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Sights to See in Hungary – Lake Balaton: The Heart Shaped Tombstones in Balatonudvari
Passing by Balatonudvari, a splendid little village at Lake Balaton in Hungary, it is worth stopping and taking a look at the old cemetery with its unusual heart shaped tombstones. Why are they like that? There is no logical reason proved. However, a moving legend tells the story why and how these tombstones got the shape of a heart.
Balatonudvari is located on the north bank of Lake Balaton. If you come to Hungary, don’t miss visiting this area because it can offer you a unique view over the biggest lake in Central Europe, a calm and hospitable atmosphere and a lot of natural and cultural attractions.
One of these tourist attractions is the cemetery in Balatonudvari, a nice village, a history of which can be traced back to the 13th century when its Romanesque style catholic church was built. Its old cemetery is very special because it has over fifty tombstones which are carved into a shape of a heart. Since they are unique and only one or two of them can be found randomly in other places, the whole cemetery is protected. These tombstones were made between 1800–1850 and it is supposed that probably there lived a stone carver family there whose speciality was this unique heart shape and when they moved from the village or rather died out, nobody continued making the heart shaped tombstones any longer.
Although this explanation sounds very logical, it is just a theory because there are no documents to prove this assumption. However, legends and poetry claim to know the “real” reason. Here is the true tale of the heart shaped tombstones in Balatonudvari.
A Heart Shaped Tombstone in Balatonudvari
The Legend of the Stone Hearts
Dúl János was the name of the leader of the biggest fishing team in Balatonudvari. He was famous not only for his great strength, huge body, two feet long moustache but also for his good luck in fishing and probably the most famous for his beautiful daughter, the little “fisher” Veronika.
The fisherman’s daughter was called this name because she had shown a special inclination towards the beautiful job of the fishermen and the great water.
The tiny little girl would hang around the men, who were preparing to go fishing. She would paddle with the lot of strange cords and strings and her little hands soon learnt how to make knots and nets. She hardly grew bigger when she changed the red ribbons in her hair into white hemp cords and asked the fishermen to take her in their punts. These hard working, laconic men got to love her soon.
However hard fishing was or wild the water and the waves, even if their mouth opened for a swear-word, they cut it off when they noticed that the little girl was around them. They fought with the nets, the wind, the storms and their face was hard from the summer sun and the winter storms. They were often challenged by the hard work but they never lost their patience with Veronika.
Smile is a rare gift on the face of fishermen but the little girl was presented with this valuable stuff, too. The fishermen first took her with themselves for fun but later on they missed her if she did not go with them. The world was emptier if they did not see her sitting quietly at the end of the punt as the picture of the lake passed over the shining mirror of her widely open blue eyes.
The little girl’s eyes were beautiful at the first streak of dawn when the stars would turn down their tiny lights in them and they were beautiful at sunrise when the sun with its red light would emerge from the water of the lake. Veronika always thought that the golden sun rises from Lake Balaton every morning. She believed a lot of other things about the lake. She built a fairy world from the fishermen’s tales and her imagination around Lake Balaton. The little girl probably would not have been able to live without the great water. She thought there was no other world besides this one. The lake was her own empire with its purple dawns, sparkling sunshine at noon and the colourful, velvety twilights.
She would always watch Lake Balaton: in the morning when the birds’ concert could be heard over the reeds and in the evening when the wind coming from the shore, bristled the dark blue, smooth surface of the lake. A bell tolled over the village at that time and the fishermen dipped their paddles into the darkening water with soft and quiet movements. Veronika saw as if diamonds were dropping down from the edges of the paddles into Lake Balaton every time when the fishermen lifted them.
This is how the little girl lived in a never ending happy trance and this is how she was growing year by year among the fishermen. Summers and winters were flying and the little “fisher” Veronika grew into a young girl as beautiful as a fairy. However big she grew and however beautiful she became, she preserved a pure heart of a child and all the beauty of Lake Balaton in her eyes.
Years passed by and Dúl János would never go out fishing without her beautiful fair haired daughter any longer. When the sun was rising over the hills in Tihany in the mornings, their punt was sliding slowly on the smooth water. In its end a golden haired fishing girl was sitting like in a fairy tale…
‘Like in a fairy tale…’, thought the handsome stone carver young man, who one day noticed the fishing punt on the water approaching the shores of Balatonudvari. The fisherman with his long moustache was paddling quietly and there was the golden haired girl sitting at the end of the punt.
Veronika was still watching the water daydreaming and she could hardly realize that they got to the shore. Only when they pulled the punt out to the shore did she look around and then noticed that the otherwise quiet shore with its turned down punts and drying nets had changed somewhat. Strange, huge, grey stones were lying all over. They were brought here for some building operations from a far away quarry.
Although the girl had already heard about it she was surprised by the sight of the heap of grey stones. Suddenly they evoked strange lands, far away mountains onto the shore of the mild water. Veronika had not seen mountains at close range and she did not know the dead and hard rocks of quarries, either. Even Badacsony, the terrifyingly beautiful, huge, coffin shaped mountain was just a far away, dim shadow in her imagination but she had not seen it, either. The girl was scared from the huge, grey stones, which were lying numbly in the shore of the mild water in the golden sunshine. They were so strange that she felt a pain in her heart from their sight.
The young man who had just arrived with the stones was only standing stock-still and wordlessly on the shore. He was watching the girl mesmerized as if he was watching magic. It seemed to be true that little Veronika grew into a young girl, which neither the fishermen nor her father noticed.
She was quiet and daydreaming as ever and the sight of Lake Balaton was still passing over her eyes. Only the little spontaneous smile in the corner of her mouth became slightly sad. Probably this was the reason why the young stone carver felt a throbbing pain in his heart or maybe something else but since that moment he was unable to think of anything else but the girl who was sitting on the punt sliding towards him in the golden light of dawn.
