Főoldal Villány Wine Region Natural treasures of Villány Wine Region Szársomlyó

Szársomlyó

The extensions of the Baranya Hill Ridge come to an end in the south direction, but there is one more elevation in the landscape: this is the Villány Hills. It is approximately 20 kilometres in length and 3 kilometres wide, and lies in a west-east direction.

The southernmost and highest separate block of the Hills is Nagyharsány Hill otherwisde known as the Szársomlyó. Its height is 442 metres above sea level; it is 3.5 kilometres long and 1-1.5 kilometres wide.

Szársomlyó/ Villányi Hegység

Its name comes from the old Hungarian word “Szár”, which meant ‘bold’. The father of the Hungarian kings Bela I. - and Andrew I. - was Szár László (Laslie the Bold). In medieval documents the name of the fortress – and also the hill in each case – was mentioned under the names Saarszunlu, Zaarsomolon, and Zar Sumlou. This means that the hill was already “szár”, i.e. bold, bleak; the other part of the present name, “somlyó” refers to the plant “som” (the sloe) growing on the hillside.

Would you like to take a trip here? Take part in the Szársomlyó walking tour!!!

Climatic conditions

The climate of the area is characterised by two very different microclimates, each due to the geographical location and the morphology. The steep south slope receives 31 per cent more solar energy per cm2 than the hill ridge or the plain areas nearby. On the south slope, the air masses just above the ground are very warm and dry in the daytime, compared to their environment, and this process is further reinforced by the bare limestone surfaces. The difference between the temperatures of the surface on the south and the north slope may reach 10-20 ºC around noon. As an effect of the strong warming, intensive air streams flow upwards on the south slope, which further reinforces the drying of the surface.

As the mountain is in the primary arrival area of the mild and humid Mediterranean air masses, the Mediterranean impacts are stronger than in other parts of Hungary, especially in the winter months. The annual number of sunshine hours reaches 2000-2100 on average. The annual amount of radiation is 110-120 Kcal/cm². Annual mean temperature is 11 °C, or even more in the south. The annual mean temperature of the vegetation period exceeds 17 °C. The last spring frosts usually occur around 6-8 April, the frost-free period lasts for more than 200 days. The annual amount of precipitation is around 650-700 mm, out of which 390-400 mm falls in the vegetation period. This is more than in the neighbourhood of the hill, which is not due to the elevation of the hill above sea level but to its island-like character.

For the same reason, air streams are stronger, the speed of the wind increases and its direction changes in the area. The higher amount of precipitation has no visible signs, because on the one hand the limestone causes the hill to drain the water rather quickly, while on the other the water flows faster down the steep hills, not to mention the effect of evaporation. Due to their special atmospheric conditions, the Villány Hills are one of the stormiest areas of Hungary. The number of days with snow-cover is 32 to 34 annually; the average maximum depth of snow is likely to be about 26 centimetres. The most frequent direction of wind is northwest, the average speed of wind being 3 m/s.

Geological conditions

The hill is made up of limestone of different ages and high purity. The CaCo3 content reaches 96-98 % in some places. It is made of sea sediment that accumulated in the geological period of the Mesosoicum. The stones born in the Jurassic period, reaching a depth of 3 metres in some places, had already reached on the surface some 140 million years ago. The signs of its solution are the oldest karst remains in Hungary.

In the ditches of the Jurassic limestone, in a tropical climate much hotter than today, bauxite accumulated as a result of intensive microbial life. The bauxite level is a boundary, well visible on the surface, between the lime-stone layers of the Jurassic period and the Cretaceous limestone born later, approximately 100 million years ago. The sediment layers were of course horizontal originally, but they were disrupted by the strong south-north mountain building forces in the Pleistocene epoch and they tilted onto each other. The so-called “Ördögszántás” (i.e. ploughing of the Devil) is actually the rows of these layers on the surface.

On the peak there are two hydrothermal vents (vertical shaft caves created by the solution processes of the hot waters spraying up like geysers along the separation lines during the elevation of the hill). The block of the Szársomlyó is not single, and the parts did not elevate at the same speed. The separating lines between the different blocks are marked by valleys, brooks and stone flows. As a result of the tilting, the lean angle of the layers is 70-72°.

