UNESCO és Világörökségi helyszínek Magyarországon logó

Wooden bell-towers in the Upper Tisza Region

Wooden bell-towers in the Upper Tisza Region

The wooden bell-towers still standing in their original form and function in the Upper Tisza Region are outstanding examples of the centuries-old living tradition of medieval wooden architecture, carried on to the folk architecture of the 17th-18th centuries. Impoverished by the destructions left behind during the 150 years of the Ottoman conquest, the villages of the Upper Tisza Region often had to rebuild their former stone churches from wooden materials.

The wooden towers are beam-framed carpentry works that not only housed the bell of the settlement or the community it was built for, but also served as watchtowers. Considering their form and function, these structures are likely related to late medieval castle, gate and church towers. Since the region was short of stone that could be used as building material, the necessary quality and quantity of timber for building the bell-towers was provided by the neighboring Carpathian forests, and the logs were floated down the River Tisza. The use of material is a convincing testimony to the ecological practice of the local communities that adapts to the environmental conditions, which was a given at the time, but also sets an outstanding example for the people of today.

The simplest form in the development curve of the bell-tower is prism-shaped, with an open balcony and a pyramid-shaped spire. The versions found in the Upper Tisza Region are slimmer and have a particular aesthetic, which set it apart distinctly from the monuments of the neighboring regions in spite of the similarities. Eaves, then arched balconies that were supported by consoles and circled around the tower were added as a later development, likely originating from medieval fortification methods. The four towers are presumably of Gothic origin, which is related to stone architecture, as is the pointed arch of the spire that can be quadrangular, hexagonal, or octagonal. The bell towers are typically undecorated, or only have a few ornamental features. The arches and the columns of the balcony are sometimes carved, the planks of the balustrade are often decorated by sawn ornaments. The roof of the wooden towers is typically covered by wooden shingles. A metal globe was usually placed atop the tower spire, with an iron pole and a rotating banner made of sheet iron and engraved with the year of the building or renovation. The builders of these towers were carpenters of peasant origin who usually had their names carved into the columns or beams of the structure. Symbols indicating religious denominations – such as the star or the rooster – appeared on the towers in a later development phase. In Hungary, none of the old wooden churches can be found in their original places anymore (the wooden church of Mándok was relocated to the Hungarian Open Air Museum in Szentendre during the 1970s). The bell towers on the other hand still stand in their original locations, usually at the religious center of the settlement, as mementos of the wooden architecture of the old times. Beside the Upper Tisza Region, significant architectural relics can be found in the Transylvanian Plain, the Partium and the Subcarpathians.

The tentative World Heritage Site is home to many prominent monuments of the Reformation movement built in the territory of the former Bereg County: the wooden bell-towers of Nyírbátor, Nagyszekeres, Kölcse, Zsurk, Vámosatya, Lónya and Tiszacsécse represent an outstanding value even individually. These settlements still retain a medieval building technology in the form of architectural works originating from the 17th-18th centuries, built after the 150-year Ottoman conquest.