Like many other towns and villages in Slovakia, Pribeník, a small village in the extreme southeast, a stone's throw from the Hungarian border, faces a dilemma: what to do with its manor house. These properties, mainly a legacy of the aristocratic Habsburg era, are to be found in almost every settlement which predates World War I. They were seized as state property in the 1940s and 50s but responsibility for maintaining them has now fallen back on the modest means of local communities.
Pribeník's is a medium-sized late nineteenth-century structure built by the local landowners, the Majláty family. They were regarded as quite go-ahead for their time: the house had the latest mod-cons, the gardens are set out in an English style with numerous American trees, there are stables, and the family invested in a large water tower to supply an advanced irrigation system for the surrounding estate. The landowner was also instrumental in getting the railway routed through this part of the country and his wife helped establish a hospital in the nearby town of Kráľovský Chlmec.
Most of the house and its accessories remain. The courtyard is looking a little run down; the interior is used as an agricultural school and hosts wedding receptions in the rooms which haven't been given a socialist makeover. Hanging in one of them is a fairly risqué nude which, according to locals, was hurriedly hidden early in the twentieth century after the local priest unwisely admitted to having painted it.
The house's southern aspect, where the gardens are well-tended, still looks grand. Perhaps most impressive is the water tower in the back garden, a giant stone structure for which local conservation enthusiasts are seeking protected status.
The descendants of the Majlátys now live in Budapest and Australia, but have not sought to have title restored; instead, a daughter of the last owner occasionally visits and has been given honorary citizenship of the village.
Pribeník’s manor house.
Photos by James Thomson
Pribeník is also the site of Slovakia's easternmost surviving synagogue building, at the junction of the village's two main streets. It is a simple brick building with Jewish symbols carved into the stonework decorations, which has been restored by the local community and is now used as a cultural venue.
One of the more bizarre local sights is what people here refer to as a 'fairytale house' on the main street in Pribeník. This otherwise run-of-the-mill property is decorated entirely with what most people would regard as rubbish: old bottles, bits of crockery, car parts and broken furniture.
The 'artist' is apparently an inveterate magpie whose wife finally lost patience with his collecting and decided that if he refused to part with the garbage, he must at least keep it outside the house. This strange 'fairytale' is the result.