Panorama of Veszprem, taken from the castle. Photo by Arda van Tiggelen My First Exploration of the Many Landscapes in and around Veszprem, Hungary For five days, curator Arda van Tiggelen and artistic director Lieselot van Damme, both working for contemporary art initiative Stichting VHDG in Leeuwarden, visited archaeologist Tamas Petervary who works for the Laczko Dezso Museum for heritage in Veszprem. Arda and Tamas met in Rijeka through the Tandem Cultural Capitals programme. They are setting up an ambitious collaboration project, taking place in both Leeuwarden (ECOC 2018) and Veszprem (ECOC 2023) over the course of the next 4 years. The project Converging Sites brings contemporary visual artists, heritage specialists and local communities together, employing artistic vision and academic research to construct narratives that open up new perspectives on regional history and identity. The project takes the landscapes of the Veszprem and Friesland regions as its starting point. The fantastic sunny September weather allowed us to truly enjoy our explorations of the landscape around Veszprem. We drank in the view of Lake Balaton, a calm and vast aquamarine under high, airy skies. We drove over asphalt roads built on the ancient Roman road running from Budapest to Naples; we walked small foot paths meandering through dense woods. We caught panoramic views of rolling hills covered with dense foliage in all imaginable shades of green, scattered fields in yellow, brown and ochre, and picturesque clusters of little whitewashed houses with orange-red tiled roofs under a bright blue sky; the September sunlight saturated all colours. Arda looking out over Veszprem. Photo by Lieselot van Damme The city of Veszprem itself is shaped by the landscape: founded on a hilltop, overlooking the valley that a small stream called Séd ingrained over thousands of years. Medieval specialist Adam Sandor Pakai gave us an extensive tour of the city. Following the stream, as it flows into the city, we walked past the 11th century Jesuit monastery, crossing through the recreation park that was landscaped anew in 2011, past several watermills that in the past made use of the rapid flow. We walked around the typical steep St Benedict Hill that protrudes into the valley. Up the steep steps that lead up to the castle, we entered the tranquillity of the Old Town. The buildings of the former university, the castle and the cathedral stand imposing around cobblestoned squares. We walk down into winding streets, small stairs leading us up and down past cute small houses, shops and bars hidden in nooks and quiet courtyards. The urban landscape is divided into neighbourhoods, both by main roads and by the natural landscape: the city is supposed to be built upon seven hills. In the residential areas, we walk through pleasant streets lined with low-rise houses that are topped off with traditional tiled roofs, partly terraced houses, some are downright villas. Later we visit Ujtelep, a neighbourhood in the north-east consisting of a vast amount of Sovjet-style apartment blocks. Our guide Viktoria Szántó takes us from cultural centre Agora, where she works, on a stroll around the area. We see plenty of run-down bars, overflowing dumpsters and the rows and rows of windows without balconies, that belong to the smallest and cheapest apartments in the city. The public space between the building blocks is divided into green areas with grass and trees, and parking lots filled with cars. Yet our guide also pointed out the playgrounds and small public parks, the church and the library, and the nice atmosphere in the cultural centre Agora. Visiting this neighbourhood has been essential to get a good impression of the social-cultural landscape of Veszprem. Hand drawn map of Veszprem, collection LDM. Photograph by Arda van Tiggelen. Because aside from our interest in the physical landscape, we tasked ourselves with ’mapping out’ the local cultural landscape. We investigated the locations and positions of the public institutions for culture in the city: the religious and the heritage museum, the Art House, the library, the historical buildings such as the cathedral and the castle, the three theatres in the centre and the Puppet Theatre Kabóca Bábszínház, the cultural centre Agora. We talked to several people involved with these organisations, curious to find out their attitude towards Veszprem becoming European Cultural Capital in 2023. We shared our own experiences from Leeuwarden-Fryslan 2018. Also, we met up with the team behind ECOC (Friderika Mike, Can Togay János and Zoltan Mészáros) and had very interesting conversations with them. During our stay, we were of course very focused on one cultural institution: the Laczko Dezso Museum, our collaboration partner. On the day we arrived, we gave a presentation about our initiative Stichting VHDG, followed by an open conversation with the team at LDM and the ECOC team. I think this opportunity to present ourselves has really helped to start the conversation and exchange knowledge. We felt very welcome and honoured, especially during the next day, when we got a behind-the-scenes tour through the museum