The tentative World Heritage site, located on the north coast of Lake Balaton, includes the areas, under nature protection and cultural heritage protection, of the Tihany Peninsula, the Tapolca Basin, the Káli Basin and Lake Hévíz, as well as the areas, under protection of historic buildings and monuments, of the Festetics Castle of Keszthely, its castle park and the historic building complex of the Georgikon Farm and the historic quarter of Balatonfüred. The common, definitive foundation of these areas of the Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape, carrying these outstanding values, is their geo-historical past, whose processes, including marine and lake sedimentation, volcanic activity have created manifold geological and rock structures on which a harmonious landscape emerged. People, who appeared in the area in ancient times, have used and formed this landscape up to our days by adjusting to the natural characteristics (agriculture, fishery, viticulture, basalt mining, (curative) thermal bathing), which, in the wake of the cultural and communication interactions of the peoples, who havelived here – including the Celts, the Romans and the Magyars – have become a cultural landscape of outstanding importance.
Following the long lasting marine sedimentation, volcanic activities, formed by about fifty volcanoes that were active in the region 8 to 2.5 million years ago, constituted – among others- the various surface shapes of the maar type volcano of the Tihany Peninsula, formed by a single big eruption, as well as the basalt volcanoes of the Tapolca Basin and the Káli Basin, the basalt columns of the Badacsony Hill and the Saint George Hill, unique in Central Europe. The volcanic uterine activity has a significant role in the emergence of the seas of stone of the Káli Basin. Hot water spas, which used to erupt periodically, in turn have left more than a hundred "geyser cones", i.e. rock formations consisting of several types of spring-limestone and hydroquartzite, on the Tihany Peninsula.
On the hard-to-access plateaus of the basalt remnant hills of the Tapolca Basin and at the perimeter of the crater of the former volcano of Tihany, high altitude settlements, considered to be regional economico-political centres, arose as early as the late Bronze Age and the Iron Age (Badacsony, Csobánc, Saint George Hill, Old Castle of Tihany). The double head of Badacsonylábdihegy is a special work of art of Celtic stone sculpture, even in a European context. In the Roman era a series of manors were created in the Balaton Uplands (Badacsonytomaj, the Mound of Maróti-Rét, Balácapuszta). The owner of the 4th century villa at Kékkút may have been a Christian – judging from the bricks found there, which carry the initials of Christ – just like the person who wore the fastener needle, also carrying the initials of Christ, found in a grave at 11 Mályva Street, Tihany-Sajkod. Proving the co-existence of Eastern and Western monastic culture, Benedictine and Basilite monks lived at the Abbey of Tihany – founded in the era of the Hungarian Christian state, in 1055 (then rebuilt between 1719 and 1754 in the Baroque style and functioning as a Benedictine abbey to date) – and in the hermit caves hollowed out in the side of the Old Castle of Tihany and used from the 11th to the 15th century.
The stone castles, which were built on the plateaus from the second half of the 13th century on, are spectacular examples of the use of the remnant hills of the Tapolca Basin; these stone castles (Szigliget, Csobánc, Hegyesd), which are only surviving in ruins today, were important border castles of the wars against the Turkish (Ottoman) invaders, from the 1540s onward. The locations of medieval villages perished in the hostilities are indicated by ruins of churches from the 13th century (Aszófő, Gyulakeszi, Káptalantóti, Kővágóörs, Mindszentkálla, Szentbékkálla, Szigliget, Tihany), which are a characteristic landscape element at many spots in the tentative site. To the current sight of the cultural landscape a significant contribution is made by buildings for viticulture – related to the cultivation of the soil of partly volcanic origin – which were mostly built in the 18th and the 19th century; they are Baroque style and Greek Revival style residential buildings for common people, farm buildings, wine press buildings, cellars, also mostly built from the basalt stone provided by the volcanoes. This cultural landscape is a wine-district of European fame, with unique wines, made of elsewhere hardly known ancient grape types (“kéknyelű, juhfark, budai zöld, rózsakő”), having a special mineral taste.
