After a crazy two weeks, split between Ireland and Scotland with our families, oh and our wedding 🙂 we decided to spend a few days in Budapest as a mini-moon before heading back to Oz. We had talked about a Blog Ban for this trip as it was a bit personal but after visiting this magical place we knew we had to write something. So let us begin with our 4 part digest of Budapest with “Something Old…”
The city’s story starts with the settlement of Aquincum. Eravisci Celts came down from the north and settled in the area around third and fourth centuries BC. Then in 12 BC the Roman Legions arrived and constructed roads, amphitheatres and their lasting legacy in Budapest – the baths. After this there was a steady stream of visitors, some permanent and some temporary. Magyars, Mongols, Ottomans (who also built baths!), the Hapsburg Empire, The Nazis, The Allies, and then finally the Soviets.
When the dust had settled in 1989 it was the Magyars (Hungarians) who were left in control of the combined cities of Buda and Pest.
Within minutes of walking out the front door of our hotel we were gaping at the Hungarian State Opera House. Opened to the public in 1884, it is considered one of the best Opera Houses in the world for acoustics. The facade is richly adorned and the grand entrance is flanked on either side by a statue dedicated to Hungary’s two best servants to the arts, Ferenc Erkel (composer of the National Anthem) and Franz Liszt (Hungary’s most famous composer).
As we took our snaps and explored the building we were witness to a historical event as the current show, Billy Elliot: The Musical, was the first Musical to ever be performed there.
As we continued walking down Andrassy Ut we couldn’t but help compare Budapest to places like Madrid and Paris. Wide tree-lined boulevards dividing up old gothic buildings whose ground floors were bursting with shops, cafes and much more besides. As we came to the end of the road our landscape widened and we spotted a huge cathedral to our right, St Stephen’s Basilica.
Named after King Stephen (the first King of Hungary) this magnificent Neo-Classical building is the third largest church in Hungary and it’s reliquary is also home to the mummified right hand of St Stephen. True Story. We decided to skip the inner sanctum of the church and head straight to the bell towers and take advantage of the 360 degree walkway around the central spire as well as some interesting artwork in the belfry.
The way down was also very very cool. Spiral staircases that would not have looked out of place in a MC Escher painting.
Hello from the Other Side
Across the river is the city of Buda. Unlike it’s counterpart, Pest, Buda is completely different. The flat plains giving over to hills. The wide boulevards becoming more narrow and windy making public transport a difficult option. That’s ok though – these legs were made for walking. Our first stop was to climb the hill using a funicular railway (‘cable car’) . Originally built in 1870 this cable car offers spectacular views as you are elevated from the street level all the way up to the Castle above. Buda Castle has a commanding view of the city and its surrounds – even better than the one from St Stephen’s Basilica. The viewpoint was called Savoyai Terrace and offered us the chance to get some selfie’s in!!
The terrace is guarded by a statue of a general on a horse – Austrian Prince Eugene of Savoy.He was the general most responsible for shaking off the Ottoman yolk. Behind him is the Palace that now houses the National Museum. While we were here there was a Picasso Exhibition on and since the national holiday – St. Stephen’s Day was around the corner there was a hive of activity with market stalls and wares being set up.
We took the longer route back down and walked out down through the outer ward, curtain walls and out the main barbican and portcullis and hugging the river bed made our way south. We had begun our day with the grandest church in all of the Budapest so we would end our day visiting it’s most low-key house of worship – the Rock Church.
Church of Rock
Created from a natural cave system inside Gellert Hill, similar to those at Lourdes, by an order of Pauline Monks in 1926, the Rock Church was very special. The mixture of raw nature and iconography made it feel like something from an old movie – the christians forced to pray underground lest the evil government finds them. An all too real event that happened under the Communist Regime.
So the church was located inside Gellert Hill, and the square we used to get to it was called Gellert Ter. Oh and the main building stradling this square is the Gellert Hotel and baths. So who is Gellert? Well Gellert is actually Hungarian for Gerard and in this case it is St. Gerard , who was thrown down the hill to his death in 1046. There was actually a 12m statue dedicated to him slightly up the hill framed by a neoclassical semi-circular colonnade.
After all that John felt a tug on his sleeve. He looked round and there was Karen folding her arms and she said…
“That’s enough history for one day Mister!!”
She was right of course, but Budapest was just crawling with it. It would have been a crime not to have sampled it while we here.
Join us for Part 2: Something New where we spend a day at Europe’s largest music festival and then spend sometime amongst the ruins of the Jewish Quarter.