Gödöllő has an actually dynamically growing population of 30-35.000, but it was a rather poor village in the 18th-century, when Antal Grassalkovich I. (1694-1771), a great nobleman from a family of the lesser Hungarian nobility – and president of the Commission of New Acquisitions in Hungary at that time, and later a baron, then a count –, planned the development of a large estate, having its centre in Gödöllő. He began to build his palatial residence as early as 1741, which, as the greatest Baroque manor house in Hungary is, even today the principle landmark of Gödöllő. After his death Gödöllő has lost his importance, until in the course of the 1848-1849 War of Independence, the Hungarian soldiers gained a victory in Isaszeg (near Gödöllő) on April 6, 1849. After this, a war council was held in the mansion house of Gödöllő where the idea to dethrone the Habsburgs and to fight for Hungarian independence emerged. After the 1848-1849 War of Independence the Gödöllő estate was sold to investors until the Hungarian state bought it back in March 1867 and gave it, together with the mansion house, to Francis Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth of Austria (“Sisi”) as a coronation gift. From that time on, the royal family stayed in Gödöllő mainly in spring and autumn, and this resulted in a significant upswing in the life of the country town that grew into an increasingly popular summer resort, owing, in addition to the presence of the royal family, to its natural endowments and its benign fresh air. Annually 300-400 families of Pest spent the summer season in Gödöllő, which was growing richer and richer with bathing places and restaurants or village inns.
After the collapse of the Habsburg Empire there was a time similar to that of the king in the life of Gödöllő, since the mansion house became a seat of the governor of Hungary, Miklós Horthy This era, lasting almost two and a half decades, influenced favourably the development of the village. The next big event in the social life of the town was the 4th World Scout Jamboree during August 2–13, 1933 at the Royal Forest of Gödöllő and at the area around the Royal Palace. A total of 25,792 Scouts from 54 nations camped on the site. In 1939 the Royal Park also hosted a jamboree of girl scouts.
After World War II the development of the community took a new turn. Soviet troops were stationed in part of the mansion house, while in a larger part there was a social welfare home. In contrast to its earlier character as a summer-resort, industry started in Gödöllő. In 1990, after the departure of the Soviet troops, clearing the almost ruined Grassalkovich mansion house started, which was essential if the restoration programme begun in 1985 was to be accelerated. As a result of this, the mansion house may, after a few years, receive guests visiting the town in its full splendour. During the 2011 Hungarian EU Presidency, the informal ministerial meetings were held in the Royal Palace, because of the town’s good connection to the Budapest airport. The main venues were the Baroque Palace’s riding school and the reconstructed stables.
The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace of Gödöllö is the largest Baroque palace in Hungary and the second biggest surfaced palace after Versailles. The 250-year-old Royal Palace is one of the largest palaces in the country and is a significant work of Hungarian Baroque architecture. The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy’s ruling couple, Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Queen Elizabeth (known as Sisi) frequently stayed here. Most of the building has been restored to its former glory. Classical concerts and major festivals are organized in the state room and the ceremonial court of the palace.
In the southernmost wing of the Palace, Count Antal Grassalkovich II (1734–1794) had a theatre auditorium constructed between 1782 and 1785. 24.5 m long, 8 m wide and 9.5 m high, the space resulted from making the formerly 3-storey wing into one. The walls were decorated with Neo-classical, late Baroque paintings. The theatre was in operation only when the Count was in residence at Gödöllő. Reconstruction of the Baroque theatre was completed in August 2003, since then it has provided a venue for high standard performances, and it is now open to museum visitors.
Parallel to the construction of the palace, plans were drawn up to consciously develop the settlement on a large scale. As part of this project, Grassalkovich had a palace garden made, which was divided into an upper and a lower garden by the palace itself. The garden, which clearly represented elements of aristocratic taste, financial well-being and political power alike, was created in French style, with Versailles serving as a model for it. Bowing to the predominant trends of the age, the French garden was converted unto an English, or in other words, a landscape garden towards the beginning of the 19th century by Antal Grassalkovich III (1771 – 1841) and his wife Leopoldina Esterházy (1776 – 1868). Located around 200 metres from the Palace, the King’s Hill pavilion is the only remaining building in the Palace park which dates from the Baroque period. It was Antal Grassalkovich I who had the hexagonal pavilion built in the 1760s. 54 oil paintings depicting Hungarian leaders and kings were incorporated into the panelled walls of the pavilion. The majority of the pictures have been destroyed or have disappeared and in the 1980s, only the bare walls were left standing. The building was reconstructed in 2002. The set of pictures was re-created by means of advanced photographic technology in 2004, and since then the pavilion may be visited on guided tours.