About Budapest


That Budapest - one of the most beautiful cities in the world - has developed where it is, is not down to some historical accident. Take a look at Gellért Hill, right next to the River Danube as it flows majestically through the centre of the modern city. It was precisely the combination of the relative ease of crossing the River here and the natural protection the hill offered against invasion that decided the earliest settlers it was the ideal place to build a town. The Eravisci, a tribe of highly cultured Celts, had already settled at Gellért Hill in the third and fourth centuries B.C. They worked with iron, decorated their earthenware pots and even minted their own coins. Later, the Romans built a settlement at today?s Óbuda. They called it Aquincum and it was an important station along the limes which ran alongside the River Danube.

The advantages of settling here were equally obvious at the time of the Magyar Conquest. The new settlers built a centre on both sides of the River. Interestingly, both parts came collectively to be known as Pest. Some researchers say that the word is of Slavic origin, meaning stove or kiln, and refers to the natural warm springs found on and near Gellért Hill. The Royal Charter dating from 1232 appears to back this up. The name Buda came somewhat later, during the reign of King Béla IV. When Hungary was invaded and devastated by the Mongols (1241-1242), King Béla ordered new castles and fortresses to be built all around the country. He provided a good example, for he built the first Royal Palace in Buda on what from that time on become known as Castle Hill. It was also he who, in a gold-sealed letter of 1244, conferred privileges on the towns that enabled them to develop agriculture and trade. Buda became the royal seat around the turn of the fifteenth century under the rule of Sigismund of Luxembourg, and the Royal Palace grew ever larger until its zenith was reached under King Matthias (ruled 1458-1490). Pest also prospered at this time, and Matthias raised it to equal rank with Buda. In between the two, contemporary records show that Margaret Island was home not only to several monasteries but also to a castle built by the crusaders. Following the dire Hungarian defeat at the Battle of Mohács (1526) the Turks sacked and burned Buda. Pest and Óbuda, too, suffered dreadfully as a result of the century-and-a-half of Turkish rule that followed. The Turks did, however, build baths fed by the hot springs. Their cupolas appear on contemporary engravings, and of course some of them are still extant today - the most visible legacy of that period.

Buda was freed from Turkish rule on 2nd September, 1686, and so began the next period of development. Many places outside the capital gained the right to hold markets, and there were social developments as well. A printing press was established in Buda by 1724, and in 1777 Empress Maria Theresa had the country?s only scientific university moved here from Nagyszombat (today Trnava in Slovakia), bringing with it an influx of learned tutors and youthful students. Emperor Joseph II later switched it from Buda to Pest, a move which promoted a big growth in Hungarian-language literature and in due course theatre, because up until that time the dominant language of culture in Buda had been German. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Kisfaludy Társaság, and the National Theatre together played a pivotal rôle in the social development of the city. This was also the age when newspapers started, among them the ground-breaking Pesti Hírlap founded by Lajos Kossuth.

The next challenge was the building of the first permanent bridge over the River Danube - the Chain Bridge, today still the most recognizable symbol of the city - and the logical conclusion of that was the legislative unification in 1873 of Buda, Pest and Óbuda into one city - Budapest. A Council of Public Works was formed, whose direction determined both the future shape and the enduring beauty of the city. The great boulevards were laid down - most notably Andrássy út and the körútak or ring roads - and the transformation of Budapest into a modern world class city truly began. There was an even greater impetus at the end of the nineteenth century as Hungary celebrated the millenary anniversary of the Magyar Conquest. The first continental Underground railway was built, the streets were paved, street lighting was introduced, the waterworks at Káposztásmegyer was constructed (it is still in operation today), and a public sewerage system was developed. The first trams appeared.

