Buda, Part 2, Castle Hill

St Matyas Church, Buda
St Matyas Church, Buda

Outside Buda Castle’s back gate, on a narrow saddle with sensational views over the valleys to the west of Buda, artisans sell traditional costumes, hand-made wooden goods in bright primary colours and table-linen with exquisite embroidery and lace.

In the distance are the distinctive towers of St Matyas Church which stands in a sunny square next to a statue of Istvan, the first King of Hungary. Built between 1255 and 1269 and dedicated as the church of Our Lady, it has come to be known by the name of the great ruler, Matyas. The king celebrated his two marriages in this church. He also extended and redecorated it, adding his symbolic crow to the spire. St Matyas was renovated again at the time of the Dual Monarchy by the architect Frigyes Shulek. Today its long journey across the centuries and the many hands that have shaped it are reflected in its rich mix of architectural styles. Pieces of the lives of the monarchs who worshipped there are displayed inside the church. There is a robe embroidered by the wife of the Emperor Franz Joseph on the death of their son and a fragment of her platinum embroidered wedding veil. On the rear wall is a fresco depicting a scene from the battle where Matyas’ Father, Janos Hunyadi defeated the Turks in 1456.

On the other side of St Matyas is another Frigyes Shulek architectural wonder, Fisherman’s Bastion, which was built in 1905 to remember the fishermen who defended Buda against the 15th century Turkish invasions. Its pink-tinged stone minarets stand against the Buda skyline and its arched windows look east across the Danube to Pest.

Buda, Part 1, Buda Castle

They are tied by the threads of shared history and culture. They are bound together economically, administratively and demographically. Geographically close, they are linked by a chain of bridges over the Danube. Their architecture has common touches of the Magyars, the Turks, the Renaissance, the Dual Monarchy’s lavish quest to create a new Vienna and the Communists’ iron fist. Yet, for all that, the three little towns of Buda, Obuda and Pest, which in 1873 became Budapest, are quite unique. Each has its own remarkable stories and its own distinctive style.

Buda holds the high ground, on the west bank of the Danube. A strip of motorway and a narrow promenade run along the river. Behind them the hills rise steeply.

Buda Castle
Buda Castle

Buda’s most prominent and most famous monument is Buda Castle, which sits on Várheg or Castle Hill.  After the Mongols had razed Pest in 1241, Béla IV, fearing another attack, chose this seemingly impenetrable site for his new royal castle. The cliff face in front of it is alarmingly steep. At the foot of the hill traffic whirls around Adam Clark Ter past the 0 kilometre stone and through a tunnel to the other side. For pedestrians unable to face the perpendicular stairs to the top, there is the Budaváry Siklo, the quaint, creaking, art deco funicular railway.

In spite of the supposedly unassailable hill, however, the castle was destroyed time and again; first by the Turks in the 16th century, then during the 1848-49 revolution and finally during World War II. Rebuilt and renovated as often as it was knocked down and ruined, the now enormous Buda Castle is a blend of architecture and ornament which reflect its long history and varied life.

Buda Castle is no longer the royal seat but instead houses the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art in its vast wings. The castle is surrounded by cobbled courtyards, massive arches, statues and monuments to former monarchs. Its splendid front gate is guarded by a giant crow, the symbol of King Matyas which featured in his coat of arms and which gave him his name Corvinus. The King Matyas Cascade, the grand fountain in the front courtyard, is decorated with a sculpture of the monarch hunting. Gardens with old gnarled, lichen dusted trees ramble around the outside of the castle and drop down the steep cliff to the embankment