Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs (Sopianae)
Early Christian Necropolis Of Pécs (Sopianae)
Cultural Hungary Europe And North America County Of Baranya

The burial chambers and memorial chapels of the Sopianae cemetery bear outstanding testimony to the strength and faith of the Christian communities of late Roman Europe, and well illustrate the unique early Christian sepulchral art and architecture of the northern and western Roman provinces.

The part of modern Hungary west of the Danube came into the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD, as part of the Roman province of Pannonia. The town of Sopianae was founded on the southern slope of the Mecsek massif in the 2nd century by colonists from western Pannonia and Italy, who intermarried with the indigenous Illyrian-Celtic peoples. Sopianae was especially prosperous in the 4th century because of its situation at the junction of several important trading and military routes. St István (King Stephen I), founder of the Hungarian state, established one of his ten bishoprics there.

The medieval town grew outside the walls of the episcopal castle complex, and it was in turn fortified in the 15th century as protection against the growing Turkish threat. The central part of the country was taken by the Ottomans in the mid-16th century and the episcopal castle of Pécs became the administrative centre of a sandjak . Most of the Hungarian inhabitants of the town fled, to be replaced by Muslims from Turkey or the Balkans, who demolished the churches and monasteries (with the exception of the cathedral) and used their stones for the construction of mosques and other Islamic buildings. Pécs was freed from Ottoman rule in 1686, becoming part of the Habsburg lands. The bishopric was re-established and the town was repopulated with Hungarians and German colonists. The mosques and other Muslim buildings were converted for Christian purposes, although the baths (hammams ) continued in use for a considerable time. The fortifications around the castle were demolished and the town began to take on a Baroque appearance.

The Roman cemetery was found by archaeological excavations, which began two centuries ago, in the area now immediately in front of the cathedral, which had been terraced in antiquity. The World Heritage site consists of 16 funerary monuments, of which the most outstanding are:

  • Burial chamber I (Peter-Paul): discovered in 1782, this late 4th-century chamber consists of an above-ground chapel, the subterranean burial chamber proper, with religious wall paintings, and a small vestibule leading to the burial chamber. It is cut into the slope of the Mecsek hills.
  • Burial chamber II (Wine Pitcher Chamber): a two-storey structure, with limestone walls and brick vaulting. On the wall of the niche carved above the sarcophagus there is a painting of a wine pitcher and glass, symbolizing the thirst of the soul journeying to the netherworld.
  • The Cella Trichora: this elaborate chapel has a rectangular central space with three apses and a southern vestibule (narthex);the eastern apse has a raised floor and was probably an altar.
  • The Cella Septichora, a sepulchral building with a unique floor plan with seven apses;it was not used for burial purposes. It dates from the end of the Roman period, in the 430s.
  • The Early Christian Mausoleum, a subterranean burial chamber entered from a vestibule or narthex surmounted by a single-nave church with an apse at its east end. The northern, eastern and southern walls are all decorated with mural paintings of biblical subjects.
  • The Early Christian Burial Chapel was used solely as a chapel. There is a cluster of more than 100 graves from the late 4th and early 5th centuries around it.
  • The Painted Twin Grave: a gabled double grave contains wall paintings of Christian symbols in red, carmine and yellow on a white background.
  • Communal burial containing fourteen graves, separated from one another by stones and bricks. Stone and brick fragments bear names, presumed to be members of a single family.