Culinary delights in the cellar system under the Esztergom Basilica
- Séra Zsanett
Esztergom has everything you need for a perfect stopover: the largest church in Hungary, a medieval royal castle, a historic district and a bridge crossing the Danube. Esztergom is the birthplace of our first Hungarian king, St Stephen, who was baptised and crowned king here. Esztergom is a place where history comes to life.
On the Castle Hill of Esztergom rises the largest church in Hungary, the Primatial Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Adalbert, better known as the Esztergom Basilica. The neoclassical basement underneath the emblematic building, which has seen some rough centuries, was built in the mid-1800s at the same time as the cathedral. On the one hand, to have a place to store the wines coming from the Esztergom archdiocese, and on the other hand, because less land was needed for filling when the ramp of the Castle Hill was built.
Of course, wine was not only important because it was an essential part of the mass. As the wells were contaminated, people often drank wine instead of water due to the fact that it was considered a safer way to quench their thirst. The truth is, of course, that they were much lower in alcohol than the wines we drink today. But the divine juice was also used as allowances in kind, and the written records of this are preserved in the wine accounts of the “Prímás Levéltár” (Primate Archives). While the choirmaster of the Basilica, for example, received more than 11 hectolitres of wine a year, a musician was paid 1-4 hectolitres and a singer 1-2 hectolitres.
After Trianon, a significant part of the archdiocese, including the vineyards, was transferred to the newly-formed Czechoslovakia, and thus the building lost its function. From the 1950s onwards, during the Soviet occupation, the building was used as a military base. The complex with its troubled history was finally reopened to the public in 2010, after a complete renovation, as a tourist reception centre. Since then, the “Prímás Pince” (Primate Cellar) wine tunnel and restaurant has become a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
The restaurant is an elegant space with monumental columns, which serves as the centre of the “Prímás Pince” (Primate Cellar). The restaurant places great emphasis on presenting the varied Hungarian cuisine of the Carpathian Basin. They perfectly combine national tradition with modern gastronomic solutions, while preserving the characteristics of regional cuisine. In addition to their standard menu, they also have regularly renewed seasonal offers. And when creating the different dishes, they always take into account and use fresh ingredients from the region.
Of course, the culinary experience can only be complete with the right selection of wine. The “Prímás Pince” (Primate Cellar) aims to promote Hungarian wines and wine culture. The wine tunnel leading to the restaurant is almost 90 metres long, with 11-metre-high ceilings, stacked brick arches and unique lighting, creating an amazing atmosphere. Here visitors can not only find useful information about the wine regions, but also taste wines from the different regions, thanks to a selection of almost 100 items. During our trip to Esztergom, after visiting the Basilica, we recommend a visit to the “Prímás Pince” (Primate Cellar). You can enjoy lunch or dinner in an extraordinary setting, in a stunning historic building, while we can explore the entire Carpathian Basin in our minds and tastes.