I am slowly going home

The Regeneration of Hungarian Memorial Houses

For centuries literary memorial houses in Europe have been hallowed places for the homage and commemoration of writers, pilgrimage destinations and important institutes of cultural memory. Today they are part of heritage tourism, an entire branch of industry and a network developing cultural tourism. The history of their establishment, the variety of their circumstances and their institutionalisation show that they have formed part of what is held to be important in public memory. The tendency of recent decades has been that memorial houses have seen themselves as museums and libraries. Hungary occupies a distinguished place in Europe in terms of memorial houses, having 160 literary museums, memorial houses, memorial rooms, memorial places and exhibitions. The number shows that the appreciation of literary heritage has always been significant in forming national identity. The popularity list is headed by Petőfi. Seven houses preserve his memory, and the Petőfi Literary Museum has an outstandingly rich collection in relation to him. Attila József has five, Jókai, Arany and Ady have three, and Berzsenyi, Bessenye, Kölcsey, Madách, Mikszáth, Gárdonyi, Babits and Illyés have two memorial houses devoted to them, while Vörösmarty, Katona, Vajda, Nagy and Weöres each have one. Those who have lost out due to changes in the canon include Péter Veres, Pál Szabó and József Darvas. Although the character and works of Veres and Darvas are disputed, their memorial houses can be considered both local and regional attractions. Literary history and readers’ preferences are not always the same. Although a writer may not belong to the literary canon, preserving their memory is often respected. Initially, literary memorial houses established in the 60s and 70s drew many visitors. With changes in the canon, as well as reading habits and preferences, in the 80s the level of interest declined. Then after the 1989-90 political changes the situation turned tragic with the number of memorial house visitors radically falling. The content of exhibitions often became outdated, visually they grew tired and buildings deteriorated. The funding local authorities and county museums tried to save what they could, but the long-awaited, long-term programme for revitalisation of memorial houses only got underway with the Petőfi Literary Museum working out the details following a 2007 request from the Ministry of Education and Culture. Developing the functioning network of literary memorial houses was one of the strategic aims of the project. Project financing was realised from a special part of the budget set for 2008-2010. In 2009, in the interest of standing on several legs, the Association of Hungarian Memorial Houses was established. Continuation of the work became possible partly thanks to the National Cultural fund and the EU, as well as county and local authority resources.