The elevation took pace rather quickly in the last one million years, a process that continues (reaching 5.8-6.5 mm per every ten years, according to the data of László Bendefy). Today we have the strange situation that we start climbing up the hill on the narrower Cretaceous limestone of the south slope and reach older, Jurassic limestone on the top. The latter is dissolved faster, and the furrows of the “ploughing of the Devil” are also wider. Several types of soil can accumulate in these, so this is the only stone on which we find patches of woodland and sparse karst bush forests.

At the foot of the hill loess was accumulated, but it can also be found in smaller amounts close to the hilltop. The powdery yellow substance of the loess formed in the Pleistocene (in the Ice Age) is actually dust sedimented from the air, coming from the north European mountains and worn by the glaciers. Geologists say that the Nagyharsány block, the one that elevated the fastest, cannot have a full loess cover, because the elevation took place just at the time of the loess formation.

Soil conditions

As an effect of the geological, orographical and microclimatic conditions, a relatively large variety of soils can be found on the mountain. We can find skeletal soils, rocks, humus-carbonate soils, red clay and black rendzina and chernozem brown forest soil at the south foot of the hill and Ramann’s brown forest soil on the north side.

Hydrological conditions

In its original condition the hill ridge was a natural watershed. Because quarrying made a huge hole in the western side, the drainage conditions in the territory of the quarry were changed.
Outside the area touched by quarrying, the drainage conditions remained unchanged. The steep and heavily broken limestone layers quickly drain water to a great depth, while the other part of precipitation rushes down the slopes. As the level of the karst water is at +94-96 metres above (Baltic) sea level, deeper than the surface at the foot of the hill, there are no karst springs with any considerable water output in the territory of the hill.

The history of the Szársomlyó Fortress

A fortress was built on the top of the Szársomlyó, the brief history of which is as follows: King Bela IV donated the area in 1249 to Miklós Balog (Sinister), count of Dubichia, who built a fortress competing in stature with that of Siklós on the top of the hill as a defence against the Mongol troops. King Leslie IV donated the fortress to the son of Miklós Balog, Mihály; after his death his son-in-law, the son of Governor Lőrinc, István Kemény became the owner of the fortress in 1287. In 1302 the fortress was the home of the son of Kemény, who probably turned against King Charles, because the king commenced a siege of the fortress, and after occupying it he donated it to the governor of Baranya. In 1380 the fortress belonged to King Louis the Great.

In 1388 King Sigmund gave the fortress to István, the son of Fülpös Kórósi. It belonged to the Kórógyis until the early 1470s. After the Kórógyi line died out it was probably donated to an officer of the royal court, Tamás Laki. In 1484 it belonged to the Daróczis; this is the first time when it is mentioned under the name Harsány. In 1486 the fortress was given to the Gerébs of Vingát. In 1540 it belonged to the landlord of Siklós Fortress, Péter Perényi. During the Turkish occupation it was always causing a problem, so Sultan Suleyman occupied it in 1543. During the Turkish occupation it became the property of Count János Draskovich for a while, after which it was probably demolished, because later documents no longer mention it.

In 1799 Pál Kitaibel, the great Hungarian botanic expert who was among the first to discover the flora of the hill, wrote this about the ruins: “There was a fortress on the top of Harsány Hill. A few walls remain. There was also a water tank here that is now considered a well and which is now filled up with stones. The large snakes living here are called ‘zumak’. The upper part of their body is grey, below they are yellow.”

Quarrying and mining

The quarrying of limestone was started on both the eastern and the western side of the Szársomlyó in 1910. Until the 1960s a small capacity quarry operated here, the limestone was mostly being extracted by manual force, so both quarries consumed the mountain slowly. The western quarry, the work operating in the side of the hill called “Kopaszka”, above Nagyharsány, was enlarged in 1962 and then in 1978, and was equipped with up-to-date technology.

The boundaries - hopefully the final boundaries - of the quarry have now been designated the aspect of the south side of the hill has not been affected much by quarrying, but large areas remain the property of the quarrying company on the north side. It is hoped that the continuous regeneration of the derelict areas will soon begin.

High-quality bauxite was also mined here, as shown by the large reddish waste heaps still visible at the south foot of the hill. The extraction lasted for a few years only, from 1936 to 1944, and approximately 40 000 tons of bauxite were mined.