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Zala County is part of the Western Transdanubian region. The county is bordered by the Vas County to the north, Veszprém to the east, and Somogy County to the south. The county also contributes to the Hungary state borders, neighboring Croatia and Slovenia. Concerning the Zala area, it is one of the smallest counties in Hungary. With an area of 3,784 kilometers squared, Zala contributes to Hungary's area by approximately 4%. The population of Zala, 287,043 inhabitants, represents 3% of the country's total population. The population density is approximately 78 people per kilometer squared mile, which is below the national average. Thus, Zala County is the fifth least populated county in Hungary. The capital city, Zalaegerszeg, is located in the northern part of the county.[12] Zala territory is primarily hilly and of relatively diverse natural conditions. Balaton Lake and Hévíz Lake are significant natural landmarks contributing to Zala tourism. The county itself is named after the Zala River, which flows through the region.[5]

What Zala is known for

Predominant among the Zala attractions are water recreation options. Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe, protrudes to the Zala territory from the east. Balaton provides a considerable selection of water attractions, from swimming and boating to fishing. The area is filled with thermal baths and spas as well. On the northern shores of Balaton is situated the city of Keszthely. The Keszthely's predominant historical sight is Festetics Castle, built in the 18th century. The castle's ballroom is regularly used to this day, as balls and other events are held there. The castle also features a theatre and thus is a significant cultural and historical hub for the area. In 1817, the castle owner, György Festetics, started to organize the Helikon ceremonies twice a year, hosting some of the most famous poets and writers of Transdanubia in the castle. The Helikon library in the castle features approximately 80,000 books, which makes it the most extensive intact aristocratic library in Europe. [8]

In close proximity to Lake Balaton is located a much smaller Lake Hévíz. Lake Hévíz is the largest swimmable thermal lake in the world. The water flow in the lake is powerful, as the water in the lake is completely replenished every 72 hours. Due to the lake's temperature and chemical composition of the water, which contains carbonic acid, calcium, magnesium, hydrogen carbonate, reduced sulfuric compounds, and oxygen, the lake is inhabited by unique plant species and microorganisms. Some of the species were found so far only in the Lake Hévíz. The lake attracts a number of tourists due to its extensive medicinal effect, mainly in the area of rheumatic diseases and locomotor disorders.[9] Romans already discovered the therapeutic powers of the lake in the 1st century. The archeological finds prove settlements in the proximity of the lake, which are known today as the Roman Ruin Garden. The Garden next to the lake itself poses another significant touristic attraction. The Roman Ruin Garden consists of Roman Villa, stone buildings, and columned porches and is open to tourists.[10]

Another unique attraction of Zala County is the Zalaszántó Stupa, built by South Korean Buddhist monk Bop Jon in 1992. The Stupa is situated in the Világosvár on Kovácsi Hill near Zalaszántó and is meant to represent peace, happiness, and enlightenment. The Stupa is part of the Human Rights Park. [11]


Zala County is the meeting point of several different natural regions. A gradual transition from the neighboring counties is a characteristic of the area. Most of the territory consists of the Zala hills, which are part of the western Transdanubian region. Its' narrow northern strip extends to the Vasi Hill Ridge and its southeastern strip to the Transdanubian Hills. Somewhat separated from the Zala hills is another hilly area, Keszthely, which extends to the shores of Balaton. [5]

Concerning lakes and rivers of the region, 60% of the Zala territory is discharged by the river Mura and the rest by the Zala River. The county itself is named after the river Zala, which originates in the Vas county, to the north of the Zala territory. Only a small portion of lake Balaton's southeastern shore protrudes to the Zala territory; however, it bears considerable touristic and recreational significance for the Zala region. Other significant water areas are, for example, Lake Hévíz or Zalakaros.[5]

Regarding Zala's fauna and flora, rich and diverse vegetation can be found in its territory due to the diverse composition of the soil and the favorable rainfall conditions for these types of plants. The northern parts of the area belong to the pine region, whereas the southern part is a characteristic of the beech landscape. Native plants of the territory are hornbeam, sessile oak, oak, chestnut, maple, small-leaved linden, ash, and gummy alder. Due to the local forest conditions, deer and deer herds are significant from an economic and touristic point of view. [6]

Zala is located closest to the sea of all Hungary's counties, which makes its climate more uniform. Both severe winter frost and summer heat is less common than in the rest of Hungary. [5] The warmest month of the year is July, with an average daily temperature of 25°C. January is the coldest month, with an average temperature of 1.0°C. The driest month is February, with an average of 26.0 mm of rainfall. The most precipitation falls during July, with an average of 78.0 mm.[7]


The earliest excavations show that Zala County's been inhabited since the Neolithic Era, circa 6,000 BC. Other relics come from the late Copper and Bronze Ages. The first tribes to occupy the Zala area were Celts, which settled the northern part of Transdanubia, together with almost the entire Carpathian Basin; however, Celtic tribes were replaced by Romans. [1]Two main trade routes led through the region, one of them being the Amber Road, connecting the North and Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.[2] By the end of the Roman Empire's rule, the most significant Roman settlement in the Zala area was Valcum, known in current times as Fenékpuszta. Valcum was, in the 4th century, an extensive fortress protected by 44 towers and, on three sides, surrounded by Balaton. Fenékpuszta is bordered by Balaton only on one side now, due to the lowering of the water level. After the Roman era, different tribes settled the area again, for example, Goths, Longobards, Franks, and finally Slavs. [1]

Throughout the years, Zala developed continually. In the 11th century, Zalavár became the county headquarters, so the county was named Zala. Turks invaded the Zala territory in 1480 and were not successfully expelled until 1690. Only after the liberation did Zala start to prosper again, with the help of German and Croatian settlers, who resettled the emptied areas of the region. By the 19th century, the devastated region was restored and prospering again. Cultural and economic development led to extensive urbanization. The development was interrupted again after the First World War when the Treaty of Trianon was applied. Muravidék, part of the Zala County, was annexed to Yugoslavia, and Zala became a border county again. The economy started to decline, and some of the few industrial plants ceased to exist. Even though oil extraction began in Zala between the two world wars, the county was one of the most underdeveloped areas in Hungary until the Soviet occupation.[1]

Nowadays, Zala is divided into six self-governing districts. Numerous oil wells were established throughout the Zala territory, which are used today to extract thermal water now. Thus, health tourism and spas are essential parts of the economy as well.[1] Significant minorities of the Zala county are Gypsies, Germans, and Croatians. Concerning the religion, most represented are Roman and Greek forms of Catholicism. A prevailing political party is a right-wing conservative Christian coalition, occupying most of the county parliament seats.[3]