The History of the Palace

Johann Georg Freiherr von Harruckern, Imperial Commissioner of Catering, Hungarian Court Chamber Councillor, later lord-lieutenant of Békés County, became the landlord of Kígyóspuszta in 1720, when Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor donated to him the Gyula manor, which encompassed the greater part of the Békés County territory.

Harruckern was naturalised by the Hungarian Parliament in March 1722, and after that there was no impediment to the king handing him the manor in May 1723, which was registered in his possession on 10 August of that year. In 1729, the landowner was raised to the rank of Hungarian baron.

After the death of the baron in 1742, his son Ferenc Harruckern inherited the vast estate and became lord lieutenant of Békés County. His death in 1775 marked the end of the male lineage of the Harruckern family.

In 1776, the Harruckern heirs established an arrangement in front of the Queen to jointly hold the Gyula property and share exclusively the earnings. The management of the estate was entrusted to the husband, Count Antal Károlyi of Nagykároly, of one of Ferenc Harruckern’s daughters, Jozefa.

It was not until the 1790s that the idea of dividing up the estate was raised, when the immovable and movable property of the manor were inventoried and valued. Finally, in February 1798, the manor, divided into five estates, was put up for division in Vienna. As a result, Baroness Maria Theresia Wenckheim, née Baroness von Gruber acquired the Gyula estate; the heirs of Baron (later Count) Joseph von Wenckheim (I), Baron János György von Wenckheim and Baron Ferenc von Wenckheim (I) acquired the Békés estate; the Szarvas estate became the property of the heirs of the spouse of Countess Mária Anna Stockhammer, née Baroness Harruckern; the Szentes estate became the possession of Baroness Jozefa Harruckern, the widow of Count Antal Károlyi, while the Csaba estate was acquired by Countess of Ontopa Siskovics Borbála, née Baroness Harruckern.

Baroness Maria Theresia Wenckheim, née Baroness von Gruber received a chunk of Kígyóspuszta as part of the Gyula estate, while Countess of Ontopa Siskovics Borbála, née Baroness Harruckern received the remaining portion as part of the Csaba estate. Due to her debts, Countess Siskovics pledged her estates in Gerla, Doboz, and a portion of Kígyós-, Csákó-, and Szentmiklóspuszta that belonged to her to Baron József Wenckheim (I) on 8 May 1798, and since the estate was never redeemed by Countess Siskovics, the whole area of Kígyóspuszta became the property of the Wenckheim family.

Following the death of Count Joseph (I) in 1803, his property was inherited by his two sons, and Kígyóspuszta was given to Count Joseph (III). After the division of the estate, Imperial Chamberlain József Wenckheim (III) moved to the Kígyós plains, where he had a mansion built in the classical style between 1808 and 1831. (According to local historical data, the building was erected around 1810, but the mansion was definitely already standing in 1831, according to the surviving inventory of the Kígyós estate.)

On the death of József Wenckheim (III) in 1852, his immense fortune passed to his only daughter, the then three-year-old Krisztina Wenckheim. For a long time, the estate was controlled by guardians.

In 1872, Krisztina Wenckheim married Frigyes Wenckheim (I), the son of her cousin, Károly Wenckheim (I). As the Countess was the last member of the elder line of counts, the manor of Kígyós passed into the hands of the Gerla branch of the younger line of counts. Frigyes Wenckheim (I) held the titles of Royal Chief Chamberlain, Imperial and Royal Chamberlain, and Privy Councillor, and was elected as a Member of  Parliament on several occasions.

After their marriage, the couple contemplated purchasing the Gyula Mansion from the widow of Count József Wenckheim as their permanent residence, but the sale never occurred.

The married couple had a new palace erected in Ókígyós between 1875 and 1879. The plan for the historicist, predominantly German neo-Renaissance building was drawn up by Miklós Ybl. József Nuszbek supervised the construction work.

