Museum in the ‘disjointed Tower’

Arany Bicentenary in Salonta

2017 will mark the bicentenary of János Arany’s birth. The Hungarian parliament has declared it a ‘János Arany Memorial Year’. Throughout the year events will be held in the poet’s birthplace of Nagyszalonta (today Salonta in Romania). Other locations will also see celebrations hosted by, for example, the Szigligeti Theatre in Oradea, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Hungarian Academy of Arts. We spoke with the director of Salonta’s János Arany Memorial Museum, Zoltán Darvasi, about the institute’s history, its collection and the fact that the permanent exhibition of the 117-year-old museum (making it Romania’s oldest literary museum), which has not changed for 30 years, requires some revitalisation. The story of the János Arany Memorial Museum began on the day the poet died, 22 October 1882. In 1885 his son, the MP László Arany, offered his father’s mementos, his collection and manuscripts to the town. In fact, he urged the creation of an association, to which he donated the objects. The letter about his father’s legacy can still be seen in the museum today. The association was set up and a collection got underway to realise the aims. There were theatre performances and concerts to raise donations and many pledges were made such that there was enough to cover the establishment of the János Arany Memorial Museum. The town set up a János Arany Memorial Association and the first idea was to purchase the building where Arany was born, but its residents didn’t want to sell. As a temporary solution, a memorial room opened in the school to house the objects, but it was clear that eventually it would prove to be too small. Searching for an appropriate location, it was decided to purchase the so-called Broken Tower and the memorial museum opened there in August 1899. When the birthplace eventually became vacant a collection was initiated enabling purchase of the building. The local authority renovated it in 2010, in fact it had to be almost completely rebuilt. This year, in view of the anniversary, it has been repainted and its garden has been landscaped. However, not many people are aware of its existence, even though the building has carried a memorial plaque for a long time, but in the public mind it is still a residential building, which cannot be visited. Attempts are being made to change that and increase publicity so that innovative literature lessons could be held there, and the idyll of Arany’s Family Circle be revived, with it sweep-pole well and mulberry tree. The association would also like to update the permanent exhibition. The Petőfi Literary Museum prepared a plan four years ago, but the local authority did not accept it and support for the undertaking was not found. During the memorial year, they will be involved in the celebratory events. In the town all the important dates will be dedicated to János Arany throughout the year.