The Buda side & the Castle District

Turning our attention to the right bank of the river, we can see a long, straight street running along the foot of Castle Hill parallel to the Danube. This is Fö utca (Main Street) which has the so called Watertown (Viziváros) lying on either side Lying beneath the formerly affluent royal town on the hilltop, it was once the core of the slum area, constantly threatened by floods.
The Tabán quarter at its southern end used to inhabited by Serbs, who settled here during the Turkish occupation. At the far end of Tabán Quarter, near Margaret Bridge, one can find medicinal spa baths over a hundred years old : the Szent Lukács (St. Luke) and the Császár (Emperor), where the city's first hospital was built in 1330 by the Knights of the Order of the Holy Ghost. Here, at the foot of the bridge, between Castle Hill and the wealthy, residential area of Rózsadomb, the inner circle of Buda begins.

This traffic-laden stretch is called Margit körut and is a continuation of the road from Pest. Its wide arch encircles both Castle Hill and Gellért Hill to reach the river again by the hotel Gellért. Opposite this point, in Pest, on the far side of Szabadság Bridge, is the southern end of Kiskörut and the elegant Neo-Renaissance building of the old Customs House - today the University of Economics - and a building which recalls a medieval castle, which in fact the biggest and certainly the most attractive market hall in Pest.

buda castle

Looking to the immediate left from Gellért Hill the view is dominated by the dome of the Royal Palace. What we see today is the result of the renovation of the burnt out palace which suffered a siege of several weeks during the Second World War. The civic town, on the northern part of the hill near the palace, was also nearly destroyed at that time. For weeks the whole district was littered with smoldering ruins and corpses, just as in 1686 when the Christian forces regained Buda from the Turks and the residence of the medieval Hungarian kings was raised to the ground.
The ruins, however, were preserved beneath the Baroque buildings that were subsequently constructed in the area, and ironically, it was the devastation of the last war that made possible their excavation. Just below ground level, the remains of King Matthias' Renaissance palace, built in the Italian style, was unearthed. Below these ruins were those of the Gothic castle of Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary and Holy Roman Emperor a hundred years earlier, and some medieval fortifications. All these are now on display in the cellar of the palace.

The first fortress to be built in the then latest western style was erected by Béla IV., King of the House of Árpád, in 1242 after the devastation of the country and the slaughtering of his people by the Mongols, who ruled almost the whole Asia to the Pacific coast. After this invasion they disappeared as unexpectedly as they had come. Only then did Buda become a royal residence. The only building which remains from the first constructions of this period is the Nicolas Tower. It is now part of the Hilton Hotel along with remains of a monastery and Gothic church which were incorporated into the design of the hotel to the left of the main entrance.

Buda was restored to its former dignified self upon the creation of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy in 1867. This new relationship was brought into being by the Hungarian contemporaries of Queen Victoria, and the new constitution obliged the king to keep up a residence in Budapest too. It had became apparent that Hungary, Which had rebelled on many occasions - the last time being in 1848 - was after all an indispensable part of the Empire. She had been suppressed but never broken and was now accepted for what she was. The new monarchy called for a worthy residence, and thus work was immediately begun on a major extension for the palace. This was when the huge complex we see today was built. The halls which were gutted in 1945 hose the National Gallery, the Budapest Museum of History, and in the wing facing the Buda Hills, the National Library.

budai vár

Franz Joseph I, the first king of the dual monarchy and famous for his longevity, was, of course, crowned in Buda in accordance with the agreement reached under the compromise. The coronation was held in the Church of Our Lady, known by the general public as the Matthias Church, which stands in the center of the civic town on Caste Hill. Its richly carved stone tower was originally built by King Matthias and restored at the end of the 19th century to its former gothic glory.

At the turn of the century, the country was developing at great speed and fashion desired the scenery of the past: thus behind the sanctuary of the Matthias Church a splendid Neo-Romanesque architectural capriccio was erected. This replaced the rather characterless fortifications which legend holds used to be manned during sieges by the fishermen's guild. In summer one can hardly move here for the hoards of tourists who throng beneath the mounted statue of King Stephen. This spot should be visited at night, when from beneath the arches of the Fishermen's Bastion, which reminds one of the cloisters of a monastery, a most memorable view of then city reveals itself.

The Castle District itself should be explored house by house, since each, with the graceful Baroque residences that stand out amongst them, have their own stories to tell, some of which are revealed by the traces of the various reconstructions of their walls. Who would believe for example that the large plain building at number 9 Táncsics Mihály Street, near the Hilton, was once a prison, where even Lajos Kossuth was held as a prisoner? To kill time whilst there he translated "Macbeth" into Hungarian.

The history of Buda is the history of never ending reconstructions - an authentic European history in a nutshell.

The Castle District has an "underground history", too, a secret story interwoven with unverifiable legends which has only in part been disclosed. The limestone hill is similar to a ripe Emmenthaler cheese, with caves formed by thermal waters. In the course of its history the inhabitants of the hill joined the caves together until today they form a 10 kilometer long, three-storey system of cellars and tunnels. In these tunnels, some of which is still intact, the citizens of Buda didn't merely keep their wine barrels and winter fuel, but in times of danger (also during the long siege in the Second World War) they actually lived there. Two floors beneath the Ruszwurm, a lovely Biedermeier café, a skeleton in chains was found when explorers lit up the corridors where no man had stepped for over 200 years. A short stretch of this tunnel system is accessible to visitors through the cellars of number 9 Úri utca.



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