The earliest event of Zirc is written in the Chronicon Pictum. According to it, King Andrew I, who was seized by his brother Béla I after the battle at Moson wounded, died in the royal manor at Zirc in 1060. The existence of the manor was confirmed by archaeological excavations and the research suggests that Zirc could be the centre of royal estates of the Bakony. The “royal manor” was already a small settlement since the central building was accompanied by the houses of the manor’s leaders and servants, by farm buildings and it always involved a church.
In 1182, this land was given by King Béla III to the monks from Clairvaux, who built their abbey in the manor. Besides the Cistercian Monastery of Pilis, the Abbey of Zirc was the most important and most prestigious Cistercian foundation in Hungary since it received the most royal and papal order in the 13th century. The medieval village was built around the manor house and its parish church became the manor’s chapel. People of the village were serfs of the Abbey.
The 14th century was the beginning of a slow decay. The number of monks has decreased steadily; the commendatory system has disrupted their economies. During the Ottoman reign in Hungary, the population of the area decreased steadily so that by 1552, when the Turks occupied the castle of Veszprém, it was depopulated. In 1536, a tax census reported 13 portals but their number reduced to two by 1553. Later it was donated as a barren land along with other lands of the Abbey.
After the expulsion of the Turks, the Abbey was rebuilt by Silesian monastery of Heinrichau (today Henryków, Poland). The first colonisation attempt failed, because the house of the German settlers from the Heinrichau area was burned by Kuruc forces. Later, next to the medieval monastery, a new building was built using the monastery’s stones and its church was consecrated in 1752. The number of monks increased steadily and in 1799 there were already 28 of them living within the sacred walls. In order to revive the village, Catholic settlers came mainly from German-speaking countries, e.g. from Silesia, Thuringia, Brandenburg and from the States of Austria. In the beginning they were engaged in agriculture, but by the second half of the 18th century industrialism was also developed. The beginning of primary education also dates back to this era. In 1771, the school’s principal taught elementary knowledge in German.
It greatly contributed to the development of Zirc that in 1814 the town became independent of Heinrichau and was united with the abbeys of Pilis and Pásztó. Through the large-scale constructions of Antal Dréta (1814-1823) and Ferdinánd Villax (1826-1857), the abbey has received today’s form determining the townscape. Due to the construction works, the artisan layer of Zirc was also strengthened, the local bricklayers had good reputation throughout the Transdanubia and the area’s forests also provided opportunity for wood processing. The urban character of the settlement was greatly influenced by the fact that in 1867 Zirc became the district’s capital and therefore the administrative, economic and cultural centre of the High Bakony. It’s important to mention here the town’s most famous person, Antal Reguly (1819-1858) ethnographer and an eminent figure of the Hungarian Finno-Ugristics. In 1900, the population was already 5437 and retained its German character. The embourgeoisement was clearly shown by the establishment of several associations (book club, casino, agricultural society, young men’s association), of sawing banks, credit unions and the weekly newspaper Zirc és Vidéke and the Erzsébet Hospital. The implementation of Vezsprém-Győr railway line (1906) had a favourable influence on the economy. The communist regime prohibited the functioning of most religious orders, including the Cistercian order, and the monks were moved from Zirc. From the beginning of the 50’s, the direction of the subregion’s development was determined by the development and functioning of the coal mine of Dudar. Miners and mining engineers were recruited from remote areas of the country. They were settled mainly in Zirc by ensuring the necessary infrastructure. In order to solve the mining labour supply, a mining school and dormitory was established in the abbey. At the time of the mine’s development, several industrial and service plants were established which also contributed to the growth of Zirc’s population. The town has retained its central role in economy, public administration, healthcare, culture and education. The latter includes the extension of vocational school’s profile with agricultural machinery and the secondary education starting from 1962. The Natural History Museum of Bakony Mountains was established in 1972. Thanks to developments, Zirc received the city status in 1984. Due to the mine’s economic strength, an extremely lively sports life unfolded. The Zirc-Dudar Miner SC (Zirc-Dudari Bányász SE) achieved significant success in football, volleyball, handball, fencing, judo and wrestling.
After the regime change, monks could return and again Zirc became centre of the Cistercians in Hungary. The Abbey has been renovated in several stages and since 2013, a modern visitor centre also awaits the visitors. In 1994, the Vocational School moved from the monastery to its new modern building with a dormitory and a multifunctional gym. In the 1990s, public utilities were modernised and gas was introduced. In 1992, the Reguly Antal Museum and House of Arts and Crafts opened its gates in the Dubniczay House, one of the oldest buildings of the settlement. The institution presents the work of Antal Reguly, the folk art of the Bakony and the settlement’s local history. Also after the regime change, twinning relationships of Zirc were developed: with Polheim (Germany) and Baraolt (Romania, Transylvania) in 1990, with Nivala (Finland) in 1998 and with Dercen (Ukraine, Zakarpattia) in 2015.
The region’s economy was badly shaken by the continuous downsizing of the coal mine of Dudar from 1994 and its liquidation of 1999-2000. The lack of this has not been eliminated so far because although the number of workers in the service sector and the local micro- and small enterprises is significant, a part of the population works in the nearby big cities (Veszprém, Győr, Mór, Székesfehérvár). The renovation of the 100-year-old Erzsébet Hospital and Outpatient Clinic, during which the buildings were expanded and modernised, was a positive change. Today, chronic care and musculoskeletal rehabilitation is the centre of hospital care.
Big events of the town known all over the country are the Bakonyi Betyárnapok (’Bakony Highwaymen’s Days’) and the Bakonyi Vágta (’Bakony Gallop’).
In conclusion, Zirc has undergone a lot of progress and changes over half-century. The populated, built-up area exceeds four square kilometres and fills almost the entire Zirc Basin. Today Zirc is worthy to be called the capital of the Bakony and the centre of the Zirc district. This ‘status’ is further strengthened by the infrastructure improvements of 2010, which is why our settlement shows the image of a constantly renewing town holding the values of the past.