The political Compromise between Hungary and Austria in 1867 led to the beginning of the industrialization of Budapest. Agricultural industries, milling and food industries all moved into the capital, and engineering industries grew. The railways were built, and, as with the major roads, they all radiate out from Budapest. Budapest itself did not suffer particularly in the First World War, so after a brief halt, the process of development resumed. As the city continued to grow, neighbouring suburbs were absorbed into four new administrative districts. The Second World War, however, had a catastrophic effect. Apart from the horrifying cost in terms of human casualties, the architectural splendour of the city was brought to ruin. Every one of the bridges over the River Danube, for example, was blown up by the retreating Germans. These the authorities managed to replace within four years, as work to rebuild the city progressed apace. There was a further administrative enlargement in 1950 when more neighbouring towns were absorbed; the city now comprised 22 districts (more recently this has become 23, as boundaries have been redrawn). The city?s buildings and transport network suffered afresh in the 1956 Uprising, but were again repaired. Large-scale building of blocks of flats took place in the 1960's, followed by construction of two new Underground lines. The Lágymányosi Bridge, the new National Theatre and the National Concert Hall have all appeared since the fall of Communism. There are many further developments planned, including a fourth Underground line.

A. Hajós

The capital city of Hungary, Budapest, was created out of the unification of the separate historic towns of Buda, Pest and Óbuda in 1873. Whilst the area had been inhabited from early times, it was from this date that the city?s expansion into a world capital really began. Budapest is bisected by the River Danube, with the city as much a natural geographical centre as it is the country?s transport hub. Covering an area of two hundred square miles and divided into 23 administrative districts, it is home today to a population of 1.8 million people.

Flowing north to south through the centre of the city is the mighty River Danube. Buda and Óbuda, comprising roughly a third of the total, are situated mainly in the hills to the west, with commercial Pest on the plains to the east. There are three islands ? Óbuda Island, Margaret Island and Csepel Island ? and nine bridges, two of which carry railway lines.

Budapest possesses a rich and fascinating history as well as a vibrant cultural heritage. Recognizing the unique value of its traditions it has managed to maintain its magic and charm, and is rightly known as the Queen of the Danube. It has also been called the City of Spas, as there are a dozen thermal baths complexes served by over a hundred natural thermal springs.

The city is divided into two parts, the hilly side of Buda on the western bank and the flat plain of Pest on the eastern bank of the river Danube. These two parts of the city were once separate towns and were merged together with Ancient Buda (Óbuda) only in 1873.

The city centre starts on Vörösmarty Square. Váci Street, the pedestrian main street of downtown Budapest, sets out from here and the square holds the two most popular cafés of the capital: old Gerbeaud and trendy Art Café. The square is always busy and full of life. Anyone in town will surely drop by, and if the weather is fine take a coffee on a terrace or rest on a bench, and when the weather turns cold sit behind a café window.

The Váci utca the first street in Budapest to be pedestrianized, but it was one of the best places for shopping long before this change. The street was formed in the 18th century but most houses date back to the 19th and early 20th century. It quickly became the shopping centre and later the esplanade of the Pest side. As the mid-day or evening promenade in Váci Street slowly became a fashionable leisure activity for the well-to-do in the last century, shops grew more and more expensive and later only the most exclusive merchants could afford to open an outlet on the street. The street has been marked by a certain exclusivity ever since. The most elegant hotels in Budapest were built here and in its neighbourhood.

The Inner City Parish Church, like a little museum, is a fine display of the different architectural styles of the ages, a true representation of Pest's stormy history. Check out the window frames of the old Gothic edifice, a late Gothic tabernacle and medieval sedilia - one of them a mihrab used for praying by the Turks over 150 years when the church was converted into a mosque. The Hungarian National Museum is one of the finest examples of Hungarian Classicism. Hungarian history is presented from the foundation of the state up until 1990.

The Hungarian Holy Crown and the Crown Jewels was seen here, but on 1 of January 2000 were moved to the Parlament. Stonework remains from the Roman period, the Middle Ages and from early modern times.

The museum played a key role in the 1848-49 revolution and as such it became one of its symbols; for this reason the National Museum is to this day one of the focal points of celebrations marking the national holiday of March 15.

