The Romans may have settled here for the region’s fertile soil and abundant water, but it’s more likely that they were sold by the protection offered by the Mecsek Hills. They called their settlement Sophianae, and it quickly grew into the commercial and administrative centre of Lower Pannonia. The Romans brought Christianity with them, and reminders of that can be seen in the early clover-shaped chapels unearthed here.
Pécs’ importance grew in the Middle Ages, when it was known as Quinque Ecclesiae after the five churches dotting the town; it is still called just that – Fünfkirchen – in German. King Stephen founded a bishopric here in 1009, the town was a major stop along the trade route to Byzantium and Hungary’s first university opened here in 1367. The 15th-century bishop Janus Pannonius, who wrote some of Europe’s most celebrated Renaissance poetry in Latin, made Pécs his home.
The city walls – a large portion of which still stand – were in such poor condition in the 16th century that the Turks took the city with virtually no resistance in 1543. The occupiers moved the local populace out and turned Pécs into their own administrative and cultural centre. When the Turks were expelled almost 150 years later, Pécs was virtually abandoned, but still standing were monumental souvenirs that now count as the most important Turkish structures in the country.
The resumption of wine production by German and Bohemian immigrants and the discovery of coal in the 18th century spurred Pécs’ development. The manufacture of luxury goods (gloves, Zsolnay porcelain, Angster organs, Pannonvin sparkling wine) would come later.