Looking around from Gellért Hill...

gellert hill

Where shall we begin our journey? On one of Budapest's famous bridges perhaps? Or down by the river, before cutting across the city on one of the main avenues? Or shall we proceed in chronological order, beginning with Aquincum, the Roman ruins to the north of the city ?

Maybe let's start in the very heart of the capital, on the top of the Gellért Hill, a rugged rock which plunges sharply into the Danube and where once, or so legend would have it, witches gathered on broomsticks. It was from here too, that in the 11th century St. Gerard (Gellért), a bishop from Venice, was cast into the river by the pagan Magyars who didn't appreciate his attempts at converting them to the Christian faith.

Pausing by one of the handrails which skirt the hilltop and steep paths around the hill, we can see immediately the Citadel behind us. However, it is not the ancient fortress that it may seem from far below, but rather a construction from the period just after the revolution and War of Independence in 1848. It was built by the victorious Austrians in order that they could keep an eye on the rebellious town below. Today it houses a hotel and restaurant. Adjacent to the Citadel is a huge figure of a woman (from 1947) holding a palm branch skywards, from where we have perhaps the most spectacular view of the city.

Way below us the mighty Danube flows from its source in far away northern mountains through the gorges and passes of the Balkans and beyond to the Black Sea, and gently curves through the city. To our left, almost out of view, but still well within the city limits, is the green expanse of Margaret Island (Margitsziget) with its parks, swimming pools and hotels. The island is named after a medieval princess who was confined to the now ruined convent, and who later became a saint.

Opposite us in the haze stretches the flat expanse of Pest, which grew during the last century into today's metropolis

To our left and to the north, nestling amongst the now residential but once wooded hills, lies Buda. This old town on the right bank of the river abounds in history, but it is Castle Hill and the former Royal Palace which dominates the landscape. Looking across the river again, we have the Belváros, the inner city of Pest, and between these two old towns, the bridges. In the center is Lánchid or Chain Bridge, the first and to this day the most beautiful bridge in the city. Below us, at the very foot of the hill, is Elizabeth Bridge, named after an elegant Habsburg Empress. This was the last bridge to be re-built after the devastation of the Second World War. The river is at its narrowest here and thus, as with many towns, it was at this point that the first ferry crossing ran.

To the far right a wide floodplain stretches away before our eyes. The Danube widens again, branches out and leaves several islands in its wake. To the south are factory chimneys and the rings of the uniform, matchbox dwellings of modern housing estates. There is also the island of Csepel which is the longest on the Danube (50 km). It has also the largest industrial complex in the country

gellert hotelIf we crane our necks a little, beneath us, a touch to the right, at the foot of Szabadság Bridge, several oriental cupolas will come into view. These are examples of how the architects of the Art Nouveau period imagined the style of the original Magyar settlers, who came from the east. The majestic Hotel Gellért, of which they are part, was built according to this supposed style. To this day, it it remains the most characteristic and charming hotel in the city. A famous medicinal spa, which itself is of architectural significance, is attached to the hotel and fed by one of the dozen thermal springs which were found gushing from Gellért Hill in ancient times.

On the riverbank directly below us is another cupola. Although it is less imposing and more modest than those on the hotel, at least original. It crowns a Turkish bath (Rudas), still in use, from the Ottoman reign of 150 years. The Turks resided in Buda from 1526 to 1686 (!), during which time only a slim crescent of land in northern and western Hungary remained in Christian hands

 

 

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