depot and offices. It was amazing to be able to see the individual workplace of each team member, see the immense collection of artefacts and follow the processes and procedures that an object undergoes in its transformation into an artefact. Several informal meetings and talks with the brand new director, Brigitta Petervary-Szanyi, provided valuable insight into the organisation and laid the fundaments for a good collaboration. Lieselot and Tamas at lake Balaton. Photo by Arda van Tiggelen Tamas took us to four different sites outside of the city, showing us the fieldwork, the museum’s archaeological activities in the region. On Friday, we visited an excavation site where remains of a Roman dwelling have been found, the roof tiles and walls were still recognizable. Amazingly, in the same location, darker colourings in the soil indicated the presence of neolithic artefacts and traces, just 3 meters below the surface. These are yet to be excavated, trainee Alex explained to us the methods and application of different tools during excavations. On Saturday, a special event organized by Tamas took place at an area in the woods close by the village Szentkiralyszabadja. In a series of surveys called Tracking the Past (Utak Mentén), the museum collaborates with a group of hobby metal detectorists to look for metal artefacts. On this bright Saturday, a group of around 30 enthusiasts had gathered, carrying metal detectors, shovels and GPS devices. As they dispersed among the trees, the beeping of the detectors faded away quickly. At the end of a long day, everyone proudly shared their finds: a wealth of medieval buttons, a hairpin and a brooch, horseshoes and knife blades; a bunch of Roman silver coins; and much older shards of pottery, indicating a settlement from the late-bronze era. Bullets and other modern objects were found and often tossed away with a shrug. Each find’s exact location is registered, as well as the person who found it. After the objects are brought to the museum, they are cleaned, researched, documented and added to the museum collection. The name of the finder will be mentioned when the object is presented in an exhibition or publication. Tracking the Past is one of the ways Tamas is inventing to include a local community in the museum’s research. On Sunday morning, Tamas took us to a reconstruction of the medieval castle Kinizsi in Nagyvázsony. While the site is a proper tourist destination, educating the audience with texts, scale models and historical objects, the LDM team has further excavated some rooms of the castle last year. Their research will continue in November this year. Most probably their findings will provide new insights, that will require the information and educational materials to be updated. A surprise visit on Monday brought us to a much more mundane location: a water plant that is expanding, requires an official survey of a construction site, to exclude the possibility of destroying an unknown archaeological site of value. Excavation nearby Veszprem. Photo by Arda van Tiggelen. For us, it was very interesting to see that the museum fulfils this role too. I can truly say that we have experienced the activities and expertise of the LDM first-hand. What visiting these sites and the surveys and excavations that have been done there has shown me is a hidden landscape. A landscape that lies just below the surface, covered by layers of time and human activity. Through the artefacts, this region’s history became something tangible, imaginable, vivid. It made me realize that to explore and unearth this landscape, it is not only required to dig and unearth what’s hidden, but it also requires the knowledge to understand and interpret the significance of what you find. The last landscape we have explored during our stay in Veszprem is a metaphorical one: the landscape of our project Converging Sites. We are filling the blank spaces on our map of this new territory. We are defining its contours and its character, identifying its landmarks, borders and resources. Through talking and throwing ideas back and forth, we have explored our intentions, expectations, challenges and opportunities. The title Converging Sites refers also to a construction site – which is in many ways the opposite of an archaeological site – indicating that we are creating a place where something new is being built up. A very important aspect of this visit has been to spend time with my Tandem partner Tamas. And for him and Lieselot to get to know each other. With great enthusiasm Tamas introduced us to everyone, providing both translations and context whenever needed. It was great to see him go about his day-to-day business and observe how he shares his knowledge and involves others with his enthusiasm and commitment. The next step in our collaboration is for Tamas to visit Leeuwarden in October 2019 and explore our landscapes. In 2020 it’s my turn again and I am looking very much forward to that: I will return to Veszprem for a longer stay and dedicate myself to in-depth research of its physical, social, cultural and archaeological landscapes. You can see more from our journey in this photo story.