The Wenckheim family’s 1897 “Memorial Album” described the palace, which was highly appreciated at the time, as follows:  “The palace in Ókígyós was opened on 18 June 1879, built after the design of Miklós Ybl at a cost of nearly one and a half million. It is generally considered to be the finest palace in the country in terms of style, comfort, and regal splendour. Along the Csaba and Arad routes, it dominates the plain from a natural elevation, with its 35-öl-high tower (1 öl is 10.37011 ft), three-gable roof, obelisks, and small spires, offering a breathtaking sight. It was built in the Renaissance style, and the interior decoration is in keeping with the style; its fine reception rooms, library, and dining room, as well as its thirty guest rooms and outbuildings, are truly a sight to behold. It is difficult to elaborate on it in such a limited space, but it is definitely worth a look! The description and history of the palace building alone would fill a whole essay. In front of the building, opposite the chapel, there is an artificial spring, the so-called Zsigmond Spring (constructed by Béla Zsigmondy), drilled in 1894, which is a 335-meter-deep artesian well.”

The chapel stood at the north-eastern end of the mansion’s ground floor, while the conservatory (greenhouse), which was demolished in the 1930s, had been at the south-eastern end. The grand staircase was situated to the west of the chapel, followed by the gallery foyer, and to the west of the conservatory were the wood-panelled dining room, the wood-panelled library – located behind the arcaded loggia of the main (south) façade – and the reception salon. A corridor ran along the west side of the ground floor, with the apartments of the Count to the north and the Countess to the south. The guest rooms were upstairs, while the chambers, pantries, wine and vegetable cellars, fruit cellars, and wood storage were in the basement, and the steam engine that provided the water supply of the building was in the cellar. The kitchen was housed in the outbuilding, while the laundry room and servants’ quarters were located upstairs.

The residence was outfitted with the most advanced technology of the day, with the aforementioned steam engine pumping water up the tower and into the iron pipes that supplied water to the rooms of the mansion, the park, and the stables. The palace was once illuminated by gas lamps, with the gas produced in the so-called “gas house” located beyond the kitchen block.

The extensive English landscape gardens of the palace were designed concurrently with the construction of the building. A geometric garden (‘pleasure ground’) was established in front of the main (southern) façade of the building.

In 1893, Emperor and King Franz Joseph I visited the palace. In 1911, the Wenckheim family’s estate in Kígyós comprised 19,251 acres. The Wenckheims owned extensive estates, including the manors of Békés, Borossebes, Elek, Kígyós, Mosonszentmiklós-Ráró, Póstelek, Székudvár and Pusztaszőlő.

Following the death of Frigyes Wenckheim (I) in Ókígyós in 1912, his wife became the owner of the entire estate. On 17 February 1896, Krisztina Wenckheim already entailed her estates in Kígyós and Székudvar as well as her vineyard in Ménes to her first-born son, József Wenckheim (V).

The Count and his family left the mansion in August 1944, and the family fled to Vienna. The family members lived in the imperial capital until 1947, where they worked in a chocolate factory. The Count and his family later moved to Algeria, where József (V) passed away in 1952. 

The mansion was nationalised after the Second World War and subsequently became a vocational school for agriculture and the food industry. The ground floor of the building included offices, teachers’ rooms, a library, and a gymnasium, while the first floor was used as a girls’ dormitory and the annexes as classrooms. The former coach house was converted into a kitchen, the stables into a dining room, and the gas house into a bus garage. On the site of the hangar, a new dormitory for boys was erected, and the park clearing, also known as the polo pitch, was used as a football pitch.

The vegetation around the entrance of the garden was cut down after the Second World War and had to be replanted later. The park, which used to be maintained by the vocational school, was part of the Szabadkígyós Landscape Protection Area, and, since 1997, it has been part of the Körös-Maros National Park.

The historical restoration of the mansion took place between 2019 and 2022, within the framework of the National Palace and the National Castle Programme, coordinated by the (NÖF) National Heritage Protection Development Nonprofit Ltd.