The world's second largest and Europe's largest Synagogue can be found in Dohány street, with seating for 3000. It was built in the middle of the 19th century in Romantic style for the around 30,000 Jewish community of Pest mainly living in this part of the town. Its gigantic hall rests on cast iron columns and arches - a real architectural novelty at that time.

Construction of the largest church of the capital; the Basilica (seating 8,500 persons) was beset by vicissitudes. No sooner did the groundwork begin when the War of Independence broke out in 1848, then construction was resumed in 1851, followed by the immediate death of the two architects, and even the dome collapsed during the works. The church with a Greek cross plan was finally consecrated in 1905.

With the river Danube in the vicinity, huge foundations and three underground levels had to be laid under the church, resulting in an underground "house" almost as large as on the surface. It took 60 years and two architectural époques - Classicism and Eclecticism - to build the Basilica. Special works of art present the life of King St. Stephen - in whose name the basilica was dedicated - founder of the Hungarian State and Christian Church in HungaryA grandiose cupola dominates the edifice offering visitors a good view of the city from its rim. From the unique 360-degree circular lookout you can admire Budapest from a height of 65 meters. A modern and secure elevator will take you most of the way up, from where you climb to the circular lookout on a spiral staircase.

Built at the turn of the century, the building of the Parliament quickly became a dominant sight and symbol of Budapest and the Danube panorama. A typically Eclectic edifice with a lot of small spikes and stone lace ornamentation, it is one of the most decorative structures of the capital. It also ranks as one of the biggest national assemblies in the world. Majestic stone lions flank the VIP entrance taking visitors to the magnificent staircase leading to the cupola room, home of the most elegant state receptions. Two symmetric wings open up from here, for what used to be the Lower and the Upper House of the pre-communist parliament. The rich interior and gorgeous decoration of the Parliament building are well worth seeing as part of a guided tour. Budapest is proud of possessing one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world.

The opening performance of the Opera House was held in the neo-Renaissance building, the jewel of the avenue, in 1884 after nine years of construction. The staircase and the auditorium of the palace, designed by one of the best architects of those days Miklós Ybl, are decorated with frescos of eminent Hungarian painters such as Bertalan Székely, Mór Thán and Károly Lotz. The first director was Ferenc Erkel, Gustav Mahler held this post for several years, and Puccini directed the premiere of two of his operas here. Renowned guest conductors include Otto Klemperer, Sergio Failoni and Lamberto Gardelli. It is still one of the best opera houses in Europe. Well worth a visit, even for those who do not especially like operas.

Tivoli Theatre, a cabaret stage known as Microscope and the Thália Theatre with no acting company of its own. Today's night programme venues have shifted more in the direction of the Academy of Music and Liszt Ferenc Square. Mai Manó Studio was built by the famous photographer as his studio-apartment, the neo-Renaissance palace today hosts the legendary "Sun Shine Studio", three photograph exhibitions and a bookstore.

Budapest's grandest square; the Heroes' Square closes off Andrássy út, with City Park right behind. Marking the end of stylish Andrássy út, this monumental edifice is a majestic memorial of the thousand-year history of Hungarians in Europe. Each part of the monument represents an important section of Hungarian history. In the focus of the semicircular colonnade stands the bronze statue of Archangel Gabriel on a 36-meter-high column, which was awarded a Grand Prix at the Paris World Exposition in 1900. According to an old Hungarian legend, the angel appeared in the dreams of first Hungarian king Saint Stephen and gave him the holy crown.

The equestrian statues of the seven legendary chieftains who lead migrating Hungarians to the Carpathian Basin stand on the pedestal of the obelisk. The two circular peristyles present statues of famous kings, emperors and personalities of Hungarian history. The solemnity and pomp of the statue park is further heightened by the two old museum buildings on either side: the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art.

