The island of tranquillity in the Bereg
The Bereg landscape had preserved its intactness for long centuries: rivers, impassable forests, dangerous swamps protected the land. Today one can only see fragments of the picture used to meet people’s eyes long centuries ago.
One can read about ‘Atya’ village as early as in 13th century. It partly took its name from the Atyai Family who resided here. The settlement, built on a marsh- and floodland, had the right to collect toll from 1341 to 1910, its final name with the ‘vámos’ (toll-collector) prefix originates from here. The toll ceased to exist when an enormous stone bridge was built in the village centre. However, the settlement continues to live. Besides the stone bridge, a church and several residential buildings were constructed as early as in the Middle Ages.
The settlement, which used to have a larger population, was surrounded by large estates from several sides. These large estates provided modest subsistence to the residents. The village was stricken with mass emigration to America in the early 20th century.
On the occasion of the census held in 1930, the settlement counted 1,100 residents with the pertaining farmsteads. A further decrease in the number of population was considerably caused by the fact that most of the young people from the neighbourhood were carried off into captivity at the end of World War II.
Those who had never returned home are commemorated by the memorial column located opposite the church in the village centre. As fro the religion of the residents, 10-12 families are Catholic, while the others are Calvinist.
The Calvinist Church and the Wooden Belfry
Atya village is named in the files of the Nagyvárad chapter in 1289. The priest of the village, Péter was first mentioned by charters in 1321. According to the pope’s tithe of 1334, Atya must have been a large and wealthy settlement. The stone church constructed in honour of Saint George martyr was first mentioned in the charter written in 1341. By today, small alterations have been carried out on the church, but the entire exposure has not yet been performed.
The church was built in early Gothic style on commission of the Acsa Family of the famous Guthkeled In 1565 the church became Protestant, today it is Calvinist. The chancel is squared, the nave is rectangle-shaped, the southern church wall was transformed and the gate was bricked up in the 18th century. The medieval geometric decoration painted on the eastern window in the 17th century has survived. Inside the church 17th-century blue and red flowery decoration can be seen, which has not been explored yet.
The nave has a plain ceiling, while the chancel is covered with a groined vault. The closing stone of the chancel vaulting shows the rickrack coat of arms of the Guth-Keled Kin. The panelled ceiling, the western choir and the pews were prepared during the transformation in 1766, their original Baroque decoration was later repainted, but then was explored, so today they can appear in their original beauty. The pulpit crown is of unique beauty.
By the entrance door, on the left side, a floral wall picture fragment from the Renaissance Age can be seen above. Opposite the door, within the rear chancel, which begins with a hewn triumphal arch, one can find the entrance of the sacristy bricked up half at the Age of the Reformation.
On the northern part of the chancel, on the left side, one can see a hewn monstrance (pastophorium), for which the church is famous for. Opposite the monstrance, on the southern part of the chancel is the advowee’s chamber. Besides the assistants, only the advowee might stay in the chancel. It is he who was honoured with the Guthkeled Kin’s coat-of-arms decorated with wolf’s (or dragon’s) teeth hewn on the cross-pieced closing stone on the ceiling. The motif can be recognised on cushions, tablecloths made with cross-stitch embroidery.
The shingled belfry situated north to the Calvinist Church was erected in the 18th century. The 26.5-meter-high tower consisting of four wooden towers is the second largest one in the Upper Tisza Region. The tower was made exclusively from wood in 1691. Craftsmen of Atya prepared the belfry in Transylvanian style.
The beauty of the so-called dovetailed scarf-joints can be admired from the outside, too. The size of the timbers gives proof of huge trees (originating from the forest of Atya), which were transported into the village marked with Roman and Arabic numerals, in a carved status and were placed in their present place.
The skeleton of the four-turret-tower constructed in popular style in the 18th century rests on soles, is held by 9 columns, and the roofing is supported by 16 other short columns. The roofs are covered with shingles, the vertical surfaces are covered with boards, the gallery banister has been jagged with a saw from beneath. Visitors get a wonderful circle panorama from the first level, from among the four small wooden towers. In clear weather one can see as far as the ruins of the Büdy Fortress.
Besides the belfry, the parsonage and its outbuildings exemplarily preserve the devotional articles and architectural memories of the village’s church history.
We intended to buy a building located centrally and in as good condition as possible. The village purchased the real property in 2006 and started to rehabilitate it with public workers.