The area, boasting an especially rich geological heritage and related natural and cultural values, is part of the Bakony-Balaton Geopark, which has been member, since 2012, of the European Geopark Network and the Global Geopark Network, supported by the UNESCO, as it has been reaffirmed by the revalidation procedure in 2016. Apart from the protection and presentation of the geological heritage, the primary objective of the Geopark is the involvement of the local communities in the management of the geological values and in raising awareness of their importance as well as in the establishment of geotouristical services reinforcing a sustainable local economy.
Lake Hévíz, having a diameter of cca. 250m, formed above natural thermal carst springs at the time of the arising of Lake Balaton, is one of the largest hot carst water/curative water lakes in the world, unique even internationally. Rich cold and hot springs surge from the spring cave opening at the base of the 38.5m deep, funnel-shaped lake. The spring lake and the surrounding swamps and marshes are home to a special flora and fauna; the curative effects of the lake have been used since the 18th century without interruption (currently the tentative sub-site accommodates the facilities of the Medicinal Bath of Hévíz and of the Saint Andrew Hospital for Rheumatology, visited for curative as well as for tourism purposes).
The latest but most important part of the settlement of Balatonfüred, formed by the unification of three settlements, is the so-called Sour Water [Savanyúvíz], located directly at the side of the lake. The importance of the curative effect of the medicinal water springs located in the area was known as early as the end of the 17th century, but their exploitation became possible from the middle of the 18th century only, when (in the 1770s-1790s) the new possessor of the area, the Benedictine Abbey of Tihany, started constructing inns, bathhouses and settings for the springs; one of the earliest landscape gardens of Hungary, created at the end of the 18th century, is located to the north of these. The spa became a popular holiday resort by the 1830s: several members of the peerage let themselves be cured here, a Greek Revival style spa house was built on the sour water spring in 1802. The centre of the Reform Era city quarters is the area surrounding the springs with its medical facilities and residential buildings and the Greek Revival style Round Church. In the 1860s and 1870s, the Abbey of Tihany further expanded its existing real estates: the extension of the present day Cardiac Hospital, the Cure Room and the adjoining covered walkway, connecting the residences with the bath, were finished in these years. The area of the bathhouse at the side of the lake was extended in the course of a subdivision in 1869, when the abbey sold part of its northwestern areas, those in the direction of the village of Füred. The current settlement structure plan was formed at this time; this is when the Jókai Villa, the Dőry Villa, the villas of the Huray family and the holiday homes of the Écsy and the Esterházy families were built.
In 1739, Keszthely and its surroundings came into the possession of Count Kristóf Festetics who, on the basis of the plans of Kristóf Hofstädter, began to have his stately seat of a high aristocrat built in 1745: a U-shaped Baroque castle, which is only comparable with regard to its importance in the history of Hungarian architecture to the Eszterházy Castle at Fertőd, which is itself part of the cultural landscape of Lake Fertő, a declared world heritage site. The main building, having a mansard roof with a central tower carrying an onion-shaped dome, is the result of a remodeling carried out between 1883 and 1887. In the times of György Festetics (between 1791 and 1819) this seat of a high aristocrat became a significant cultural centre (it was, according to Dániel Berzsenyi, the "little Hungarian Weimar"): the Helikon Library, created between 1799 and 1801, boasting 80 000 volumes including rarities from the 15th to 19th centuries (e.g. scientific treatises and literary masterpieces of the Age of Enlightenment, the first editions of the works of Voltaire, Rousseau and Descartes) is the largest surviving European library of a high aristocrat. The main building of the castle is accompanied with annexes and farm buildings, built in part in the castle park and in part in the neighbourhood of the castle at the end of the 18th century, largely in Baroque style: the riding school, the hospital, the house of the farm bailiff, the granary as well as a building ensemble consisting of the palm house and the glasshouse, the latter made in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel in Paris at the end of the 19th century, supported by cast iron structures.
