“ Address: Hungary, Szombathely, 2. Hollán Ernő street „
What do you give the man who has everything? In the case of Dr. Lajos Smidt, you'd better make it a museum. In fact, the Szombathely surgeon had so much stuff that when he retired he gave his entire collection to the local municipality who put it all on display in a museum in a former grammar school. Although he was an avid collector in his own right, Dr. Smidt was given many of the pieces in the collection by patients in lieu of payment. He even received items from a nearby castle!
Although the museum is named after Smidt, it can really be regarded as a museum of local history with a few more general displays as well. Over two floors you'll find rare books, paintings, glass and ceramics, costumes, military items and coins. There are clocks, exquisite fans, medical items and fashion plates as well as furniture and even a tram carriage from the streets of Szombathely in the garden.
We'd seen the tram the previous evening and because there was nothing outside to suggest what the building houses, we'd assumed it was just the garden ornament of a very quirky (and lucky) person.
The following day we were just leaving another museum (the Garden of Ruins next to the cathedral) when one of the staff gave us a leaflet for the Smidt Museum and indicated that it was just round the corner. As we had plenty of time until our train out of Szombathely we decided to take a look. Had we known when we were paying for the Garden of Ruins that we'd being going to another museum we could have bought a joint ticket that would have saved us money but as the admission for both museums was relatively cheap, it wasn't a big deal.
There were two members of staff on duty in the Smidt Museum. I hope it doesn't sound too harsh to describe them as a pair of friendly nerds. Neither spoke English (though one did come out with a few keys words now and then which proved invaluable in understanding the significance of some of the exhibits) and only one spoke limited German though that was frequently enough to be understood and I was able to communicate with him in that language.
Only a few sections of the exhibition are captioned in English and for the most part those are neither the most interesting nor more useful as the captions were just repeating information that could be understood easily in the original Hungarian labelling. However, there were some text boards in English on the upper floor that were more useful, it's just shame it wasn't more consistent throughout the museum. Still, because there are lots of items of aesthetic appeal, large sections of the exhibition can be enjoyed for their visual appeal alone and don't depend on captions.
On the stairs there were some elegant fashion plates from nineteenth century ladies journals, interesting from the point of fashion history as well as for the fine drawing. I also liked the display of ladies' fans, some of them decorated with miniature portraits, absolutely wonderful pieces of art probably painted with a single hair. In the same room there were a number of remarkably well preserved ladies dresses, clearly the clothing of someone of considerable means, but it was disappointing that these were mourning gowns as it would have been nice to have seen something more colourful.
One thing that disappointed me a little was the focus on items that would have belonged to wealthy people. Obviously the collection is just those items that Smidt had in his possession and there is nothing to say that he should have owned a more democratic selection of items, but I would personally have liked the exhibition to have included more examples of furniture and household items that would have belonged in peasants' homes.
How you long you spend in this museum really depends on how much the various exhibits interest you. We did try to skip a few sections that didn't hold much interest for us but we occasionally found that one of the two staff would pull us back to point of something they thought worthy of closer inspection. I'm sure there were lots of pieces that had special significance that we would have appreciated more had we been able to understand the staff in their native language or if there were more captions in English. Of course the staff couldn't spend all their time with us (though I suspect we'd have been treated to a fully guided tour had there not been other visitors to talk to) so we just had to get on with it ourselves.
This is a very traditionally presented museum with nearly all the exhibits in cases or frames. There were exhibits from different periods dotted around the rooms and it might be better presented in the context of mock ups of rooms to include furniture and decorative items from the same period.
Unless the adults know enough about the exhibits I can't see many young children being interested in the musuem. Too many of the exhibits are presented above child height and for displays such as the coins or the archeological finds there are endless cabinets along the walls, or so it seems. One thing that seems to appeal to old and young alike is the tram carriage and you are allowed to climb in. I challenge anyone to climb onto the tram and not pretend to drive it.
At just a couple of Pounds to go in, the potential value for money can't be denied. There are some excellent pieces, it's just a shame it's not easy to find out about all of them.
Note - access to the upper floor apears to be by stairs only, as far as I could see. Those reliant on a wheelchair or who find it difficult to manage stairs may find it useful to contact the museum directly to ask about access.
Open Tuesday - Sunday 10.00am - 5.00pm
History museum collected by a retired Hungarian surgeon