The public workers made a wicker fence and gate to the street side. In front of the cook-house, benches and tables were placed. The thatched roof of the cook-house was renovated, the plaster was reconstructed. We plan to place a loom and the objects of weaving and spinning or, if they cannot be purchased for financial reason, the tools for bread-making and the objects of the larder could be observed.
As for the front garden, the local government provides for keeping the flower-yard and the farm-stead tidy and clean by engaging public workers. We would like to establish a drawing-room (the so-called ‘clean-room’) in the first room of the house with early 20th century furniture, made bed, ornamental cushions, rag carpets. The wardrobe will be filled with clothing, bed linen, trousseau, the table is laid for eating. The middle part of the house was equipped with kitchen furniture. The back room could serve as the venue for permanent exhibitions, it may serve as a museum or even a place of accommodation. We would like to furnish it with a day-bed, a chest decorated with tulips or a storage bench, fittings of a living-room.
The outbuilding used to serve for the keeping of some draught animals, so it should be supplemented and equipped with garden farming implements accordingly. We are planning to build a back wall and a roof for the area between the two buildings. This place would be suitable for a wooden work-bench, a workshop equipped with joinery tools. Joinery, timber industrial works are one of the typical trades in the village, and further programs can be built upon them.
In the garden and here a wood-carving camp is organised. During the summer holiday, if needed, a group of 10-20 visitors are welcome to carve from wood placed in the garden with their own or our tools under the supervision of 1-2 adult specialists for one week every year, on weeks 28-30, in late July and early August.
A furnace and a barbecue are going to be established outdoors. At a place suitable for school outings, one-week camps, we would like to present the traditional way of bread-making on a Thursday/Friday. This traditional process starts on the preceding day with kneading, raising, in the morning we make a fire in the furnace, bake the bread, and then make flat bread and scones. Scones can be taken and eaten by visitors at once, while the bread is ready for dinner and may be taken home.
Objects, fancyworks popularising this village are available here.
About Toll Collecting
The written documents transferring real estates mention the toll of Atya Village as early as in the age of the kings of the Árpád House. The charter entitled Conscriptio Domini Soom granted the customs tithe due to the preacher of Vámosatya.
Until 1890 the king and the landlords shared the customs incomes in a proportion determined by law. However, in the given year the village approved such a resolution at a council meeting that the beneficiary of the customs income shall provide for the maintenance of ways through, bridges. From this time onward, landlords ceded their rights to the settlement.
The village leased the toll for local merchants for 3 years and the income was the source for the establishment, reconstruction of bridges letting through the internal waters. Following this, the barrier was installed in front of the house of the merchant who had the right to collect the customs.
Unloaded carts arriving from other villages were subject to customs of 6 fillers, and loaded carts had to pay customs of 12 fillers. The lessee could let down the barrier and prevent those reluctant to pay the customs from continuing their way as long as the customs had not been paid.
In 1875 a huge stone bridge was constructed in the village centre, near the church. It replaced the 18-20 meter long wooden bridge without bars, which used to cross the canal draining the water of the stinking lake gathered in the centre of the village.
In 1937 the decaying stone bridge was demolished and a new concrete bridge was built by widening the existing narrow and dangerous road. As passing through had become free, the toll ceased to exist.
Today a heritage park preserves the name-giving historic past.
Historic Memorial Park
The Memorial Park, commemorating ancient historical events and situated in the village centre has been extended since 2000.
Customs were collected for passing through the bridge crossing the swampy ground, in advance. Therefore, a memorial park is being constructed on the river bank, on side of the stone bridge, which used to have considerable traffic, in front of the church. Next to the millennium memorial plaque can be seen the tessellated coat-of-the-arms of the village and the tools of earlier fire-fighting among the flowers.
On the square located between the Village Hall and the kindergarten, flags flutter on holidays on the earlier river bank, toll-collection site. Travellers, tourists may have a rest here in a landscaped, flowery environment, while the information boards provide maps and descriptions.
The Bereg cross-stitch embroidery
In this region local forms of trades evolved: fishing on the lakes and rivers, marsh-dwelling on the marshlands, wood-cutting. In distressed, poverty-stricken times food provided by the water and human inventiveness was very important. As for the occupations, the land and the forest played the main role in the life of men in the Bereg country, while women and children also found gainful occupations for them beyond the works around the house: spinning, weaving, and embroidery to decorate the houses. The typical local needlework is the so-called Beregi cross-stitch embroidery, which is prepared in various forms and with different motifs.