They soon got acquainted. They talked little and the young man would just walk next to her wordlessly watching her with devotional love in his eyes. Love soon aroused in Veronika’s heart as well. She got to love that young man, who could watch her so gently and whom she could also be silent with. Silence sometimes says more than the most beautiful words. Veronika liked her new life but she could not make peace with the grey stones. She was afraid of them very much.
‘Tame them’, she asked the young man.
The young man, who would even have moved the mountains for her, carved the hard, dead stones into the shape of a heart. First he carved a little heart the size of her fist then a bigger one, as big as a plate and later another one the size of a bowl with beautiful ornaments on it. This was how he tried to make the hard, grey stones alive. Then he graved Veronika’s and his name on the stone heart.
‘This is good now’, she said. ‘This way it is much better. Probably I have already got to love stones.’
But when the young man started to talk about his plans that they would move into the big mountains and build a house under the rocks, she was scared again though her fiancé told a lot of nice stories about his homeland. He told about big birds which flush scared when a hack cuts into the rock and the sound of the rolling stones can be heard for long in the forest. But in vain he did talk about the gentle birds and kind forest animals of that far away land and the silky meadows Veronika was afraid.
She was afraid of the narrow mountain paths, the sharp stones, the dark forests but first and foremost she was afraid of the terrifying fact, which was beyond expression, that she would never see Lake Balaton again.
This was how these two loving hearts were suffering – one of them was the child of water, the other was the child of mountains.
However, one night Veronika told her father that she was going away with the young man from the mountains to live with him in the quarry. She would go away and leave her father and the big water behind.
Dúl János’s head dropped down. His heart was surrounded with unutterable sorrow. But he knew the law of life: daughters go away with the ones their heart chooses. In his time this is how Veronika’s mother came with him, too, the woman who he loved most and who died when Veronika was born. And now it was Veronika’s turn to leave him. In his sorrow he could only say the following.
‘If you happen to be unhappy one day in the mountains and you would like to come back, Lake Balaton and I will always welcome you.’
When Veronika told the young man that she was going with him, he hardly knew what to do in his happiness. As the day of moving was approaching the young man’s happiness was growing and the louder his happy voice was the quieter Veronika’s words became. Then arrived the last day and Veronika went to take leave of Lake Balaton.
Meanwhile the young man in his exuberant happiness started to carve a heart to Veronika from the hugest stone.
But his happiness seemed to be too early.
Veronika wanted to say good-bye to the lake. She wanted to be alone with the great water once more to fill her eyes and heart with all its beauty and take its picture with her to the mountains.
It was late in the afternoon when she got into the old punt and started to row deeper and deeper in the lake. The water was pulling her like magnet, like a jealous lover, who does not want his love to leave him.
The girl forgot about everything. She was enraptured by the great water, the magic of the great blue universe, and just as in her childhood she could not see or hear anything. She just felt a great, endless inner silence and happiness.
This was how it happened that she only noticed the big black cloud emerging from behind the top of Badacsony when she was very far from the shore. Veronika knew all the little changes of the lake and all the signs of terrifying storms. Now she knew exactly what the cloud meant and what was approaching from the direction of the gloomy, coffin shaped huge mountain. She also knew that the stormy wind would soon reach her punt and everything was too late. She saw how the water got darker and darker from the touch of the riding wind and the dark green belt was getting closer and closer.
‘The lake does not let me go’, she said to herself paralyzed, feeling half happy and half unhappy.
But a minute later her arms were tense and she started to row towards the shore with all her strength. Her vital instinct defeated her happy daydreaming. Her gentle love, the smooth lake showed its most horrifying face. She had already seen the lake like this from the shore where she had been safe or from a strong ark defended by paddles in men’s hard arms. But she liked the lake even in those times because it showed that it could not only be beautiful but also strong and powerful.
But she had never seen it this way. The lake embraced her little punt with its green arms, its huge waves as if it had already decided not to let the girl go. Veronika was fighting with the waves, her arms were tense on the paddles but she knew that it was too late.
She was surrounded with higher and higher waves, the black punt was sliding on their sides. The wind was growing stronger. Nothing could be seen just water. The black cloud arrived over the punt. The waves rolled over each other and white foam was pouring along their edges as if they were fierce beasts. It seemed that Lake Balaton was fighting for the girl as if all the devils had escaped from the hell.
The little punt was almost full of water and the waves were still growing higher around it. The waves got the punt on their backs, danced it on their sides and rolled over it. Then a wave poured into the punt. The scream of the girl died out in the whistling, crying, yelling sound of the wind.
In an hour the lake was quiet again. The shooting wind dropped and the water lied still and satisfied in its bed. The storm as other usual summer storms just rode over the lake and if somebody saw the quiet, calm water, he would not have believed what it had done an hour before.
In the twilight the long waves smoothed and the lake, which did not let Veronika go to the far away mountains, was covered with a purple blanket.
Veronika was seen to her last voyage to the little cemetery in Balatonudvari by funereal fishermen.
The heart of the stone carver young man was broken. He set up the huge heart shaped stone over her grave.
He could never forget the golden haired girl. And he did not leave her grave either. He settled down in that little village. As years passed by, the sorrow in her heart became quieter but he remained a broken man.
For long, long years he did not carve anything but heart shaped stones. When somebody died in the village or in the area one of these heart shaped stones was set up on their graves. This is how these tombstones spread in the graveyard of Balatonudvari.
If you go there, you can still find them. Most of the letters have faded or disappeared during the centuries, so who would find Veronika’s tombstone? And who knows if she ever lived or this tale is just the creature of imagination to give true love as an explanation to the mysterious story of the heart shaped tombstones in Balatonudvari?