• Kester Eddy

Surprise, Surprise! The Pécs "Minaret" - and the True Story Behind it - KT44a

Updated: Aug 6

​So, what is the story behind the “minaret” that once stood in the Zsolnay factory gardens in Pécs (as shown in KesterTester 44, posted on July 10), now part of the “Zsolnay Quarter” cultural area in the city?

Photo: This piccie, taken by Bea Seres a week or so back, is a clear illustration of what the "Minaret" is all about. Note the decorative tiles even on the steps down to the .....


[And yes, I've managed to get the website to load photos again - at least with the browser in private window mode - thanks to Wix chat advisers. Looks like I have to clear some cookies that have messed things up.]

I decided to dig deeper into this artefact, and asked Bea Seres, who originally guided me around the factory and its then mysterious, romantic gardens in 2009, for some assistance. Bea checked her knowledge with some experts and replied with this for blog readers, though she warns it may not be entirely perfect. So - the answer is ..... the tower is the ventilation shaft for a 19th century ice pit-cum- cooler.


The ice pit itself is underground. like a small cellar, only a few square metres in size. Access to the pit is via a staircase. Today it is surrounded by a fence and is open only for certain occasions during festivals and for special events, eg exhibitions or light painting, sound art events. But originally, they used it as a refrigerator, storing ice in there and whatever they wanted to keep cool.


Bea says the tower is a duplicate or even a triplicate of some made in 1892-93 by the Zacherl Fabrik, in Vienna. "I've read that the Isfahan Mosque was the inspiration for the decoration of the tower - looking at it it seems quite possible," she says. Apparently, this factory specialised in creating oriental, “Persian-style” artefacts and Islamic architecture, probably inspired by its links with Central Asia created because the raw materials were sourced from eastern countries through the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

As a matter of course, the Zsolnay factory produced at least one copy of everything it made in case the original was damaged during shipping. If these copies were not needed, they were kept to decorate the buildings and associated garden in Pecs. "These "leftovers” also served as a reference for potential buyers, in effect the whole place was a great open showroom for the company's products," she says, adding: "Miklós Zsolnay [the director] was the one travelling to the east (Turkey for sure) to learn and keep up to date with new trends in that part of the world."

The Zsolnays were constantly experimenting, trying out new techniques and materials in a bid to stay in front of the competition. "Making architectural ceramics weather proof, and especially frost resistant, was of great importance," she says.

"Mr Zsolnay often used different wall and roof tiles and other products on their own residential and factory buildings, all of which are now in the Zsolnay Quarter, to see how the different techniques and materials react to weather conditions and over time. It was also a grand, real life display of products that they could use for marketing purposes. Potential buyers could see the products in use, already built in. That's why you see slight differences in the shades of tiles covering the walls of some buildings in the Quarter for example - offering different shades, materials, techniques etc. to buyers to choose from. Experiment and marketing were of utmost importance to the company."

Thank you Bea - fascinating stuff.


UPDATE: Special mention must be given to Steven Soley, who in the original KT44 competition wrote: "An air shaft ? disguised to fit into the old amusement park or zoo in Budapest?"


As he put it: "I did get the function correct, even if I was wrong about everything else."


You did indeed, Steven. Well sleuthed!


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