Friday 15 March 2019

Strange Museums of Keszthely, Hungary

My 2010 visit to Hungary started at the holiday town of Keszthely, which proved to have several curious museums. 

As the resulting newspaper article has since disappeared from the Web, here it is again for your amusement...

I’m standing two metres from the terrifying figure of a vampire looming over a defenceless white-clad maiden, blood dripping from its fangs... when the lights go out.

It’s not just the vampire I have to worry about in the sudden inky blackness.

Behind me is the infamous Countess Bathory in a bath dripping with virgins’ blood, and further on there’s a gent with a guillotine, and a man road-testing an electric chair.

Luckily, my confused backtracking towards the entrance activates the motion-sensitive lights, and once again the compact interior of the cheery Torture Museum is bathed in a sickly yellow glow. 

At first glance, the lakeside holiday town of Keszthely, Hungary, is an example of old-world charm.

It offers cruises on Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s largest freshwater lake; tours of the graceful Festetics Palace and its vast Helikon Library; and visitors can take a therapeutic dip in the stunning thermal lake at nearby Hévíz.

However, there’s an eccentric, even twisted, streak to this popular holiday town.

One expects a seaside resort to have attractions designed to distract holiday-makers between shopping and swimming - a dull local history museum, perhaps, or a lavender shop.

What Keszthely has is a bunch of small museums ranging from the intriguing to the just plain odd.

Torture Museum: Highlights famous fiends of history and popular torture devices, including the rack and the Iron Maiden, thoughtfully demonstrated using buckets of fake blood and hilariously unrealistic wax models. If you arrive on a quiet day, as I did, the ticket lady from the nearby Doll Museum opens the door and lets you wander about on your own.
Address: Kossuth utca 11, Keszthely.

Medieval Erotic Panopticon: The creators of this basement museum have taken medieval illustrations of sex scenes and, using silicone dummies, have recreated them in amusingly adults-only splendour.

One can only wonder what went through the minds of the University of Fine Arts candidates as they created the spectacular nether regions on display. Remember though - as it’s historic it’s not smut, it’s educational.
Address: Kossuth utca 12, Keszthely.

Doll Museum: After the previous exhibitions, the necessary antidote might be this collection of puppets dressed in folk costumes, located near the Torture Museum.

They’re all well and good, but the real highlight is the museum’s model of the Hungarian Parliament, constructed from 4.5 million snail shells by a single-minded lady over 14 years.
Address: Kossuth utca 11, Keszthely.

Marzipan Museum: If you’ve been searching fruitlessly for a giant marzipan model of a Buddhist stupa, then look no more - it’s here, along with marzipan versions of palaces and model cars.
Address: Katona utca 19, Keszthely.

Bacchus Wine Museum: Ask the waiter to switch on the lights in this cellar museum attached to a hotel restaurant; within is a jumble of casks, barrels, wine bottles, plastic vines, wooden statues and enormous Toby jugs.

Though it resembles the collection of an eccentric wine-loving uncle, the displays are actually well-labelled and informative about Hungarian wines.
Address: Erzsebet Kiralyne utca 18, Keszthely.

Star Castle: And finally, just 15km down the road from Keszthely at Balatonszentgyörgy, this star-shaped 16th century fortress will save you time if you’re in a rush. It has exhibitions of dolls in folk costume... and of wax models being tortured. But don’t worry, there are some nice tame farm animals to pat afterwards in the grounds.
Address: Csillagvar utca, Balatonszentgyörgy.

For more about the museums of Keszthely, visit

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