Getting there: from the M1 motorway at Győr take route 82. The turn-off to Pannonhalma is about 15 km from here.
The history of the abbey, built on the holy mount of the Roman province of Pannonia (Mons Sacer Pannonia), is as old as the history of Hungary itself. The pagan Hungarian tribes arrived in the Carpathian Basin from the east in c. 896. Their leader Géza and his son, the State founder Stephen I, recognised that the Hungarian people could only survive if they created a solid, feudal state and adopted Christianity. In order to spread Christian ideas and European culture, Géza invited Italian and Czech Benedictine monks into the country. Their first monastery was built in honour of a native of Pannonia, the Later Saint Martin, Bishop of Tours, in present-day France.
The first buildings were destroyed, but on these foundations the church and the monastery were restored several times. The west apse is probably from the first church; the walls are the walls of the church consecrated in 1137, and the columns and the early Gothic vault were constructed in the first quarter of the 13th century. The damage caused during the Turkish period was restored in the baroque style around 1700. A significant part of the monastery was built at this time, including the refectory. In the first decades of the 19th century, the classical tower and library building were built, while the grammar school and the students' hostel are 20th century buildings in the Italian style.
Stepping through the modern main gate, we are greeted on the right by the baroque abbey and on the left by the column entrance to the grammar school and hostel. More than 40 monks live in the abbey, and the number of boys studying in the school is around 320. Walking further on through the courtyard, you reach the inner courtyard, where the neo-classical façade covers the medieval part of the building.
The abbey church, which has the status of basilica, has Romanesque, early Gothic, late Gothic and Renaissance parts, which were brought into harmony with each other during the restoration of the 19th century. The late Gothic cloister running along the south side of the church (1486) is connected to the church by the most valuable architectural sculpture of the monastery, the Porta Speciosa, the Ornamental Gate. The baroque refectory is situated near the cloister, as are the abbey archives. The archives contain valuable documents, such as the earliest written example of the Hungarian and Finno-Ugric languages, the Tihany Abbey deed of foundation and the Pannonhalma census letter, issued around 1090 with the first Hungarian book list.
The abbey's 19th century classical library with its 350 thousand volumes is one of Europes richest monastery libraries. The most valuable pieces of the collection are the incunabula and codices. Its stock of manuscripts boasts unparalleled treasures relating to the Hungarian Church and world culture.
The collections of the abbey are split up into a coin collection, stone collection, etching collection and picture collection. The abbey has set up a permanent exhibition from these in the exhibition area under the library.
Opposite the main entrance there is an arboretum where nearly 400 species are tended. From the nearby lookout tower you can gaze in wonder at the hills and valleys of the Pannonhalma Nature Preservation Area.
A part of the thousand-year-old abbey may be visited with a local guide. Visits in the Basilica are suspended during mass.
In the summer months the Basilica hosts organ concerts.
Győr is known as the town of rivers, lying as it does on the meeting point of three rivers. The monuments of the one thousand-year-old cathedral city, the beautiful baroque buildings of the atmospheric city centre, the museums and romantic riverbank promenades all encourage the visitor to stay longer.
Travelling along route 82 towards Veszprém over the Bakony mountains, you pass under the castle of Csesznek. The 13th century Gothic castle was a palace and prison until a fire caused by lightning completely destroyed it.
King Béla III founded the Zirc Cistercian monastery with French monks in 1182. The building was destroyed during fighting in the Turkish period and the reconstruction was only started in the 18th century. The wooden panelling and flooring of the library were made from the trees of the Bakony Mountains. Behind the listed baroque church and the attached monastery, there is a large, valuable arboretum.
Veszprém is rich in monuments and is one of Hungary's oldest towns. It is also known as the "Town of Queens" because it was the Bishop of Veszprém who crowned the Hungarian queens.