development. The builders of the towers were in most cases peasant (miller) carpenters, who sometimes carved their names onto the columns or beams of the tower.
In the region of the Upper Tisza characteristic and significant historical relics of autonomous development have been preserved. The motivation came from Transylvania, where towers with a squat shank (often spreading like a skirt) resting on wide feet, having an octagonal spire, and embellished by four turrets, developed – e.g. Mezőcsávás (Ceuașu de Câmpie in Romanian), Magyarsáros (Deleni in Romanian; earlier Șaroș), Magyarkecel (Meseșenii de Jos in Romanian). This style developed into a more slender and lighter type in the region of the Upper Tisza. The proposal for inclusion in the world heritage tentative list includes the most outstanding examples of the Reformed Church wooden bell towers of Bereg (of the region of the Upper Tisza); the Reformed Church wooden bell towers of Nyírbátor, Nagyszekeres, Kölcse, Zsurk, Vámosatya, Lónya, and Tiszacsécse are each outstanding relics of bell tower architecture. They witness the 17th to 18th-century continuation of a folk construction technique of medieval origin and represent the region-typical transformation of a type developed elsewhere, thereby creating new quality.
Nyírbátor's wooden belltower is one of the earliest and still existing relics of monumental timber architecture in the region of the Upper Tisza and the entire of Hungary. The tower, built around 1640 from 30 meter-tall oak beams, is an example of the Transylvanian type: above the wide, squat shank spreading like a skirt there is a low arcade with ornamental carvings. The spire sitting on top of the arcade is "unrealistically slender" for the bell tower of monumental dimensions. A rhythmically growing height results in a tension in the mass composition that enhances the monumental effect of the tower. One of the tower’s bells approximately dates from its time of construction. It was cast by György Wield in 1640 upon an order from the Bethlen family of Iktár.
The wooden bell tower of Nagyszekeres is an 18th-century variant of the same type, but smaller than the one at Nyírbátor. It is connected to the adjacent medieval church with a short parvis, (called the 'cemetery' in Reformed Church parlance). Upon its squat shank a wide-spreading gallery sits. The mass of the tower is mitigated by an elongated, slender spire. With its harmonious ratios and the finely worked carvings of its arcade columns it is an extraordinarily beautiful example of the Transylvanian type developed toward the slendering that characterises the bell tower architecture of the region of the Upper Tisza.
The wooden bell tower of Kölcse was built in 1791. It shows a further phase of development and also exemplifies the characteristics of smaller towers. Its shank has become even slenderer and the part below the skirt is completely closed. The tower has no turrets. These are the characteristics of smaller bell towers. However, the octagonal bottom of the spire covering the gallery, a rarity in the region of the Upper Tisza, makes the tower of Kölcse unique and sets it off from other small-size towers.
Zsurk's wooden bell tower is the earliest existing example of the type that had become characteristic of the region of the Upper Tisza. It is believed locally to have been built in the 17th century. The most spectacular characteristic of the local version, developed from the squat Transylvanian type, represented by this tower is the slendering of the tower shank, which is often also highlighted by an arcaded gallery placed on consoles to protrude from the tower shank. Another salient element of development is that the roof does not extend in front of the arcaded gallery, which is thus lighter and more graceful. The tower of Zsurk, with its height of 35 meters, is the most accomplished and most elegant relic of this type, featuring a Baroque style, butterfly-shaped, articulated window-frame on its elongated shank.
The wooden bell tower of Vámosatya is 26.5 meters high. The size of its beams bears witness to the use of huge trees, which, after having been carved out and numbered with Roman and Arabic numerals, were brought to their current place in the village. According to certain sources, it was built in 1691, other sources say it was erected in the 18th century.
Lónya's wooden bell tower "hath bin made by Imre Kakuk, carpenter, with the apprentises of Péter Bán, in 1781." The spectacle of the slenderness of the 26-meter-tall tower is enhanced by the tower spire, two and a half meters higher than the tower shank. Its two bells are from 1666 and 1741.
Tiszacsécse's wooden bell tower is not far behind that of Lónya as regards height. The 24-meter-tall tower, built in 1822, is a relatively late example of this type. Its slender, dynamic shapes is highlighted by its 13-meter-high, angular spire, which is rectangular at the bottom and octagonal above.
