Some historical facts
Open air ethnographic museums were established at the end of the 19th century owing to various factors. On the one hand, in accordance with the scientific progress branches of museology continually developed and differentiated. A demand for creating an ethnographic museum which is suitable to demonstrate folk life in a most complex way, furnishings and farming equipment included arose. On the other hand, the capitalist economy reaching its developed stage since the second half of the 19th century resulted in an intensive urbanisation and modernisation from the north-west to the east of Europe, as a consequence of which the existing pieces of peasant architecture began sinking into decay at an alarming speed. Preservation of monuments of folk architecture became imperative. For accomplishing this dual task “skanzens” have proved to be exceptionally appropriate.
It was the outstanding Swedish scientist, Arthur Haselius who established the world’s first open air museum in 1891 in Stockholm so that the characteristic buildings of various Swedish regions and ethnic groups should be preserved and presented, collected in one place as a permanent exhibition with the possibility of being visited by masses of people. It was named Skanzen after the part of town of its location and in due time it found its way into many languages, including Hungarian, as an equivalent of open air museum. In the wake of the Swedish example smaller and larger skanzens have been created; up till World War I mainly in Scandinavia, later on in more waves in the greater part of Europe as well. After World War II this kind of exhibition became well known in North America, Asia, and even in Australia. It is in Southern Europe, Inner Asia, the Middle East and Africa where open air museums have not taken hold yet.
The situation in Hungary
Hungarian ethnographers were also touched by the idea of an open air museum. Supposedly the most popular part of the national exhibition staged for the 1896 millennium of the Hungarian conquest of our land was the Ethnographic Village featuring village buildings with furniture embedded in the history of the nation, deemed characteristic by the experts of the day. Half of the exhibition, comprising 24 dwelling houses originally furnished, a wooden church and several farm buildings, represented the Hungarian architecture and lifestyle, the other half showed those of the ethnic minorities. Regrettably the Ethnographic Village was dismantled in November, 1896 but the collection of objects enriched the Ethnographical Museum and the exhibition itself started the research into folk architecture and implanted the idea of creating a central Hungarian skanzen in professional and lay domains as well. Unfortunately, conceptional misgivings, but mainly lack of funds and the events of the world wars prevented the idea to be put into practice almost for 70 years.
In 1949 pieces of folk architecture were qualified for protection. Surveys and basic research started, databases and land-registers were set up. Ethnographic science sized up folk architecture and outlined the up-to-date course of research. As a consequence, Hungarian ethnographers and protectors of monuments gained enough knowledge to lay the foundation for the Hungarian central skanzen. The Hungarian Open Air Museum in Szentendre was founded in 1967, first operating as the Village Museum Department of the Budapest Ethnographical Museum then in 1972 it became independent, functioning in an area of 46 hectares in the valley of the brook Sztaravoda. Uniquely in Europe, parallel to founding the national open air museum a network of regional skanzens were also established in Hungary; in 1968 the Göcsej Village Museum in Zalaegerszeg, in 1973 the Vas Museum Village in Szombathely, in 1979 the Sóstó Museum Village in Nyíregyháza, in 1980 the Szenna Open Air Ethnographic Collection and in 1985 the Ópusztaszer National Historical Memorial Park opened its gates. Almost at the same time a range of regional houses preserved and furnished in situ were reconstructed and opened to the public. Nowadays their number approaches 400.
The aim of founding the Szentendre Open Air Museum was to present folk architecture, interior decoration, farming and way of life in the Hungarian language area from the 2nd half of the 18th century to the 1st half of the 20th, through authentic objects and original, relocated houses arranged in old settlement patters. The more and more elaborate settlement plan appropriates the relocation of more than 400 edifices into the museum, arranged into village-like regional units on the basis of ethnographical considerations. Within the units buildings are fitted into the traditional system of peasant households, supplemented by sacred, communal and outbuildings which used to be integral parts of traditional villages. Dwellings and farm-buildings represent the typical houses and outbuildings having evolved historically in each region.
By the time the originally planned 9 regional units are completed – Village in Northern Hungary (to be opened in 2010), Upland Market Town (2006), Upper Tisza Region (1974), Middle Tisza Region (to be opened after 2010), The Great Hungarian Plain /Alföld/ (in process of building), Southern Transdanubia (2005), Bakony-Balaton Uplands (2000), Western Transdanubia (1993), Kisalföld (1987) – the Museum perpetuates the traditions of our 18th-19th century vernacular architecture as a historical heritage – uniquely in Europe. Our researchers are already working on the extension and further development of the original scientific concept, considering the latest results of open air museology. We are planning the regional unit demonstrating the way of life of the Hungarian minorities beyond the borders; the layout for the Historical regional unit presenting the rural architecture of Hungary in the 11th-15th centuries is complete; and plans are outlined for the unit exhibiting the buildings and lifestyles of villages in the 20th century.
We try to apply the most recent methods of work. The core of these is authenticity manifesting itself in a historical-ethnographical sense, in materials, structures, forms, furniture, villagescape, animals and vegetation. The relocation of the buildings chosen on the basis of a scientific concept comprehending the contents of future exhibitions is preceded by a thorough scientific research by ethnographers and architects. Then the objects are documented, dismantled and transported to the museum. On the basis of ethnographic collections and the experiences of dismantling a detailed ethnographic and technical plan is made as for the building to be built and furnished, followed by the project of cultural and educational programmes connected to the building or its surroundings. After this, the edifice is set up, conserved and furnished with restored objects. The process described sketchily may last even for decades in the case of certain buildings or regional units till the given object can be viewed in its original state within our permanent exhibitions.
During the past 40 years the Hungarian Open Air Museum has become one of the most successful museums of the country by its exhibitions, infrastructure, programmes and professional and scientific results. The number of visitors approaching a quarter of a million during the 7-month opening time unequivocally proves its popularity with inland and foreign tourists. The awards obtained by the Museum: Museum of the Year (2000), Visitor-friend Museum (2004), and the Prima Primissima Award (2005), the most valued one, exemplify the incorporation and acknowledgement of the museum on a national scale.
Following the government statute of July 25th, 2007 the Skanzen has the means of further development by the funds ensured by the European Union. The Village in Northern Hungary regional unit is going to be built, a new entrance building awaits the visitors, a period motor train helps inside transport and the Open Museological Workshop as a new locale for entertaining education is added to the existing possibilities.