Tag Archives: Buda

Buda, Part 4, Gellert Hill

At the southern end of Buda  is Gellért Hill, with the opulent art nouveau Gellért Hotel in its lee. Built during the creative boom of the Dual Monarchy, the hotel and its luxurious Romanesque spa have always attracted the world’s richest and most famous, counting international royalty, movie stars and moguls among its guests.

The Geller Hotel, Budapest
The Geller Hotel, Budapest

Further round the hill, to the north is the Rudas Turkish bath house which dates back to the 15th century occupation The beautiful blue cupola which covers the steam room and hot pool is a landmark on the Gellert Hill embankment. In the Rudas’ shadow, where the hill begins to rise, sits the Rudas plain little sister the Rac Turkish bath.

While its lower reaches are given over to the flesh, Gellért Hill itself is mostly dedicated to the spirit. The Cliff Chapel sits in its foothills. On the summit is the Citadella or Citadel, built by the Habsburghs to mark the suppression of the 1848-19 revolution. In front of it stands the Liberation Monument, built by the Communist government to commemorate the liberation of Hungary from the Germans. Gaps in its decorations and statuary mark the places where communist symbols and effigies were torn away when the Iron Curtain fell.

The Liberation Monument’s crowning glory, the massive Statue of Liberty with its uplifted palm frond, is visible from almost anywhere in the city and has become a symbol of Budapest. Further down the hillside another monument marks the spot where, in 1046, Bishop Gellért, who gave his name to the hill, was trussed in a barrel driven through with spikes and thrown into the Danube by his Pagan enemies. Paths and stairways wind and zigzag up to the monuments and along Gellért Hill, providing breathtaking views up and down the Danube, over Buda and across to Pest, for those energetic enough to meet the challenges of the climb. For the rest, there are taxis and buses.

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.

 

 

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.

Budapest, in the beginning

Looking across the Danube from Buda to Pest
Looking across the Danube from Buda to Pest

As a city, Budapest, Hungary’s Capital, is relatively young. It came into being in 1873 with the amalgamation of the communities of Buda and Obuda, on the west bank of the Danube, and Pest on the east. Its history, however, is long and marked by many rises and falls in fortune.

From their earliest days, Buda, Obuda and Pest had been tossed between a number of masters. Between the 1st and the 4th century AD the Romans pushed their empire across the Danube and the area was caught into the new state of Pannonia. In 896, the Magyars invaded. In 1241, the marauding Mongols swept through. The Turks came after, in 1541, followed by the Habsburghs in 1686. The invasions continued after the creation of the new city in 1873.  In 1919 the Rumanians stormed in. During World War II it was occupied by Nazi Germany. In 1945 the Russians took charge and the iron curtain fell. In 1956 Soviet tanks rolled in to quell a popular uprising and to re-assert their control.

Still, there were times of peace and great prosperity too. The Magyars were finally defeated at the battle in 955 and in 1001, Istvan I founded the Arpad Dynasty. He centralized royal authority, established Christianity as the official religion and organized Hungary into the administrative counties whose borders still remain today. The entire country flourished. Prosperous and orderly times continued between 1172 and 1196 under Bela III. After the defeat of the Turks by Janos Hunyadi in 1456 and the coronation of his son Matyas as King Corvinus in 1458, Hungary entered a seventy year Golden Age. Corvinus’ Neapolitain wife Beatrix transformed the royal palace at Buda into the greatest renaissance palace in Europe. Meanwhile Matyas extended Hungary’s borders into Moravia, Bohemia and parts of Austria, transforming it into the greatest kingdom in Europe. In 1867 the great compromise established the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy and ushered in a period of stability and prosperity, with a resurgence in Hungarian culture. Buda, as its centre, flourished for almost fifty years. Then in 1989, the Iron Curtain fell and Budapest entered a new age of optimism.

Today’s Budapest bears the marks of these 2000 years of checkered history. Ill fate and good fortune are etched in its buildings, its bridges, its streets, its public squares and gardens, its monuments and statues and on its people. In spite of and because of its history, Budapest is one of the world’s great cities. Tourists pour in from all over the globe, drawn by its legendary culture. Budapest is also the political, economic and cultural heart of Hungary, drawing people from all over the country in search of opportunities.