Buda, Part 3, North of Castle Hill

While the southern and middle peaks of Castle Hill hold the most popular tourist attractions, the northern end is not without its share of interesting landmarks and monuments.

Musicians at the Vienna Gate
Musicians at the Vienna Gate

At the edge of the hill the Vienna Gate looks across a square to the massive Hungarian State Archives. Nearby is the gothic Magdalene Tower, the only part of the Church of Mary Magdalene left standing after the ravages of World War II. There are three great Museums. The Museum of Military History is crammed with relics from Hungary’s many invasions and occupations. The Music History Museum displays beautiful old instruments and houses the Bela Bartok exhibition. Although the Hungarian Museum of Commerce and Catering sounds like boring old cake tins and cash registers, it is actually a fascinating insight into Budapest in its heyday under the Dual Monarchy. The commerce section has replicas of early Budapest shop fronts and displays as well as contemporary advertising. The catering section features memorabilia from the chic coffee shops, elegant hotels and glamourous restaurants of 19th century Budapest. There is a  fascinating exhibition on the life and work of Hungary’s leading culinary light, confectioner Emil Gerbaud.

In and around all the great historical monuments and throngs of tourists, ordinary Buda life goes on. Gypsy violins from the buskers in St Matyas Square drift down through quiet, narrow back streets with old-world bakeries. Vertiginous stairs and paths lead between lovely old baroque, art nouveau and art deco houses with windows dressed in lace and Italianate shrines sculpted into their facades. There are tiny courtyards and playgrounds carved into the hillsides. School bells ring behind high brick walls. The vista up through the trees to the battlements of the Buda Castle and the spires of St Matyas Church is as old as Corvinus, Matyas the King.

At the foot of the hill, the streets spill into a busy square with solid stone 20th century office buildings and shops. Beyond it the traffic roars towards south to Obuda or over the Margaret Bridge across the Danube and into Pest.