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The Romans may have settled in Pécs for the region's weather, fertile soil and abundant water, but more likely they were sold by the protection offered by the Mecsek Hills. Calling their settlement Sophianae, it quickly grew into the commercial and administrative centre of Lower Pannonia. The Romans brought Chris- tianity with them, and reminders of it can be seen in the early clover-shaped chapels unearthed at several locations here.

Pécs' importance grew in the Middle Ages, when it was known as Quinque Ecclesiae after its five churches (it is still called Fünfkirchen in German). King Stephen founded a bishopric here in 1009, and the town was a major stop along the trade route to Byzantium. Pécs developed as an intellectual and humanist centre with the founding of a university - Hungary's first - in 1367. The 15th-century bishop Janus Pannonius, who wrote some of Europe's most celebrated Renaissance poetry in Latin, was based in Pécs.

The city was fortified with walls after the Mongol invasion of the early 13th century, but they were in such poor condition three centuries later that the Turks took the city with virtually no resistance in 1543. The Turks moved the local populace outside the walls and turned Pécs into their own administrative and cultural centre. When they 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 nation.

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, Pannonvin sparkling wine, Angster organs) and the exploitation of nearby ur- anium mines came later.