The history of the town can be traced to the prehistoric age. Archeological excavations prove that the area was inhabited at that time. While exploring a flinstone mine on Mogyorósdomb south of Sümeg, archeologists found a lot of personal belongings, as well as tools and other findings dated back to the New Stone Age. The brightest period in the prehistory of Sümeg was the so-called Hallstatt culture in the late Bornze and early Iron Ages. Relics of the time indicate that bronze smithery flourished. Roman authotity is marked by many fragments of brick as well as earthern vessel.
The Castle has a dominant role in town development and history. It was built by order of King Béla IV stimulating of construction of fortresses after the Mongol invasion. Town and castle were interdependent at that time. Events in the Castle had a great effect ont he town of Sümeg at the foot of the hill. The administrative and supervisional centre of the bishopric had been Erek, a nearby village, up to the early 14th century but then, with the increasing significance of the Castle in defence, in the centre was being put over to Sümeg. The castles of Sümeg and Veszrpém guarded over most of the estete.
After the death of the Hungarian king Mátyás, Sümeg as well as Veszprém was put in the hands of the pretender Miksa von Habsburg. His rule, however, could not last long as the intruders were pushed out from Transdanubia very soon. The castles of Sümeg and Nagyvázsony were retaken by Pál Kinizsi who put them under the control of King Ulászló II.
Due to the Turkish expansion, after the fall of Székesfehérvár in 1543 Sümeg became a border fortress just like some other castles int he Lake Balaton area. In the following decades town population significantly decreased, and was unprotected against the Turks but the Castle remained Hungarian hands. From the middle of 16th century on, the emperor’s army was leading Sümeg into difficulties, and things were made even worse by the Fifteen Years’ War and Bocskai’s War of Independence. During those battles the Castle changed hands several times.
In 1656-58, bishop György Széchenyi enclosed the town within strong walls provided with watchtowels so that Sümeg became the only safe and well-protected town int he comitat of Zala for a long time. As a result, Sümeg could grow into a busy town: trade was booming, markets become famous and the products of its pottery were much in demand. As the episcopal seat in the diocese of Veszprém, it was one of the most important centres of the Transdanubian Counter-Reformation. In and around 1650 bishop Széchenyi settled Franciscan monks there.
Turkish troops withdrawing from the battle of Szentgotthárd in 1664 hindered the development of Sümeg for a long time. Unable to take the Castle, while marching off, they set the town aflame. The fire caused great demages int he Castle itself but it survived, the town recovered and began to grow again. In 1700, however, there was another great fire and, in addition to the Franciscan monastery and the Episcopal Palace, only four stone houses remainded.
One of the most important fortresses in Transdanubia, the Castle of Sümeg was seized by the army of Ferenc Rákóczi in 1705, but the emperor’s troops led by general Heistler Sibert retook it in July, 1709. In the summer of 1713, castle buildings was burnt down by the Austrians under colour of a tactical exercise, actually to prevent the Hungarians from using it in case of an other uprising.
Recontruction of the town was derstoyed in the bottle and fire started thereafter, and a typical townscape developed in consequence of the building acts passed. Houses in the walled inner town had to be built of stone, so the central district was populated by the episcopal huosehold, manorial officals and local nobles. The less well-to-do farmers and craftmen with no privileges were forced to leave downtown and build their log and adobe houses on the outskirts.
At the time of the bishop Márton Padányi Bíró (1745-1762) the town continued to develop. The most important creation in work of art and architecture is due to his activity. He made Sümeg a spiritual centre of chatolism counteracting the protestantism of Pápa. With a wilde-ranging religious, political, social and sponsoring activity, he was a leading figure of the Hungarian baroque period and a devout representative of Counter-Reformation. In and around Sümeg he had a number of dwelling houses, farm buildings, a new parish curch and a baroque episcopal palace built.
With craftsmen and merchants growing in number, Sümeg became a market-town of the handicfaft trade. There was a hospital as well as pharmacy, a stage-coach stopping place and salt-house. After the death of bishop Bíró the development of the town came to another halt, the more so as a decree of Maria Theresia on statue labour and fee estate made differents between the bishop as landowner and the market-town more manifest.
In the last quarter of the century, life became more difficult in Sümeg because of epidemics and fire. French occupation during the Napoleon Wars an 1809 also serious difficulties.
The town was being relieved of its burden from the 1820s on, so agriculture started to develop and craftsmen as well as merchants grew in number. Middle classes were being born. Potters became famous throughout the century, and craftsmen forming tanner, cobbler, button-maker as well as cooper guilds were also well-known.
Social life in the noble central district was crucial for town development. From 1804 on, townsfolk as well as people from the neighbourhood were gathering around the poet Sándor Kisfaludy’s (1772-1844) group of intellectual and friends. This kind of association of the nobility was broken up the political fights of the so-called reform peirod in the 1840s, and citizens led by Vince Ramasetter came to its place. Having got rid of the authority of the landlords in 1848, the town achieved an aim of centuries long struggle. In the infamous are of Alexander Bach, Sümeg was made a residence of the comitat and district court, one of the centre of administration in the area, but executive power was in the hands of the Austrian army stationed in town. After the compromise of 1867, in contrast to the rapid industrial and agricultural development of the country, Sümeg started to decline. Its blue dying industry came to an end, the tannery burtn down, the reputation of local wine and its trade dropped, the citizens and the nobles grew poor. Its town title was lost in 1907, and regained on 1 January, 1984.
The monuments of Sümeg
Town centre is at the south-western bottom of the Castle Hill. Townscape can be traced back to the 17th century. Division into parts still distinguishable began with the building of the town walls.The aspect of the noblemen’s former town centre are nominated by the Franciscan church an monastery as well as by the surviving mansions of the nobility. The winding streets and rural houses of the so-called Tokaj, east of the Castle Hill, were built by landless villeins in the second half of the 17th century. A third part of the town is formed by the streets between the centre and the parish church. From the 1800s, we can find here houses of traders and craftmen as well as those noblemen and citizens int he late baroque style.
In the slope west of the paris church, we can see a quarter called Thirteentown and environs, the poorest at one time. The strongest mark of the townscape has been left by 18th century baroque architecture. The Episcopal Palace, the Parish Church, the farm buildings and dwelling houses of the estate as well as many houses of nobility and citizens were built at that time. It was the time when the aspect of today’s town centre of one time nobility took shape. The classicist and ecletic buildings of the 19th century get on well with the baroque environment.