Just along the Danube from Buda, lies Obuda. The oldest and most culturally diverse of Budapest’s three townships, its history dates back to the Stone Age and its settlers range from Romans to Germans.
The first settlement here, the town of Ak-Ink, meaning ample water, was apparently Celtic. By 89 AD it had become a military base for 6000 Roman soldiers. In 107AD the Roman Emperor Trajan established the civilian town of Acquincum, meaning abundant in water, as the capital of Pannonia. While Ak-Ink appears to have vanished with out trace, there is a great deal left of Acquincum. The ruins of a large public bath, the Thermae Maiores still lie under the flyover to the Arpad Bridge. Nearby is the huge 131 by 107 metre military amphitheatre which rivaled Rome’s Colisseum. Excavations during the 1950s and 60s uncovered the 2 room Roman Hercules Villa with mosaics depicting the Hercules myth and the Dionysus saga. The Acquincum Museum houses courtyards, baths, a marketplace, sarcophagi, sculptures, tools, jewels, glassware and wall-paintings.
During the Middle Ages, after Bela IV had moved his court to the west bank of the Danube in the wake of the Mongol invasions, Obuda became the site of the Palace of the Hungarian Queens and a thriving community grew up around it. Little remains of the mediaeval town except for the old Convent on Kiskorona Utca. Most of it was swept away in the 15th century Turkish invasion or fell into decay during the occupation.
The Turks, however, left not only their trademark Turkish Baths, but a legacy of Hunagrian rose gardens. The Kirraly Baths, at FoUtca, overlooking the Danube, were built in 1556. It is crowned by four green domes with the tallest topped by a golden crescent. Inside, four flights of steps lead up to an octagonal pool. Near the Buda bridgehead, the Dervish, known as the “Father of Roses”, who introduced the flowers to Hungary, lies in his tomb, surrounded by a bed of roses.
During the 17th century, after the Hapsburg conquest, an influx of German settlers restored life to Obuda and by the 18th century, it had become a thriving centre again. The buildings in picturesque Fo Ter date back to this time, like the Town Hall and baroque Zichy Castle, commissioned in the mid 18th century by Count Nicholas Zichy. Grand bourgeois mansions point to an affluent citizens and a luxurious lifestyle. Jewish settlers, banished from the royal lands of Buda and Pest moved into Obuda. They had been invited by Count Zichy to service the commercial interests of the community as moneylenders, merchants and traders. The splendid classical Jewish Synagogue was built at this time to serve their prosperous community.
Although its history is long and rooted in ancient times, twenty first century Obuda is symbolized by the starkly beautiful, modern Imre Vargos sculpture, The Women with Umbrella, which stands in Szentlelek Square. Obuda still centres on quaint, pretty, old world Fo Ter. The Town Hall still functions but the Zichy Castle is home to a museum. The Synagogue is now a TV studio, its congregation decimated by the Holocaust. The Roman ruins and the Turkish Kirraly Baths attract hosts of visitors. Locals frequent Uj Sipos Fish Restaurant, famed throughout Budapest for its Hungarian fisherman’s soup. Every summer young people pour in for the Sziget Festival on Hajogyan Isalnd just offshore. The outer circle of the little town is dominated by plain-faced Russian high rise housing and Hungary’s largest ever housing estate is a work in progress