Our Blog - Budapest, Hungary - September 2008
Our third trip to a country that had been behind the iron curtain was to Budapest, Hungary. Our expectations were that since Hungary had been somewhat more open during the communist period that Budapest would be more up to date and cleaner than Poland and the Czech republic. While to a certain extent that was true, we were surprised to the number of old and run down buildings you saw in the city.
A massive building, the Hungarian Parliament was completed in 1902 but until 1989 it had only been used by a democratically elected government once in 87 years. You can go inside the Parliament only with guided tours, unfortunately we did not have the time to do so.
Not far from the Parliament, in Freedom Square is the Soviet Army Memorial, built in 1945 to honor the Soviet-led liberation of Budapest and topped by the last Soviet Star remaining in post-Communist Budapest.
This is the famous Saint Stephen's Basilica, Budapest's largest church, seating some 8,500 people, it was built between 1851 and 1905.
Inside the Basilica are huge amounts of marble which kind of reminded us of Saint Peter's Basilica.
While not the best picture with all of the cars and light, Budapest's Castle is one of the major highlights of the city. Castle Hill was first settled in the 13th century and the area has been destroyed more than once, the most recent in 1945 when the Soviets shelled the Nazis who were holed up on the hill. As you can see it has been completely restored.
Built in 1884, the Opera House survived the siege of Budapest at the end of World War II nearly undamaged. While not as impressive as the Paris Garnier Opera house, it is quite a beautiful building.
Dohany Synagogue is Europe's largest synagogue and the world's second-largest, it was built in 1859 and is still used by Budapest's Jewish community.
Throughout Budapest there are late 19th century market halls where vendors would sell a wide assortment of fresh produce, dairy products, meat and poultry, vegetables, and fruit.
As we walked over the bridge that spans the Danube we saw this statue of Bishop Gellert, who bears his cross defiantly on the mountainside. The legend goes that vengeful 11th century pagans, recalling the cruelties of the conversion to Christianity, forced the Italian bishop into a barrel and rolled him to his death in the river far below.
While walking up the hill to see the castle was an option it was not something we had the energy for so we decided to take the funicular. In this picture you do not actually see the coach that takes you up the hill, but you can see how steep the ride is.The funicular was originally built in 1870 but it too was destroyed in World War II and was not rebuilt until 1986.
The Castle Hill area consists of two parts, the Royal Palace itself and the so called Castle District, a mostly reconstructed medieval city. The Royal Palace houses a number of museums while the Castle District is a compact, narrow neighborhood of cobblestone lanes and twisting alleys.
While the official called the Church of Our Lady, this church is better known as Matthias Church because the Renaissance monarch, Matthias Corvinus, was the major donor of the church. It was originally built in 1015 and the current structure dates from the 14th century. Unfortunately quite a bit of restoration work was being done outside so all of our pictures are of the interior. However the interior was quite a sight as all of the walls were painted with religious pictures and not just the blank walls we see in most European churches.
This area is known as Fishermen's Bastion, it was built from 1890-1905 and has a series of lookout towers and terraces overlooking the Danube River. It was named for the Guild of Fisherman who defended this section of the wall in the Middle Ages and in front of the Fisherman's Bastion stands a statue of King St. Stephen, founder of the Hungarian state who brought Christianity to the region in the year 1000.
There are not many hotels in the Castle District but there is a Hilton that is unique in that it incorporates ruins from a 13th-century Dominican church into the more modern building. We took a short break to walk inside the hotel to get this picture of the wall.
The Magdalene Tower is right in the middle of Castle Hill and is all thatís left of a Gothic church destroyed here during WWII. The church dates from the 13th century and pretty much all that remains is the tower.
A few times we mentioned about certain buildings having been destroyed during WWII, while this building was not destroyed you can see the damage inflicted on it.
A much nicer view of the Hungarian Parliament, this time from the other side of the Danube river. If you compare this picture to the first one you can see how much cleaner the building is, it almost gleams.
Here is another of the 19th century market halls, this one is a bit bigger and nicer than the previous one. In many of the market halls the interior has been completely renovated and has all of the modern features you would expect in a grocery store.
As we were walking through the city we came upon the Moulin Rouge, actually it is not the real Moulin Rouge as that is in Paris. However it was odd to see this in a small street in Budapest.
In an older section of the city there were clay friezes above the doorways, here is a particularly nice one.
The interior of the Dohany Synagogue is different than most Jewish temples as it has some attributes of Christian Churches due to the fact that the architects were not Jewish. However it is still a sight to see.
On the grounds of the synagogue is the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park which holds the Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs as at least 400,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered by the Nazis. The memorial is meant to resemble a weeping willow whose leaves bear inscriptions with the names of victims. There is also a plaque donated by Tony Curtis as his family was originally from Budapest.
This is a portion of the wall that kept Budapest's Jews inside the Jewish district during World War II. This is not actually where it stood it was situated on a nearby stretch of road.