Atlas Obscura on Slate.com is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders.
Some of the oldest and most valuable books and manuscripts in Hungarian history are housed in the beautiful library of a small university town in the Bodrog river valley.
The Protestant Reformation took root quickly in Hungary, where enthusiasm for a new vision for participation in religious and intellectual life proved infectious. In the mid-to-late 1500s, several Calvinist colleges sprang up across the country, with the mission of training ministers for the new Hungarian Reform Church. Sárospatak College was one the earliest and the most notable of these institutions, hosting some of the country’s most influential thinkers. Notably, the famous Czech educator and pedagogical historian Jan Comenius spent several years here, developing his own modern vision of a college education, which included the introduction of pictorial textbooks and an emphasis on critical thinking over rote memorization.
Although it existed in some form since 1531, the college’s library was scattered across several storage facilities until 1843, when it moved into its current building. The facility features high windows and an intricate, trompe l’oeil painted dome. Having exploded in size in the 20th century, it now contains over 25,000 volumes.
Some of the oldest and most important pieces of the Sárospatak collection recently returned to the country after more than half a century abroad. At the dawn of World War II, 170 of the library’s treasures were transferred to Budapest for safety. They were seized by the Soviet Army on its 1945 return from Germany, and spent over half a century in the regional library of Nizhni Novgorod. In 2006, they were given back to Hungary and are now on display at the Budapest National Museum.