Visitors to Hungarian fossil reserve double in number after EU-funded restoration

The Ipolytarnóc Fossil Nature Conservation Area in Hungary is a unique paleohabitat that was well preserved due to a volcanic eruption in the Miocene epoch. Following a restoration with EU funds, the area now has a new visitors’ centre with a time-travel simulation. The cinematographic display was part of the improvements, along with a tree canopy walkway that shows models of birds’ nests and mammals’ resting places. Playgrounds were built and guided tours developed specially for children, with a visualised interpretation of the historic Ipolytarnóc village. As a result, the number of visitors doubled over five years to some 50 000 visits a year.

 

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The 17 million-year-old fossilised footprints of a rhinoceros, at the Ipolytarnóc Fossil Nature Conservation Area in Hungary. © Imre Szarvas The 17 million-year-old fossilised footprints of a rhinoceros, at the Ipolytarnóc Fossil Nature Conservation Area in Hungary. © Imre Szarvas

" The preservation of geological heritage benefits the whole region, across the border! "

Imre Szarvas

The fossils at the Ipolytarnóc site date from between 17 million to 23 million years ago and include petrified tree trunks, fossilised giant pines and tropical leaves, remnants of shark, dolphin and crocodile teeth and one of the largest collections of prehistoric footprints in the world. 

There are thousands of animal tracks belonging to more than 40 animals and birds. The reserve enjoys protected status since 1944 and the area is nowadays part of the Bükk National Park. Visits can only be made in the company of a tour guide along the geological trail where excavations take place. The new visitors’ centre adds significantly to the experience, as it offers a state-of-the-art cinema for a time-travel simulation to the Miocene era, the first geological epoch of the Neogene period dating back 20 million to 30 million years. 

The restoration took more than 10 years. The work included a reconstruction of the display of flora and fauna of the early Miocene era and establishing a forest park with species of trees and shrubs typical of that period. 

Plundering cannot be undone

The modernisation of the fossil reserve made it more visitor-friendly, in particular with the construction of a restaurant and waiting area, which is necessary since visits are allowed only as part of a guided tour. Tailor-made educational activities for children are offered, as well as image projections that recreate the atmosphere of the Paleolithic era. The fossil reserve was first discovered in 1836, but it was not until the late 1980’s that measures to protect the site were taken. In the early years following its discovery, the site was plundered and stripped of some valuable fossils. To this day, excavations continue. This work extends beyond the protected site.

From local to global 

The reserve forms part of a cross-border area, comprising the border zone between Slovakia and Hungary, the Novohrad-Nógrád UNESCO Global Geopark. When the Hungarian fossil site became the main gateway to the Global Geopark in 2010, trans-border cooperation and geotourism in the region were further strengthened. The regional development is important for continued heritage preservation in central Europe. 

The modernised fossil park employs 25 people. This is more than double the number since the second phase of restoration began in 2008. From having been known only locally, the fossil site is now world-renowned, having grown its reputation as part of the UNESCO Global Geopark concept. The Ipolytarnóc site is tentatively listed for UNESCO World Heritage status.

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Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Ipolytarnóc Prehistoric Pompeii Tourism Development I-II” is EUR 79 994 700, with the EU’s ERDF contributing EUR 1 000 000 through the “Interreg” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Environment and Resource Efficiency”.

 

Draft date

21/11/2019