Mihály Babits Literary Memorial House
Babits and his wife often visited friends who had cottages along the Danube Bend. They went to Esztergom for the first time, it seems, in August 1923. They arrived by boat and thus their first impression of the town was from the Danube. Babits was fascinated by the former royal seat with its Basilica “on the festive gallery”, as he later put it, and the landscape reminded him of the hills near Szekszárd, where he was born. He was highly impressed by the place and immediately wanted a house there. It was merely a question of money and luckily a “miraculous accumulation of finance” facilitated the purchase of a house with a garden. Babits had received a large sum for the translation of Dante’s Paradise, though as it was not enough he gave the fee to lawyer Zoltán Nagy for investment and in a very short time the sum had multiplied in value. With friends’ help the couple found a small dwelling on Esztergom’s Elő Hill. The deeds show that Mihály Babits and his wife, Ilona Tanner, bought the property for 35 million inflationary crowns on 27 March 1924.T
In the following years they extended the garden by buying adjacent land and constantly made improvements to their home.
Castle Hill, the Basilica and the Danube can be clearly seen from the house, as can the former Hungarian countryside across the river, which had become part of Czechoslovakia three years before Babits arrived in Esztergom. The panorama inspired Mihály Babits to write poems such as his Song about Esztergom Basilica.
The entrance of the house opens to a veranda, the scene of boisterous dinners and discussions. It’s also the place where the poet preferred spending time alone. Soon after their move the Babits couple met the Olajos and Einczinger families. Their new acquaintances not only helped to resolve everyday problems but also extended deep and friendly love to Babits and his wife, who sometimes stayed in Esztergom from early spring to late autumn. Ferenc Einczinger was a bank clerk and later manager of the Savings Bank, in addition to being a versatile artist. With skilled hands he contributed to decorating the house.
The porch wall has the signatures of Hungarian writers, poets and painters – they were all guests here – the list is impressive. Allegedly the poet got the idea of the autograph wall in Einczinger’s press house, where visitors were asked to sign the wall. Ferenc Nagy a noted compère of the time, expressed the following: “Babits and his wife have carefully chosen the softest charcoal for the purpose, and as soon as the visitor left they would assume the role of a strict jury, reaching a verdict after an intensive literary discussion. If the verdict was unfavourable the signature would disappear with a wave of a dusting cloth without any trace, but if it was favourable Mrs Babits would bring the paint can and cover the ephemeral letters with indelible fresco paint.”
The wall paintings and inscriptions not only charmed the family’s guests, they also captivate visitors today, representing a unique documentation of Hungarian cultural history. Writers, poets and painters who visited as guests signed the wall.
After Babits died in 1941 and following various ups and down in the history of the building, the villa finally became a memorial house on 6 August 1961.