The former "Sacred Mount of Pannonia" (Mons Sacer Pannoniae) monastery and the monastic community that lives within it is as old as the Hungarian state, and therefore it should be viewed as an extraordinarily important piece of Hungarian culture. A thousand year imprint has also been left by the Abbey's historic building ensemble, which dominates the landscape from atop the 282-meter hill that rises out of the Little Hungarian Plain. This ensemble displays the various architectural styles from Hungary's 1,000-year history.
Consequently, the Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma has developed in architectural structure and in thought through a millennium of continual use. Even today it is an outstanding example of an active Christian monastery, whose monastic community has contributed to the cultural development and spread of Christianity in the wider sphere of Central Europe. Due to the fact that the Benedictine monks have always strived to attain peace between the region's countries and nations, they may in effect be considered early diplomats in the spirit of UNESCO. These are the outstanding and universal values that made the Abbey worthy of inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996 (the 1,000th anniversary of its foundation).
Responding to Prince Géza's invitation, followers of western monasticism's founder, Saint Benedict, arrived here in 996 from Czech and German lands, as well as from Italy, and founded the monastery. Saint Stephen provided it with property and privileges soon after, and the charter that he drew up in 1002 established not only its endowment, but also the king's intent to call upon the Benedictines to pray daily "pro stabilitate regni nostri", or for the state's safety and survival. The monks to this day do justice to our first king's wishes.
Although the Mongol siege was successfully repelled, the monastic community was forced to flee several times for various durations during the time of the Turkish Occupation. Abbot Mátyás Pálfy (1638-1646) commenced the monastery's new life with just ten monks. The next blow that hit Pannonhalma came during the period of the Enlightenment; King Joseph II suspended the operation of all Benedictine monasteries in 1786. However in 1802 - again according to royal command - the order was reorganized, with the proviso that they take part in education. This institutionalized an activity that the monks had always seen as their duty and had been performing for centuries.
Currently, the Pannonhalma Abbey is the only well-preserved example of a classical monastic plan following Benedictine traditions in Hungary. The cloister, around which the monastery's life revolved, was built on the south side of the church. The church's main south portal, the particularly beautiful "Porta speciosa", connected these two structures. The fact that the church's "beautiful portal" opened onto the cloister, as opposed to the exterior, demonstrates that the church was primarily constructed for the monks, not for pilgrims. The eastern building wing next to the cloister may have been the chapter house, and on the south side was the refectory (dining hall), next to which was the warming room (since in Medieval monasteries the dormitories were not heated). Workshops and offices (scriptorium) were in the western wing, and the dormitory chambers were located on the upper floor.
Romanesque, early Gothic, late Gothic and Renaissance elements alike may be discovered in the Abbey's church. The original 11th century building was destroyed by fire and significant remains of the 12th century building are only to be found embedded within the walls of the current church. The most important period for the development of the basilica visible today was during the time of Abbot Uros's (1207-1243) rule in the 13th century. The construction must have begun in the early years after he came to power, since its completion may be placed at 1224 according to a document concerning its consecration.
The next significant period of construction in the life of the monastery is connected with the name of King Matthias; at the end of the 15th century the current cloister, the Saint Benedict Chapel, and all of the choir's late Gothic vaulting were constructed, along with other structures. Renaissance sculptural ornament may be observed on the Virgin Mary Chapel and on the church's northern portal. After the Turkish Occupation, Abbot Benedek Sajghó (1722-1768) in the 18th century erected the Baroque buildings that are still standing today - the majority of the monastery's current service and residential structures, of which the new refectory deserves the greatest attention from an art historical standpoint. In the first decades of the 19th century the classicist tower and the library building were constructed, and in the 20th century the Italian-style block of the secondary school and student dormitory were built.
Due to all of this the Abbey would be worthy of a visit from a strictly architectural viewpoint, but its rich artistic and scholarly collections further enhance its value. Its library containing more than 300,000 volumes today is the world's largest Benedictine collection. The Abbey Archives preserve numerous valuable documents, the most renowned piece being the earliest example of the Hungarian (and at the same time, any Finno-Ugric) written language, the founding charter of the Tihany Abbey from 1055. The monastery's picture gallery, print library, coin collection, collection of antiquities and treasury are equally significant. Full of historic information and artistic impressions, the visitor may relax in the monastery's arboretum, where they tend to nearly 400 plant species.