Sub-Carpathia, situated across the border (in the Ukraine), belongs to the region of the Upper Tisza topographically. The towers of Csetfalva (Четфалва [Csetfalva] in Ukranian) and Kelecsény (Келечин [Kelecsin] in Ukranian) are beautiful examples of towers of the above type located outside the territory of current Hungary. Apart from the towers nominated for the tentative world heritage list a large number of wooden bell towers of a simpler design are found in the region of the Upper Tisza (Gemzse, Szabolcsbáka, Uszka, Csaroda, Márokpapi, Tákos). In their structural design, they are identical to one of the towers selected and included in the tentative world heritage serial properties, but they are smaller and they represent the type of the region of the Upper Tisza to a lesser extent. In Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county, too, many towers have survived, e.g. the wooden towers of Berzék (Zemplén County) and Szalonna (Borsod County). These, however, do not form a uniform, well defined group of outstanding relics.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Criterion (ii): The wooden bell towers of the region of the Upper Tisza are the surviving mementos of the once flourishing timber architecture. Their frequent occurrence in this area in the 17th to 18th centuries is attributed to historical and economic causes. Following the 150-year-long Turkish reign in Hungary, the impoverished villages rebuilt their former stone buildings from wood. As a result of the spreading of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the denominations driven out from their earlier churches now used wood for church construction because their congregations quickly needed a new place for praying. The wooden bell towers of the area, belong to one of two types on the basis of their architectural design: the squatter Transylvanian type or the slenderer type, which developed here. The appearance of the Transylvanian type in the region of the Upper Tisza (Nyírbátor, Nagyszekeres) is proof of the wanderings of the village carpenters of the 17th and 18th centuries and the transfer of technological know-how, i.e. influences that allowed the formation of the local bell tower type.
Criterion (iii): The wooden bell towers of the the region of the Upper Tisza are still extant works of art of a technique of medieval timber architecture continued even in the 17th and 18th centuries. These towers have preserved their original function and they are outstanding relics of a living tradition, preserved through several centuries, reaching back to medieval folk architectural construction methods. With a multifunctionality typical of a bygone era, the towers did not only provide a place for the bell(s) of the community ordering the construction but also served the protection of its surroundings, functioning as watchposts and observation posts for ensuring the security of the community. This is attested by their construction including a balustrade and arcade, probably originating in medieval military architecture.
Criterion (iv): The wooden bell towers of the region of the Upper Tisza are characteristic works of art of traditional local (folk) architecture and relics of the continuity thereof into the 17th and 18th centuries. The structure of the towers and the technology used in their construction goes back to the Middle Ages, i.e. the construction practices of the 14th and 15th centuries. With regard to shape, the region of the Upper Tisza saw the development of a distinct, slender type of bell tower with special aesthetic features, which is clearly different from the relics of all other regions, notwithstanding similarities due to the interactions that had lead to its development.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The wooden bell towers of the region of the Upper Tisza, selected to be included in the tentative world heritage serial properties, stand at their original location up until our days, generally in the centre of settlements. Nothithstanding the variations between them, the seven structures selected represent adequately, fully (completeness), and expressively the uniform character of this building type/group of relics. Their immediate and more remote environment has not changed significantly, apart from changes resulting from the "natural" development of the settlements that have largely left unaffected the basic settlement structure (the allotment of parcels, the size of parcels, the relationship of public spaces and buildings, traffic lines, building height and proportions, etc.) and setting. The wooden bell towers have preserved their integrity in relation to their man-made and natural environment, too. No lasting impairment, damage, ruination, demolition, reconstruction or extension has occured so far in the case of any of the selected buildings (unimpairedness).
The seven wooden bell towers expressively represent the wooden tower architecture of the region of the Upper Tisza, presenting its historic development and its transformation to suit the local needs and peculiarities. The original timber material of the bell towers nominated has been preserved to this day, with only minor repairs and part replacements, as has their original function. The structure of these 17th to 18th-century towers as well as their construction technique and shape are all of medieval origin reaching back to the construction practices of the 14th and 15th centuries. The towers are covered with split wooden shingles and, therefore, naturally require renovation from time to time. The methods used for their repair and renovation have remained to be based on traditional techniques.
Comparison with other similar properties
The wooden bell towers of the region of the Upper Tisza are the most outstanding surviving relics of the Reformed Church towers, which arose under Transylvanian influence, as a result of a unique process of development and the design of which reflects the needs and possibilities of the era in which they were built. Their dimensions architectural separation from the church building makes them characteristically different from other relics of the region, displaying similar architectural characteristics. Notwithstanding some significant formal and structural similarities, the towers of the Orthodox wooden churches of Maramureș (Máramaros), included in the World Heritage list, belong to a different type on account of their being attached to the church nave. The wooden churches of Western Małopolska and the wooden church buildings of the Polish and Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains are architecturally different wooden structures. The series of the wooden churches of the different denominations of the Slovak Carpathian Mountains have the significance of being architectural relics born of the encounter between the Latin and Byzantine cultures and of expressing the tolerance of different ethnic groups to each other. In terms of dimensions, these elements are not comparable to the impressive, slender, Gothic style wooden bell towers of the region of the Upper Tisza. It is the wooden towers of the Transylvanian areas (not included in the world heritage list) that most resemble those in this region but they are squatter. As opposed to those of the region of the Upper Tisza, the surviving Ukrainian wooden towers of the region and those in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County do not constitute a group of relics of uniform architectural standard.