Following the reduction of the territory occupied by the Ottoman Empire, Baron Johann Georg Harruckern of Upper Austria was allowed to purchase almost the entire territory of Békés County fromHoly Roman Emperor Charles VI, the King of Hungary, in return for his services in the wars against the Ottomans. He set about intense repopulation in Békés County. A large number of Hungarians, Slovaks, Germans and Romanians arrived and settled in the county.
The Harruckern family’s permanent residence was in Vienna. In accordance with the usual practice of the time, they had a mansion in town as well as a summer residence set in a large park in the country. The latter was designed by Franz Anton Pilgram, a well-known architect of the age. The layout of the building, which is no longer standing, bore a striking resemblance to that of the former mansion in Gyula. Baron Harruckern was probably satisfied with his mansion near Vienna as he did not commission new plans for the one in Gyula. He simply had a replica of his pleasant Viennese mansion built on his more remote estate.
The construction of the baroque block of the mansion in Gyula was commissioned by his son, Franz Harruckern, upon whose death the building was inherited by Mrs Joseph Wenckheim, née Baroness Maria Teresia Gruber. The mansion had its heyday when it was taken over by Franz Wenckheim, her son, who had extensions added to the building, turning it into a place unparalleled even by Viennese standards. He also had a ridingschool built and exotic plants grown in the park and the conservatory.
Members of the Wenckheim family hosted reigning monarchs on three occasions: Franz I and his daughter Maria Ludovika (the future wife of Emperor Napoleon) in 1807, Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth in 1857 and Franz Joseph I when he visited military exercises in 1876.
10 of the 13 generals later to be executed in Arad for their part in the Hungarian Revolution surrendered on the premises of the mansion on 23 August 1849 and left for Arad to meet their fate.
The Almásys, an old noble family from Zsadány and Törökszentmiklós, were linked to the mansion through the marriage of Countess Stephanie Maria Wenckheim and Count Kálmán Almásy. Their son Dénes (Dennis)and his wife Ella Károlyi Almásy were very popular in Gyula due to their “infinite modesty”. The count’s wife donated large sums to support the building of the grammar school and the nearby József Sanatorium.
The last Almásy heir, Alajos, committed suicide in 1945. His younger brother Kálmándecided to stay in Britain when World War II broke out. After the war the mansion was nationalised and was used to house first a trade school, then a nursing school with halls of residence, and finally an orphanage.In the 1960s a large portion of the mansion’s park was converted into a building site for thermal baths. Occupancy of the mansion gradually ended in the 1990s.
The Harruckern-Wenckheim-Almásy Mansion in Gyula also played an important role in Hungary’s cultural life.In 1746 it was the first mansion in Hungary to house a theatre performance.The grandfather of Ferenc Erkel, the composer of Hungary’s national anthem,lived in the mansion as a house musician and master of ceremonies. The great composer Ferenc Erkelhimself was a frequent visitor. Members of more than one generation of the Erkel family gave piano concerts during soirées at the mansion. The famed artists Mihály Munkácsy started his career as a painter under the tutelage of Elek Szamosy, who was in charge of making copies of and restoring old family portraits and other paintings in the family’s collection.