The Esterházy Family
The family nest of the Esterházy family of Galántha used to be the Csallóköz (south-west Slovakia). They are originated from the Solomon clan. The ancestral goods of the Solomon clan were divided by the two sons: Peter, later founder of the Esterházy family and Illés, later founder of the Illésházy family in 1238.
The Esterházy family started to rise during the 16th century. After marrying Orsolya Dersffy, Nikolaus Esterházy rose among the wealthiest of the country. Following his wife’s death, he remarried and his new wife, Nyáry Krisztina also brought a significant fortune and plenty of distinguished relatives into the marriage. Thus, it was not much of a surprise that at the Parliament in Sopron in 1625, Nikolaus Esterházy was elected to be Palatine of Hungary.
The status and power of the family were further enhanced by Paul Esterházy, born in 1635, who became Chief Lieutenant of Sopron and later Lord Steward. He spent most of his life waging war against the Turks. In 1686, he took part in the battle to retake Buda. In 1681, he was elected to be Palatine of Hungary in Sopron. In 1687, due to the law of primogeniture, he was promoted to the rank of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire and was rewarded with the Order of the Golden Fleece by the Emperor. As a reward of his Habsburg-loyal services the rank of Prince was extended over all men of the whole family in 1711. He further expanded the fortune of his family by his marriage to his cousin, Orsolya and after his second marriage, to Éva Thököly, he acquired a major part of the Thököly fortune. In his last will he was in command of the largest property in the country. His possessions exceeded seven hundred thousand acres.
After the death of Palatine Paul, his sons, Nikolaus and Josef lived only for a short time. After their death, Paul Anton took charge of the property. As a great enthusiast of music and arts, he initiated forming the library. He founded the later most famous orchestra and hired one of the composers with the most prominent career of that age, Joseph Haydn.
Esterházy Palace around 1730
After the death of Esterházy Paul Anton in 1762, all of the tremendous Esterházy fortune was in his brother’s hand, (the Magnificent) Nikolaus I. The annual revenues of his lands exceeded one million eight hundred thousand Hungarian forints. He spent forty thousand forints on his household, which was only comparable to the royal one. (The purchasing power of the golden forint is represented by the fact that the price of a cow was 10–12 forints.) The court of Nikolaus was characterised by luxury, it represented wealth and splendour even from outside. His formal dress, which was covered with diamonds, attracted attention in European cities. He also visited Paris where he fell for the Palace of Versailles. He considered himself wealthy enough to create a Hungarian Versailles of his own.
When Prince Nikolaus looked for a site for the palace, he chose a land which first had seemed to be completely inadequate for construction and thus had plenty of obstacles to hinder the plan. His father’s hunting lodge was in neglected condition. Water had flooded the surroundings creating a boggy and swampy area full of insects; a place where fever could have been a permanent guest. Construction began on his command: canals were dug, dams were constructed and by investing nearly 11 million golden forints, the realization of a prince’s dream, the new Palace of Eszterháza in its full luxury was completed in 1766. The palace was a labour of love for the Prince, who felt really attracted to Eszterháza. At the beginning of the construction he intended it to be a summer residence but later spent most of the year here. He always enjoyed himself here and always had some plans to be realised. He used to be a gentle master of his subordinates and a cordial host. The prince not only loved luxury but also held his ground as a tough soldier; first as colonel, later general of the Imperial Army, then owner of the 33rd infantry regiment. From 1764 to 1787, being the captain of the Hungarian Noble Guards, he maintained an almost permanent relationship with Queen Maria Theresa. The year 1773 was prominent in the history of the Palace as Nikolaus (the Magnificent) Esterházy could serve as a host for Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary.
Music silenced in Eszterháza in 1790. The visionary and creator of the Palace Orchestra passed away. The heir, Anton Esterházy did not like Eszterháza. The luxurious dreamland became left on its own. The heirs retired to their homes in Kismarton and Vienna. The paths of the park became covered with weed, rain leaked in through the roofs, daub peeled off the walls. The statues, vases and fascinating fountains that had once beautified the park went to ruin quickly. All the movable stones had been carried away, the opera house fell apart and the artistically decorated Sala Terrana served as a sheep kraal.
At the turn of the century, conservation work was yet done on the order of the family. Countess Margit Cziráky moved into the renewed palace together with his husband, Prince Nikolaus IV and their children. The decay of the building reached its peak in World War II. The furniture of the castle was carried away, rain had poured in through the already ruined roof for years, the joists of the enormous floorspace framework became fungous, daub was peeing off the walls and the building complex was on its way to complete destruction. The resurrection of the palace started in 1959. Through this, a possibility of its utilisation for tourism was created and the palace turned into a popular tourist attraction.
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