The castle park, which is under nature protection and was remodeled into a landscape park, between 1883 and 1887 on the basis of the plans of Henry Ernest Milner, from the original Baroque garden, which had been based on a French model, is home to rare plants and animals: a 400-year old pedunculate oak, a yew tree, black walnut trees, Ginkgo trees planted in the 1790s, Kuhl's pipistrelles. From the perspective of the use and management of the Balaton Uplands in the 18th and the 19th century, the most important, internationally outstanding factor is the Georgikon, the oldest agricultural college in Europe, founded by Count György Festetics in 1797 and erected in 1801. Its legal successor, the Georgikon Faculty of the Pannon University is still operational. In the eight institutes of the Georgikon agricultural engineers, foresters, manorial lawyers, engineers were educated in the framework of tertiary education, whereas gardeners, managers of horse-breeding farms, agricultural labourers, stableboys and housekeepers were educated at the secondary or elementary level until 1848. The Georgikon, a research and educational facility of European significance with regard to 19th century methods of landscape use and landscape management (agriculture), was accompanied until the 1820s by a model farm built in several phases (the Georgikon Manor); it had a vegetable garden, a raspberry garden, arable lands, meadows, fruitgardens, a sheep pen, stables, coach-houses, a cartwright’s workshop, a maize barn, a four-storey granary, a dendrological collection (tree garden) and homes for the servants.
Criterion (iv): The 18th to19th century buildings of viticulture, such as common Baroque and Greek Revival style residential houses, farm buildings, wine presses, cellars, basalt stone retaining walls erected on the hill slopes, and crosses at land boundaries characteristically present the authentic picture of a landscape structure and landscape use related to a cultivation culture types which is on the verge of disappearance today. The medieval ruins of the churches indicating the location of medieval villages perished in hostilities and the stone castles (only ruins today) built on the remnant hills of the Tapolca Basin from the second half of the 13th century on, show the historical importance of the region, which became a border area in the 16th to17th centuries and a battlefield for one and a half centuries. The abandoned basalt mines of the remnant hills (Badacsony, Gulács), reconquered by nature, document the exploitation of the raw materials of volcanic origin and the responsible human approach which puts the protection of natural and landscape values in the foreground. The Festetics Castle at Keszthely with its farm buildings and the oldest economic educational institution of Europe, the Georgikon, and the high aristocratic model manor belonging to it jointly exemplify the professional teaching and application of 19th century methods of landscape use and landscape management.
Criterion (v): The area of the remnant hills of the Tapolca Basin and the Tihany Peninsula, complemented with the natural assets of the Káli Basin and its historic network of small village settlements and with the model manor at Keszthely of Count György Festetics, are a cultural landscape which evolved organically over the centuries. This area was formed by the landscape-forming traditional land use of man, adapting to the natural geographical needs of the region (viticulture, reed farming, stone mining, traditional extensive pasturing animal husbandry, as well as scientifically grounded agriculture, horticulture, fruit-growing, animal husbandry of horses, cattle, sheep, swine and Angora goats brought from Persia), and it was preserved up to our days by landscape use regenerating after historical and natural adversities. Traditional balneology, exemplified by the Reform Era city quarters of Balatonfüred and exploiting the area’s unique natural phenomenon of volcanic curative waters, e.g. Lake Hévíz (the largest curative hot water lake in the world), unfolded as an organic element of landscape use.
Criterion (vii): The natural gallery of volcanic and erosional phenomena, offering a great variety in a relatively small area (e.g. the spring cones of Tihany, the "stone bags" of Badacsony, the "basalt organ" of Saint George Hill, the group of volcanic mounds of Szigliget, the stone seas of the Káli Basin), provides a special and aesthetic landscape further enhanced with a several-century-old viticulture and a folk architecture which lives on renewed. The panorama, created by nature, of the volcanic remnant hills of the Tapolca Basin, serving as the background, and the basalt volcanoes appearing above the waters of the Balaton, serving as the background of the bay of Szigliget – preserved by the fine arts as well as in literary works-of-art – paired with the ambience formed by the unique relief shapes of the manifold petrological structures of the Káli Basin (a series of hills from red Permian sandstone on the south side, huge basalt hills in the North, lime-free sandstone in the West, and limestones and dolomites in the East and in the middle of the basin) has become a harmonic, humanised landscape of outstanding beauty in the wake of millenia-long human activity.
