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Savaria, the Roman city
Szombathely is the oldest city in Hungary. It was founded in 45 AD by the name of Colonia Claudia Savariensum (Claudius’ Colony of Savarians) and it was the capital of Pannonia Superior province of the Roman Empire. It lay close to the important trade route, the “Amber Road”. The city also had an imperial residence, a public bath and an amphitheatre. Remains of a mithraeum were discovered in 2008.
Emperor Constantine the Great visited Savaria several times. He ended the persecution of Christians, which previously claimed the lives of many people in the area, including Bishop St. Quirinus, St. Rutilus and St. Irenaeus. The emperor reorganised the colonies and made Savaria the capital of the province Pannonia Prima. This era was the height of prosperation for Savaria, its population grew, new buildings were erected, among them theatres and churches. St. Martin of Tours was born here.
After the death of Emperor Valentianus the Huns invaded Pannonia and Attila’s armies occupied Savaria between 441 and 445. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 458.
Szombathely in the middle ages
The city remained inhabited in spite of all the difficulties. Its city walls were restored, many new (although less magnificent) buildings were built using the stones from the destroyed Roman buildings. The Latin population moved away, mostly to Italy, but new settlers arrived, mostly Goths and Longobards.
In the 6th–8th centuries the city was inhabited by Eurasian Avars and Slavic tribes. In 795 the Franks defeated them and occupied the city. Even Charlemagne himself visited the city where St. Martin was born.
King Arnulf of the Franks gave the city to the archbishop of Salzburg in 875. It is likely that the castle was built around this time, using the stones from the Roman bath. Later Savaria was captured by Moravians, but Moravian rule was short, because around 900 the city was occupied by Hungarians.
In 1009 Stephen I gave the city to the newly founded Diocese of Győr. The city suffered a lot between 1042 and 1044 during the war between King Sámuel Aba and Holy Roman Emperor Henry III.
Szombathely was destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Hungary in 1241–1242 but was rebuilt shortly after and was granted Free royal town status in 1407. In 1578 it became the capital of Vas comitatus.
The city prospered until 1605 when it was occupied by the armies of István Bocskai.
Szombathely in modern times
Szombathely in modern times
During the Ottoman occupation of Hungary the Ottomans invaded the area twice, first in 1664, when they were defeated at the nearby town Szentgotthárd, and later in 1683, when they wanted to occupy Vienna but were defeated, and pillaged many towns on their way back; but the city walls protected Szombathely both times. After the country was freed from ottoman rule, peaceful times came, until Prince Rákóczi’s revolution against the Habsburgs came in the early 18th century.
During the revolution the city supported the prince, but was occupied by the Habsburg armies in 1704. It was freed in November 1705 but was occupied again in the beginning of 1706. In the next few years it was occupied a few more times by both armies.
In June of 1710, more than 2000 people lost their lives in a plague, and on May 3, 1716 the city was destroyed by a fire. New settlers came to replace the dead population, most of the were Germans, and the city had a German majority for a long time. The city began to prosper again, with the support of Ferenc Zichy, the Bishop of Győr a gymnasium was built in 1772, and the Diocese of Szombathely was founded in 1777 by Maria Theresa. The new bishop of Szombathely, János Szily did much for the city, he had the ruins of the castle demolished and had new buildings to be built, including a cathedral, the episcopal palace complex and a school (opened in 1793).
In 1809 Napoleon’s armies occupied the city and held it for 110 days, following a short battle on the main square. In 1817 2/3 of the city was destroyed by fire. In 1813 a cholera epidemic claimed many lives.
During the revolution in 1848-49 Szombathely supported the revolution, but there were no fights in the area, because the city remained under Habsburg rule. The years after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 brought prosperity. The railway line reached the city in 1865, and in the 1870s Szombathely became a major railway junction. In 1885 the nearby villages Ó-Perint and Szentmárton were annexed to the city.
In the 1890s, when Gyula Éhen was the mayor, the city developed a lot. Roads were paved, the city was canalized, the tram line was built between the rail station, the downtown and the Calvary Church. The City Casino, the Great Hotel and the area’s first orphanage were built. The population became four times larger under four decades.
During the mayoralty of Tóbiás Brenner the prospering continued, the museum and the public bath, the monasteries and several new downtown mansions were built, a school of music was founded and the city got an orchestra.
Szombathely in the 20th and 21st centuries
Szombathely in the 20th and 21st centuries
After the Treaty of Trianon Hungary lost many of its western territories to Austria, and Szombathely, being only 10 kilometres from the new state border, ceased to be the centre of Western Hungary. Charles IV, when trying to get the throne of Hungary back, was greeted with enthusiasm in Szombathely, but his attempt to regain rule over Hungary failed.
Between the world wars Szombathely prospered, lots of schools were founded, and between 1926 and 1929 the Transdanubian region’s most modern hospital was built.
During World War 2, as with many other towns in the region, Szombathely became a target due to the railway, junction, marshalling yards, local aerodrome, and barracks. The town therefore formed part of the logistical military infrastructure supporting Axis forces. The town and locality was attacked by day on several occasions in 1944 and 1945 by aircraft of the US 15th Air Force, which also included aircraft from the Royal Air Force 205 Group which made their attacks by night. These aircraft operated from bases in Italy.
On 28 March 1945 the 6th SS Panzer and 6th Armies were pushed back by an assault across the Raba River by the 46th and 26th Armies of the USSR and the 3rd Ukrainian Front. Szombathely was occupied on 29 March 1945.
After the war the city grew, absorbing many nearby villages (Gyöngyöshermán, Gyöngyösszőlős, Herény, Kámon, Olad, Szentkirály, Zanat and Zarkaháza). During the revolution in 1956 it was occupied by the Soviet army.
In the 1970s the city was industrialized, many factories were built. In the 1980s the city prospered, several new buildings were built, including the County Library, public indoor swimming pools, a gallery.
In 2006 the refurbishing of the city centre’s main square was completed, with financial assistance from EU funds