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HISTORY AND CULTURE
The Town of Szék
Szék is an enclave of Hungarian ethnicity in central Transylvania (Romania), about 45 km north-east of Cluj Napoca.
Historical Preview. (Source: Official website of the Municipality Szék.)
Szek is situated in Romania, in Cluj County, and once enjoyed the title of town. The name of Szek, near the settlements of Boncnyíres and Füzesmikola (in Romanian Bont and Nicula) suggests that Hungarians settled in Transylvania sometime at the end of the first millennium A.D.
The town’s economic growth is due to the local salt mine since the Middle Ages which later became a valuable treasure because of the salt. Probably, this is why the Hungarian Kings have given Szek many privileges.In 1241 after the Mongol invasion King Bela IV. installed Szeklers and Saxons at the side of local residents, probably to help the reorganization of the local salt mine. The salt was mined in Szek by a state monopoly which was in the hands of the king. This information also appears in the chronicles of Andrew III, from 1291, where Szek is mentioned as a free royal city.- In 1366 King Louis the Great, personally visited Szek and the neighboring settlement of Bonchida to pre-determine the borders of the settlement. Apparently the king rode around on a horseback the border between the two settlements. This is why today the inhabitants refer to this limit as “the King’s border”.- Some of the documents dating from the XVIIth century tell the story of a destroyed fortress.
The fortress was probably an earthwork. It is assumed that the church gained rather protective function. Based on our knowledge, on the location excavations were never carried out so it would be irresponsible from our side to make any more assumptions. The inhabitants call this place Vardomb, in English “Fortress hill”.- A document from 1471 tells that King Matthias confirms Szek the old city rights. According to the document Szek enjoyed similar rights like Cluj, Buda (Budapest) and Esztergom.
In the 16th century Szek, the salt mine and the surrounding ponds are placed under the authority of the princes. The princes then often rented them to the Transylvanian lords, noble families such as the Bánffy, Kendy or Bornemissza families.- In 1717 the Tatars almost completely destroyed the city, burned and killed most of the population. This year, the plague also kills. As a result of the destruction of the city, nobles probably installed in the Szeklers in Szek.- In 1741 the Lords of the county swear to take loyalty for Queen Maria Theresa in the city of Szek.- In 1800, the city burned down, but was soon rebuilt and became the county seat of Doboka-Szolnok county.- In 1848 the inhabitants of Szek get involved in the Revolution of 1848. The teams were organized and helped by Szőcs Ninus Catholic priest and Protestant minister Istvan Bardi.- In 1812, the salt mine cave is finally closed in. This brought total damage in the city’s commercial and social life.- In 1828 the county seat is moved away from Szek, in 1876 the Court is abolished.- In 1884, the city turned into a village, which later in 1899, was destroyed by fire, and all its citizens were impoverished.
Map of Szék anno 1786 (Source map: Magyar Országos levéltár Budapest)
Nowadays the Szék community remains highly traditional, with distinctive styles of music, dance, embroidery, and costume. Szék’s cultural expressions received much recognition in the 1940s when László Lajtha collected the community’s rich vocal and instrumental music. In the early 1970s—when Szék was still relatively remote and isolated—young members of the folk revival movement rediscovered these traditions, and even adopted the word táncház, which was the local term for dance-house. Szék has been the most important source of inspiration and pattern for the táncház movement and remains a mecca for folk dance and music lovers.