In 1987, the World Heritage Committee inscribed the Palóc village of Hollókő onto the World Heritage List, making it, along with Budapest, the first of the eligible Hungarian sites accepted. Hollókő satisfied - and still satisfies - the most important stipulation of UNESCO, outstanding and universal significance, through its time-honored village settlement pattern developed during the 17th and 18th centuries, its traditional architecture, and its unparalleled example of village life from before the agricultural revolution of the 20th century, which have all been successfully preserved in their original forms. Hollókő developed in calm and harmonious symbiosis with nature, and to this day still has not been turned into an open-air museum; even today it is a living, inhabited community whose residents, mindful of tradition, utilize a portion of the buildings according to their original functions.
The history of the village stretches back to the 13th century when, after the Mongol Invasion, the castle was built atop Mt. Szár. An age-old legend is connected to this fortress built on a rock, which according to locals provides an explanation for the village's name. Once upon a time, a certain András Kacsics - from the 12th century members of the Kacsics family really were the landowners in this area - abducted the beautiful wife of a neighboring lord and locked her in the castle he was constructing. However, the lady's nanny, who in her extra time was a witch, made a deal with the devil and persuaded him to turn his minions into ravens (holló in Hungarian) and free the lady by demolishing stone by stone (kő in Hungarian) the fortress enclosing her. The raven minions did just that, and to their credit they did not just scatter the stones about, but built up a new castle from them on a nearby basalt cliff. This later became the Hollókő (Ravenstone) Castle.
Because the contemporary documents for the most part only mention the castle, the only fact known about the village from the Middle Ages is that it already had a church in the first half of the 14th century. During the time of the Turkish Occupation, Hollókő, similar to many other settlements, was depopulated; in 1715 the county census talks of only three taxable households altogether. Nevertheless, its resettlement must have occurred shortly thereafter, since already in 1720 it appeared in the records as a noble village (this meant that its inhabitants were exempted from paying taxes). Due to the fact that the area was not particularly fertile, the development of the village stagnated for a long time.
The community was destroyed several times by fire, since the houses were built of wood, without foundations, and were roofed with easily inflammable thatch. In addition, above their open hearths there were no chimneys, only smoke holes for ventilation. The big fire of 1909 signified a turning point, the houses, now made of adobe, were raised on stone foundations and the single framed roofs were covered in tiles, but preserved their original forms. The old village obtained its current appearance in 1911, bearing traces from the early years of the 20th century, as well as relics from the ancient vernacular architectural style of the Palóc people.
Hollókő is a representative of the linear village type characteristic of the region. Its basic structure is made up of two lines of houses sited perpendicular to the central roadway on long narrow plots. According to the custom in Palóc communities, large families built on a single plot, and as the family grew in number they simply constructed a new house behind the one facing the street. Atop a hill on an "island" in the middle of the village stands a small shingle-roof church with a wooden steeple that was built in 1889 through public contributions. The beauty of the building radiates from its outstandingly good condition and simplicity, making it a true jewel.
Today the community is made up of nearly 400 people, and the historic district located in its heart consists of 67 listed buildings. The majority of these buildings are single-story, hipped-roof peasant houses, whose street-front and courtyard facades are skirted by verandas (hambitus) constructed with wooden posts and plank railings, and decorated with openwork carvings. The majority of traditional Palóc houses consist of three chambers; the person arriving first stepped directly from the veranda into the pitvar, a special type of kitchen, and from there, towards the front of the house opened the living chamber where the master of the house lived with his family, and towards the back was the pantry where grain was stored as well where the grandparents slept.
The inhabitants of the village - 70 percent of whom are retired, and whose average age is over 50 - practice even today most of the traditions of Hollókő. At holiday times (for the village the most important of which is the series of festivals around Easter) they still don their hand woven and embroidered folk costumes. The traditional women's attire is a colorful skirt, under which they generally wore two underskirts on workdays, but for major festivals they wore as many as 20 underskirts. Over their white linen bodices they donned colorful vests that were richly embroidered for holidays, but the Palóc girls' and ladies' most striking adornments were their bonnets made of colored, beaded ribbons.
Today Hollókő is a slice of life from the past preserved in its original state, and this fact raises it to the status of one of our most valuable cultural treasures. For young and old, big and small alike a visit to this little Palóc village is memorable and enlightening.