Pest, Part 2, beautiful buildings

House of Parliament, Budapest
House of Parliament, Budapest

A good place to begin a promenade around Pest is down by the Danube, with the totally unmissable star of this side of the city, the immense, neo-gothic Hungarian Parliament, on Lajos Kossuth Ter. Measuring 268 by 116 metres, it has some 20km of staircases winding through its interior, 233 statues adorning its exterior and a giant 96 metre dome. The building was designed by Imre Steindl. Construction began in 1884 and was completed in 1904. Its frescos are the work of some of Hungary’s most notable artists, among them Karoly Lotz and Mihaly Munkacsy. To the north and south of the Parliament are statues of the poet Jozsef Attila and Count Mihaly Karoly who headed Hungary’s first Republic in 1919. In front of the Parliament building, are the statues Lajos Kossuth, leader of the 1848-49 revolution and Ferenc Rakoczi II who led the failed War of Independence 1703-1711.

On the other side of   Kossuth Ter is the beautiful neo-baroque Ethnographic Museum. Constructed in 1896 as the seat of the Royal Court, it later became the Palace of Justice. Inside is a massive hall with pillars stretching over several stories, stained glass windows and a superb Karoly Lotz ceiling fresco. The museum’s collections give a fascinating insight into life, especially village life, in Hungary through the ages.

Further down the river, on Roosevelt Ter, sits the magnificent neo-renaissance, Hungarian Science Academy. Built between 1862 and 1865 it was the brainchild of Istvan Szechenyi, whose name and mark are on many of Budapest’s great 19th century ventures.

Also on Roosevelt Ter is the art nouveau Gresham Palace, now a Four Seasons Hotel but built originally in 1903 by Szigmund Quittner for the Gresham Life Insurance Company.

Further down again is Petoffi Ter, which was named in memory of the poet who inspired the 1848 revolution against the Austrians and which has been the scene of many memorable demonstrations and protests ever since.

All along the promenade chic restaurants and bars (some on jetties and moored boats) provide stunning views, especially at night, across the Danube to Buda Castle and the Statue of Liberty on Gellert Hill.


Pest, Part 1, a brief history

A Pest Square
A Pest Square

Pest, which lies on the east bank of the Danube, is flatter, bigger, busier and younger than Buda and Obuda. However, it is by no means less well endowed with majestic buildings, grand monuments, fascinating history and iconic characters than its west bank sisters.

Following the final defeat of the Magyars in 955, Istvan I set up Hungary’s Royal Court in Pest. His Arpad Dynasty flourished here until 1242, when, after the Mongol attacks, Bela IV moved it to his hilltop castle in Buda. Life continued peacefully for Pest until it was razed by the Turks in the 14th century. The town was rebuilt from the ashes after Hungary was finally freed from the Turks by the Hapsburg commander Eugene of Savoy in 1686. So, even though Pest’s history as a Hungarian town is older than Buda’s or Obuda’s, its bricks and mortar are younger. Its oldest building is the former Péterffy Palace, now Százévres Restaurant, which was built in1708.

With the formation of Budapest in 1873, came a frenzied building boom as the Dual Monarchy sought to create a city to rival Vienna, Paris and the other great cities of Europe. Pest, as the centre of government, administration and commerce for the new capital, benefited royally from the boom and its beautiful, coherent cityscape was born of this time.

Flat, compact, logically laid out and liberally dotted with landmarks, as well as picturesque spots to pause and drink them all in, Pest is a wonderful place for walkers.

A stroll around the boulevards uncovers one brilliant building after another. Each little side street opens onto a stunning square. Every square has at least one great monument with its own fascinating story.