Besides the ornamental cushions, tablecloths, curtains, the marriage gifts made as a trousseau, and the bags, towels, wall hangings for everyday use, marked with a monogram and pattern are gems of homes even today.
The inventiveness and adaptability of the local people is shown by the embroidered Easter eggs and that concurrently with the excavation of the Büdy Fortress, cushions and tablecloths were embroidered.
The lungs of the Bereg, the Bockerek Forest is situated in the village area, which has relatively preserved its original status thanks to the auspicious historical events, favourable location and isolation. The forest is the largest uninterrupted forest of the Beregi Plain, with beautiful clearings, swamps and marshlands, a rich and diverse living world. Its territory totals 600 hectares and it belongs to the Bereg-Szatmár Landscape Protection Area. The forest has enormous, entrancing clearings with rich fauna.
The most valuable part of the Carpathian Basin slashed with many brooks, channels and ox-bow lakes is the Bockerek Forest. In botanical terms, acacia, oak, ash and elm grove forests can be found here.
As for the protected animals living in this area, the wild cat, badger, otter and beech-marten can be mentioned. In proportion to this area, the local shooting party takes pride in excellent individuals of fallow and red deer, and wild boars.
On the nature conservation path and camp we aim to preserve and present the calm country life, the natural and botanical value of the Bockerek Forest, since this ensures the beauty of this landscape. We wish to enrapture the visitors with the beauty of this countryside, which can be promoted by the Nature Conservation event organised to establish a tradition and the excavation of the Büdy Fortress. Local places of accommodation and camping site are now being established.
The enchanting environment
Today you cannot see much of the scene that used to unfold before the then people. The rivers were wandering freely on the plain and changed their beds frequently. Extensive flooding occurred often, which established real water world in this district. There is no end of live and dead waters, rivers, crooks, rills, lakes, marshes, backwaters, moors. Their memory is preserved by the peat-moss of the Nyíres Lake and Bábtava, the Bockerek Forest.
The forest had the main role. Most part of it consists of oak, ash, elm grove forests, acacia and hornbeam oak forests, having a rich underwood with high mountain range plants remaining from after the Ice Period.
The Bereg landscape has preserved its intactness until late centuries: it was protected by the rivers, the impassable forests and the dangerous marshlands. However, from the 17th and 18th centuries deforestation started. In lack of other building materials, wooden houses or frame houses were dominant in the Bereg, too. The outbuildings, the churches, the belfries or surrounding the village with fences required huge amounts of wood.
Today our main purpose must be the preservation of our natural environment, the maintenance of its renewal capacity to protect our health, our children and our future.
For this purpose, under the organisation of Foundation for Vámosatya, we would like to pass on the love of nature to the young and their parents by arranging a forest school after the forest study path.
The following events may be organised any time, as an own programme: walking and riding tour to the Büdy Fortress, hunting tour in the Bockerek Fortress, laying a wreath at the forest tombs, forest school, visiting the local places of interest.
Büdy Fortress Ruins
The Büdy Fortress, built in the 13th or 16th century and becoming ruined in the Middle Ages, is organically related to the history of Vámosatya Village.
It is situated 1 kilometre far from the settlement. The first written mentioning of the fortress dates back to 1524. In 1563 the castle fortified and surrounded with a moat by Bailiff Büdy was occupied by the Turkish. In 1564 István Báthori recaptured it after a siege; unfortunately, the traces of the successful cannonade can still be seen. In the early 17th century the Büdys died out, so the fortress passed through the hands of several smallholders, and then the desolated building started to perish.
One of the main characteristics of this fortress is that it was built in the middle of the plain, in the area protected by the marshes of the water of the Micz and Csaronda Creeks. Two trenches were dug around the stone establishment. The external trench was a moat, while the internal one was dry.
Approaching Vámosatya from Gelénes, close to the village, left to the road lie the remnants of the fortress. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the fortress son foot from the public road, partly across the plough-land. In the acacia grove the Fortress, covered with its broken stones and thus preserved for the succeeding generations, built from natural stones, is clearly visible in the middle of the external moat, the 3-5-meter wide entrenchment and the internal dry trench.
Inside the Fortress, a 30x30 meter stone fortification, having a regular squared basic area, used to stand from the 13th to the 15th century. The building protected by its four corners with a circle-shaped corner turret could serve the frequently changing medieval owners rather as a residential fortress, a fortified castle. Owing to its small basic area, it probably used to have several storeys. The external castle wall was made of mortar-bedded stones of 1-2 metres wide, while inside 0.5-1 meter thick walls divided the basic area into several pieces.