The totality of the outstanding values of the cultural landscape of the Balaton Uplands, represented at the scene, is ensured by the areas selected; its integrity is based on the geological, hidrological, geomorphological, climatic, natural, and landscape historical and cultural historical relations, as well as the continuity of traditional cultivation and landscape use, typical of this cultural landscape. The mostly volcanic hills with the forests and vineyards covering them, the arable lands clinging to the foot of the hills, the deeper-lying meadows and reeds do not only reflect natural geography but also landscape use, uninterrupted for several centuries, and a lifestyle which is a characteristic example of the symbiosis of man and nature, creating and sustaining a landscape character of outstanding beauty. In the framework of the active management of the Tihany landscape, nature conservation maintains, for instance, the formerly neglected pastures of Tihany with black racka and merino sheep and Hungarian grey cattle. Pasturing by sheep and cattle does not only have an important role in the management of the area but also in tourism and gene preservation. In the warmer areas of the landscape of the Balaton Uplands, exposed to submeditterranean climatic influences, endemic species and relics indicate the uniqueness of the fauna, especially in the area of Lake Hévíz, unique in the world. The special climatic and geological conditions of the basalt cones of Gulács, Tóti Hill, Hegyesd, Saint George Hill and the Castle Hill of Szigliget are home to several botanical rarities (e.g. Cheilanthes marantae on Saint George Hill).
Apart from ampelology and viticulture, which exploit the unique conditions of the Balaton Uplands area, fishery and reed growing also play an important role in the life of the local population. Although the changes in landscape use due to the ever-stronger presence and the facilities of medical and holiday tourism, which have been developing since the 18th to 19th centuries, pose serious challenges, they match the historically formed landscape and, by extending the functionality of the cultural landscape, they guarantee its maintenance without jeopardising its original values.
In this cultural landscape, characterised by picturesque surface forms of volcanic origin, the millennial traditions of landscape use have been preserved in spite of far-reaching historical events (e.g. the Great Migration, Hungary’s occupation by the Ottoman Empire) and regenerated again and again to live on and develop further. Landscape use, continuous since the Middle Ages, is reflected in a practically complete preservation of the territorial location and the relative ratios of different branches of cultivation, the settlement network and the internal structure of individual settlements as well as a typically peasant architecture of the wine-growing hills. The thatch-roofed buildings with their whitewashed fronts have preserved their role in the traditional appearance of the landscape to date, as have the small chapels located outside the settlements, the stone crosses at roadsides, and the landmarks. The roads, fences, water drains, steps, retaining walls, cellars, wine press buildings, farm buildings, the characteristic works of art of folk culture were all built from local basalt stone; several churches, too, were erected from the basalt stone excavated in quarries which operated until the middle of the 20th century. The country mansions, used by former landowners, and the buildings of economic centres, built in the 18th and 19th centuries, now protected by the protection of historic sites, play an important role in the organisation of the landscape and serve primarily tourism in our days. The appearance of several villages (e.g. Tihany, Szigliget) has been preserved, in spite of the changes, to this very day as a result of a conscious protection of historic sites. The complete termination of mining has, since the middle of the 20th century, helped preserve an authentic and unique characteristic of this cultural landscape: to date wine is not only grown on the southern slopes but also on the north side of the basalt hills, all the way up to the feet of the upper vertical basalt columns.
