The Fertö-Neusiedler Lake and its surroundings are an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement and land use representative of a culture. The present character of the landscape is the result of millennia-old land-use forms based on stockraising and viticulture to an extent not found in other European lake areas. The historic centre of the medieval free town of Rust constitutes an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement representative of the area. The town exhibits the special building mode of a society and culture within which the lifestyles of townspeople and farmers form a united whole. The Fertö-Neusiedler Lake has been the meeting place of different cultures for eight millennia, and this is graphically demonstrated by its varied landscape, the result of an evolutionary and symbiotic process of human interaction with the physical environment.
The lake lies between the Alps, 70 km distant, and the lowlands in the territory of two states, Austria and Hungary. The lake itself is in an advanced state of sedimentation, with extensive reed stands. It has existed for 500 years within an active water management regime. In the 19th century, canalization of Hanság shut the lake off from its freshwater marshland. Since 1912 completion of a circular dam ending at Hegykö to the south has prevented flooding.
Two broad periods may be discerned: from around 6000 BC until the establishment of the Hungarian state in the 11th century AD and from the 11th century until the present. The World Heritage site lies in a region that was Hungarian territory from the 10th century until the First World War. From the 7th century BC the lake shore was densely populated, initially by people of the early Iron Age Hallstatt culture and on through late prehistoric and Roman times. In the fields of almost every village around the Lake there are remains of Roman villas. The basis of the current network of towns and villages was formed in the 12th and 13th centuries, their markets flourishing from 1277 onwards, when they were relieved of many fiscal duties.
The mid-13th century Tatar invasion left this area unharmed, and it enjoyed uninterrupted development throughout medieval times until the Turkish conquest in the late 16th century. The economic basis throughout was the export of animals and wine. Rust in particular prospered on the wine trade. Its refortification in the early 16th century as a response to the then emerging Ottoman threat marked the beginning of a phase of construction in the area, first with fortifications and then, during the 17th-19th centuries, with the erection and adaptation of domestic buildings. The remarkable rural architecture of the villages surrounding the lake and several 18th-and 19th-century palaces add to the area's considerable cultural interest. The palace of the township of Nagycenk and the Fertöd Palace are included in detached areas of the core zone outside the buffer zone.
Széchenyi Palace, at the southern end of the lake, is a detached ensemble of buildings in the centre of a large park, initially built in the mid-18th century on the site of a former manor house. It acquired some of its present form and appearance around 1800. The Baroque palace garden was originated in the 17th century. In the late 18th century an English-style landscape garden was laid out.
Between 1769 and 1790 Josef Haydn's compositions were first heard in the Fertöd Esterházy Palace. It was the most important 18th-century palace of Hungary, built on the model of Versailles. The plan of the palace, garden and park was on geometrical lines which extended to the new village of Esterháza. There, outside the palace settlement, were public buildings, industrial premises and residential quarters. The palace itself is laid out around a square with rounded internal corners. To the south is an enormous French Baroque garden that has been changed several times, the present layout being essentially that of 1762.