One could get into the Fortress on a drawbridge. The portico protruding on the north-eastern side was the entrance. In the wall opposite the Fortress entrance, a regular well-shaped storer was uncovered in the 1960s. In the middle of the south-western wall, the remnants of a sooty chimney can be seen.
Having been destroyed and rebuilt several times, the Fortress, according to the written memories, underwent its last considerable siege in the Age of King Zsigmond János, in 1564. When Munkachevo fell, the retreating Turkish-Tartar Army occupied not only the village but the Fortress, too.
The Fortress could be reoccupied with cannonade. By today, unfortunately, the Fortress has been overgrown with weeds. The internal fortress has become even with the ground level. The internal ditch, entrenchment and 3-5-meter deep moat surrounding the Fortress protected this important historic monument from agricultural cultivation. On the Hungarian Bereg plain no other stone fortresses can be seen.
The clearing of the fortress and its environs and its transformation into a tourist spot has started. This is the first step of exploration, presentation. After the static surveys and archaeological excavations, we plan to partly or entirely renovate the fortress and establish a museum by using the findings. All visitors are welcome to this village to see other places of interest, too, as long as the works are completed. In memory of the battles, arching shows and fortress plays are organised regularly.
By the Tisza River
In the formation of the Bereg countryside and the local occupations, nature, and especially the rainfall arriving from the Carpathians, plays a determinant role. For long centuries, the calm, “blonde” Tisza, the largest local river, has endangered this region with flooding two times a year, in spring and autumn.
The great flood of 1970 did not directly affect the region, but in March 2001 the local people experienced this phenomenon eternalised by the great poet, Sándor Petőfi in February 1847
“Like the madman who has torn off his chain,
was the Tisza rushing across the plain,
broke the dam with roaring and howling,
wanted to swallow the whole world!”
In early March 2001, after heavy rains, the snow melting in the Carpathians arrived in our country all of a sudden. The high water level lasting several days drenched the dams. Boil welled up, and the internal water considerably increased in the Bereg district.
During the afternoon, 6 March 2001 the dam of the Tisza burst by Tarpa. One hour later, owing to the breaching of another dam, the water flooded Csaroda and Tákos. On 8 March, to prevent further damage, after cutting through Road 41, the most part of Vámosatya got under water. Thanks to this measure, the middle and southern area of the country escaped from the destruction of the enormous body of water. 18 hectares of agricultural and underpopulated areas were flooded, 3.075 buildings got damaged. 714 residential buildings were rebuilt and 1.489 were restored after the greatest flood destruction of the millennium.
61 church real estates, ancient monuments, roads and bridges were renovated.
Legend is the poetry of history. Nearly all historical spots can be associated with some legend, whether realistic or not. In many cases the imagination of the folk attaches mysterious stories to buildings or events not exactly known to them. Visitors may hear the birth of a legend in Vámosatya that has no realistic basis but is known to nearly everyone: about the Büdy witches or a long tunnel leading from the fortress to the Munkachevo Fortress. Even the entrance is presented, which is vaulted front remnants of an entrance to the fortress.
The legend related to the fortress also mentions a black case hiding lots of treasures. This legend about the black case must have been born in 1564, when King Miksa arrived under the weak fortress with the Transylvanian forces of Zápolya and the Krím Tartars ordered from Soliman II. The possessor, Mihály Büdy and the commander surrended with the condition that they might leave the fortress with all their personal properties. Büdy is said to have preserved many treasures inherited from János Corvin.
The folk told the tale that László Lónyay trusting in the approaching Transylvanian forces must have destroyed nearly all the Büdy Forest, so the lord of the fortress sent the following words: “Be calm because if I kick the black case, twenty thousand brave heroes will jump out of it at once and I will bring you to heel with them!” This treasure is actually in the fortress, though only symbolically. This treasure is the legend itself.
Vámosatya Village is situated on the right bank of the Tisza River. It can be accessed from Nyíregyháza (75-80 km) on main road no. 41, turning gleft from Vásárosnamény, after the Tisza Bridge, or driving straight from Csaroda, Gelénes. It is located 5 km away from the Eastern prospective Schengen border. The village has approx. 600 inhabitants.
Author: Dr. László Berényi
Edited by: Tibor Berényi
Photographs: Tibor Berényi, Dr. László Berényi
Drawing: Elemér Soós – The History of Vámosatya Fortress (Bp 1928)
Translated: Ágnes Szabados