The Széchenyi Thermal Bath is one of Europe`s largest bath complexes. The atmosphere of Roman bathing culture may be felt in its light, spacious pool halls, while Greek bathing culture is reflected in the tub baths, but traces of Nordic traditions may also be found in the heat chambers, saunas and dipping pools. This first spa of Pest owes its existence to the well dug by Vilmos Zsigmondy in 1879. The present bath building was constructed in 1913. The swimming pool was built in 1927, but it was only open from May till September until the 1960ies, when, in 1963, it was made suitable for winter swimming as well. Since then it has been open throughout the year. The two "public bath" units were established also in 1927, today housing the mixed baths and the complex physiotherapy units (day hospital).

The Buda side of the capital

The name Buda Castle covers more than a castle or the Royal Palace in the capital city; it extends to the historical quarter full of sites. On bright spring days people invite friends for a "walk in the Castle", i.e. to wander around the Castle Hill quarter. The most exiting way of getting to the Castle is by taking the Funicular, a little cable car up the Castle Hill. The Castle District is one of the most romantic pedestrian sections in Budapest. A medieval little town with atmospheric streets, picturesque houses, gas lamps and beautiful monuments. The main street of the district - Tárnok Street - ranges from Dísz Square to today's district centre, Matthias Church. Colourful little houses border the square and the neighbouring streets. The winding streets and narrow houses date back to the Middle Ages, occasionally decorated with valuable Gothic window and door frames. Elegant Baroque and Louis XVI-style palaces are relics of the restoration work after the Turkish occupation.

The Castle District houses are famous for their medieval doorway sedilia. During reconstruction work after the Turks were driven from Hungary these sedilia were walled up and quickly forgotten, only to be rediscovered during the bombing of the Second World War. Sedilia ornamented with Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance stone arches were probably used as a rest place for visitors' escorts. Today, they serve as a "speciality" of Buda that distinguish it from other cities of the world. As well as the major museums housed in the Royal Palace, there are numerous interesting collections: Museum of Military History, Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum, Hungarian Museum of Commerce and Catering, Museum of Telephony, Museum of Music History.

The Budapest Hilton Hotel, probably the most beautiful member of the Hilton chain, is also here. In a side wing one can view the ruins of a medieval Dominican cloister.

The Castle District is also renowned for the Ruszwurm confectionery founded in the year 1827, offering cakes made according to famous old recipes, as well as last century furniture and cosy little rooms.

The Royal Palace is situated on the southern part of Castle Hill. The medieval palace that stood here was destroyed during the battles against Turkish invaders, leaving only the fortified walls as a memento. The site was then filled in to lay the foundations of the new grandiose Baroque palace started by Maria-Theresa and expanded on Hungarian initiative in the 19th century. The Palace itself was gutted during the Second World War. Unfortunately there is no place in the Palace today that would allow the visitor a glimpse of the lavish suites and interiors of past royals. Today, it functions as home to important cultural institutions and museums: Hungarian National Gallery, the National Széchenyi Library, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Budapest History Museum.

The Trinity square is the current centrepiece of the Castle District featuring a monumental Holy Trinity statue, the discreetly reserved old Buda City Hall, and the world famous Matthias Church. The best restaurants and shops in the area are also nearby. The cellars of the Hungarian Culture Foundation accommodate the House of Hungarian Wines.

The Matthias Church bears the name of its biggest Maecenas, King Matthias, who married twice in this shrine. The cathedral is almost as old as the Royal Palace and has been the venue of several coronation ceremonies. Every king and époque left its mark on the building until the Turks occupied Buda in 1541 and converted the temple into a mosque, whitewashing - and thus preserving - its medieval frescos. Matthias Church gained its current form at the turn of the century when a lot of smaller buildings attached to it earlier were pulled down and the church was reconstructed in characteristic.

The Fishermen's Bastion, completed in 1905 on the site of a former fish market - this is where the name comes from. It has never served a defensive purpose: it is an excellent lookout place. The floodlit row of bastions offer a panoramic view onto the other bank of the Danube.

The cityscape opening up from there, including the Fishermen's Bastion, has been part of UNESCO's World Heritage since 1988. The crypt of the ancient St. Michael Cemetery Chapel (the first written record dates from 1443) was opened to the public in 1997.

Enjoy every minute in this beautiful, colourful city! It worths it.

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