Hungary, Esztergom, Esztergom basilica at Danube river, built by Joszef Hild

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Esztergom Basilica

Top choice in Esztergom

The largest church in Hungary sits on Castle Hill, and its 72m-high central dome can be seen for many kilometres around. The building of the present neoclassical church was begun in 1822 on the site of its 12th-century counterpart, which was destroyed by the Turks. József Hild, who designed the cathedral at Eger, was involved in the final stages, and the basilica was consecrated in 1856 with a sung Mass composed by Franz Liszt. Highlights include the dome, treasury and crypt.

Measuring 114m long and 47m wide, the grey church is colossal. Its highlight is the red-and-white marble Bakócz Chapel on the southeast side – to the left of the main entrance – which is a splendid example of Italian Renaissance stone carving and sculpture. The chapel escaped most – though not all – of the Turks’ vandalism; note the smashed-in face of Gabriel and the missing heads of other angels above the altar. The altar painting by Michelangelo Grigoletti (1854), modelled after a work by Titian, is said to be the world’s largest painting on a single canvas.

On the northwest side of the church are the 70 steps to the basilica’s treasury, an Aladdin’s cave of vestments and church plate in gold and silver, studded with jewels. It is the richest ecclesiastical collection in Hungary. From here it's worth making the tortuous climb up 360 more steps to the dome for outstanding views over the city. On the way you pass through the new Panorama Hall and cafe.

The door to the right as you enter the basilica leads to the crypt, a series of eerie vaults at the bottom of 50 steps, with tombs guarded by monoliths representing Mourning and Eternity. Among those at rest here are Cardinal József Mindszenty.

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