In the course of a two-century-long curative exploitation of Lake Hévíz, it has been possible to preserve a near natural wildlife. After the termination of mining, which had been detrimental to the water output of the lake, the output of water of the spring lake is again close to the original status. With the help of a wooden sluice system, built in the national park directorate of the Káli Basin in 1982, a water-retaining habitat reconstruction was carried out to prevent the drying out of the marshy meadow. The rich flora of the marshy meadow with cotton grass of the Tódi Well at Kővágóörs has been preserved by a water refill system, operated by a windmill pump since 1983. In the territory of the Directorate of the National Park of the Balaton Uplands, there have been several other habitat reconstruction programmes under way, for instance the restoration of habitats, the management of lawns, the protection of the natural values of marshy meadows, lawns, and pastures with trees, as well as the reduction of harm to nature caused by lineal structures.
The plans of the Helikon Castle Museum Nonprofit Company include the restoration of the castle park (a 2-hectare lake, music pavilion, outdoor stage, lookout tower, zodiac garden, fence theatre). In the area of the Georgikon Manorial Museum, apart from its high-quality agricultural exhibition, an adventure farm was created where the following are presented: traditional farming, the typical plants of arable lands, gardens and vegetable gardens, the flowers of small gardens, and traditional Hungarian farm animal species. The authentic preservation of the ensemble of buildings of the Festetics Castle at Keszthely and the Georgikon Manor, built in the 18th and19th centuries and restored to its original state (and presented as a castle museum and a manor museum), and that of the typical 19th-century character of the Reform Era city centre of Balatonfüred as well as its character of being a historic bathing resort is ensured by the protection of the area as a site of historic significance and by individual legislative protection of the historic sites located in the area.
The largest lake of Central Europe is Lake Balaton. Similar to the fresh water lake of the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid region, located in the territory of Macedonia, Balaton, too, is of tectonically preformed, complex origin. It is a unique characteristic of the Balaton Uplands cultural landscape, located on the north coast of the lake, that it unites in a special environment such natural and cultural values that are only found separately in other cultural landscapes and complements them with elements unique to this area. The Fertő / Neusiedlersee Cultural Landscape and the Balaton Uplands cultural landscape both lie close to natural lakes. The importance of the medicinal effect of curative water springs has been recognised in both regions. The Romans created bathing resorts in the Austrian areas and villa manors at Lake Balaton (e.g. Baláca).
The siginificance of medical therapeutics in the Balaton Uplands is also unique. The spring lake of Hévíz, which arose at the same time as Lake Balaton, is the largest and most unique carst water curative water lake in the world. In the wake of the gradual recognition of the sour water spring of Balatonfüred, the city querter built in the Reform Era (19th century) and the Elisabeth Sanatorium, erected between 1869 and 1871 to be the predecessor of the current cardiac hospital, have survived as both an architectural and intellectual heritage to date. The archeological relics show a lot of similarities with the Fertő / Neusiedlersee Cultural Landscape, but the morphology of Lake Balaton is more variegated. Looking at it from the south coast of the lake, the Balaton Uplands appear to be a beautiful, picturesque landscape, not unlike the Upper Middle Rhine Valley.
The Festetics Castle at Keszthely and its castle park, constructed in the 18th century, may well vie with the beautiful chateaux of the Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes as regards the presentation of the ideal of the Age of Enlightenment. The Lake Maggiore and Lake D'Orta lakelands, listed on the Italian tentative list, with the constituent elements of their cultural environment, such as fashionable summer residences or the Monastery of Santa Caterina del Sasso, may be challenged by the elements of the architectural heritage of the Balaton Uplands, for instance the Benedictine Abbey of Tihany, the Greek Revival style and eclectic style summer residences, or the architecture of the villages of the countryside.
The region boasts unique natural and cultural values and advanced wine growing and viticulture, based on the rare geodiversity of the cultivable areas. The variety of wine-growing regions is salient, especially with regard to the presence of traditional Hungarian grape varieties (pintes, furmint, juhfark, kéknyelű, etc.). The entire Balaton Wine Region is characterised by a partial continuation of the traditions of Roman viticulture, which flourished two millennia ago, but the manner of cultivation and the built heritage located in the area shows a more varied picture compared with other historical wine-growing regions, such as the terraced vineyards of Lavaux in Switzerland, the cultural landscape of Wachau in Austria, or the wine region of Alto Douro in Portugal.