Tourists are attracted by three major forms of culture: those which are inanimate and do not involve human activity, those which are reflected in the daily life of host communities, and those which are animated. Based on this categorization, inanimate forms of Hungarian folk culture as tourist attraction include primarily folk architecture and folk art objects.
Living traditions – connected often with special times of the year like the Easter holidays, harvest or Christmas – are basically rather similar in the whole country, but regional differences add to the overall attractiveness: the mixture of various national minorities living in a relatively small geographical area provides tourists with a complex supply of traditional experiences. Folk art objects have traditionally also been used in everyday life, but their role is changing, due to changing lifestyle: nowadays their main function is decoration, even though most folk art objects can be used for their original purpose (e.g. as tools, for food making, as clothes for everyday wear or for special occasions, etc.) as well. Animated forms of folk culture are festivals, folklore programmes (e.g. dance or music shows, staged weddings) or special festivities like the masked parade of Mohács (“busojárás”) celebrating the end of the winter every year.
Folklore art and traditions play an important role in Hungarian tourism. Being part of our cultural heritage, objects of folklore art and handicrafts are among the main tangible attractions of the country. Costumes and other tangible forms of art have been best preserved in small rural settlements, where the inhabitants’ everyday life has been tightly interwoven with traditions. Thus rural tourism development in most regions attempts to emphasize the importance of these attractions, in order to attract the type of visitors who are highly motivated to learn more about arts and crafts. Folk arts and crafts, traditions and customs can be classified as local, regional, national or international attractions.
The best known example of international attractiveness is the village of Hollokö, one of the four World Heritage Sites in Hungary. Hollokö was declared to be a World Heritage Site in 1987 for its traditional “Paloc” architecture and folklore heritage. The old part of the village – including more than 50 buildings – has become a living museum in the last decade. Visitors can watch various craftsmen in work, buy handmade souvenirs in their workshops and become familiar with local customs on the village’s holidays and special events.
The main types of folklore art in Hungary are wood-carving, weaving, embroidery, pottery, peasant architecture and other craft forms as e.g. bluedying, candle-making, furniture painting or honey cake making. Wood-carving in Hungary is mainly related to pastoral life: herdsmen carved objects that were closely linked to animal husbandry and outdoor life. Nowadays carved objects (from small items to whole sets of furniture) are mainly used in traditional style hospitality, but are also popular souvenirs.
Weaving is one of the most ancient branches of textile art. Various products have been produced by weaving, one of the most special ones is the “szur”, the old-type long woollen frieze coat of Hungarian shepherds. Due to the changes pastoral life has undergone in this century, the “szur” is only worn nowadays in folklore events (e.g. in horse-shows which are very popular among foreign tourists in Hungary).
Embroidery is a relatively young type of folklore art in Hungary: the currently well-known patterns and colourings of the different regions are not older than 100-150 years. Despite the relatively small size of the country, different regional styles and patterns have developed, the most famous being the multi-coloured, shiny Matyo needlework, the flourishing embroidery of Kalocsa and the red and blue Paloc style.
Pottery is a very widespread folk craft. Pottery dishes were made for everyday usage (like plates, jars, bowls, cooking forms, flowerpots) or for decoration (e.g. floral plates for walls of rooms and kitchens, vases, candleholders). The function and the popularity of the different items have been changed during the last decades, but pottery goods have kept their place among the most appreciated folk art products, both by international tourists and local residents.
Peasant architecture as a form of folklore art includes both churches and residential houses, the former often constructed with peasant house building techniques, furnished with the help of peasant carpenters. Due to the modernization process of the last decades, in most villages the old-style buildings were destroyed or reconstructed (which is now seems to be an obstacle in the development of rural tourism, since tourists are looking for the “good old” village atmosphere). However, traditional architecture has been preserved in the most remote areas of the country (like in the above mentioned village of Hollokö or in the “Örség” region) and some of the finest (original) buildings have been collected in the open-air ethnographic museums all around the country. (The best known of these museums is in Szentendre, near to Budapest, where visitors can get acquainted with the traditional architecture of several regions in a day: a “condensed” tourist experience).
Among other craft forms, blue-dying, candle-making, furniture painting and honey cake making are the most important for tourism. The traditional honey cake heart – a once popular gift for lovers – even used to be the logo of Hungary in national marketing, as the symbol of hospitality and friendliness.
Almost every region has been famous for certain forms of folk art, which have been best preserved in small, more isolated settlements, but nowadays are also well presented in larger towns’ museums, so tourists have various opportunities to get acquainted with regional folklore.
The regions best known for distinctive folk culture are the Sárköz, the Galgamente, the Örség, the Rábaköz, the Kiskunság and the Hortobágy National Parks, and the “Paloc” and the “Matyo” areas. Among the most important settlements are Kalocsa (famous for embroidery and unique wall-painting), Hollokö (the World Heritage listed Paloc village), Mezökövesd (the centre of the “Matyo” area), Karcag (home of pottery art and a traditional village museum), Kiskunhalas (famous for lacework) and Tihany (folk art centre in an old peasant village at Lake Balaton).