Sights of the Pest side

Looking across the Danube at the multitude of buildings in Pest, a semicircular road is clearly discernible running from Szabadság Bridge round to the Chain Bridge. Though this "inner circle" has different names along its route, it is generally nemzetireferred to as the "Kiskörút". It roughly follows the line of the old city walls. If we were to enter some of the courtyards of the larger houses on the stretch called Muzeum körut (National Museum), we would find the remains of 5 to 6 meters high walls of rubble and plain stone which, judging by their appearance, were built more to keep out robbers rather than marauding armies!

These gates , which stood at the head of the main roads out to Vác, Hatvan and Kecskemét, have since been pulled down. The original National Theatre was built in 1837 but again, outside the city walls. It was erected with money raised from amongst people nationwide, which illustrates the extent of national feeling at that time and gives us a foretaste of the great events that were to occur.

To return to the "Kiskörút" : it encircles old Pest which lies directly opposite the former Royal Palace in Buda. The remains of a Roman castrum were unearthed in old Pest at the foot of Elizabeth Bridge. This site probably served to guard a river-crossing on the so-called limes system of defense which the Romans placed along the Danube. The river was the north-east frontier of the Roman Empire and beyond here, on the Great Plain, only nomadic tribes lived. These nomads glazed flocks and wandered freely, only occasionally making raids into the border territory of the Empire. Another relic from Roman times, more spectacular than Aquincum, is the amphitheater in Nagyszombat Street. It lies several miles away from the ancient city, to the south of Buda and of Árpád Bridge , and thus gives us an idea of the original size of what was the most important city in the province of Pannonia Inferior. The amphitheater has remained in relatively good condition due to the fact that it was in almost continuous use.

parish churvhThe oldest church in Pest still stands by this spot : the Inner City Parish Church. Originally built in Romanesque style, it was later rebuilt in Gothic style. It stands in part on the foundations of the Roman castrum.

During centuries of bloody battles between Islamic and Christian armies the frontier moved constantly to and fro, and in defense of this line the Hungarian population was halved. When considering the history of Hungary, this strategic position should always be kept in mind, firstly, because it may explain many national peculiarities, and secondly, because Hungarians have learned through painful experience to acknowledge their rather awkward position in Europe and to accept it.

 

Strolling through today's inner-city Pest, one can easily cover the area from bridge to bridge in a few hours, where buildings from the last century will be found. Some will be elegant but modest Neo-Classical houses from the first part of the century when the whole town reflected such an image. The National Museum is one such building. Most, however, were built during the last third of the century, and a great number of these recall the Italian Renaissance. Yet there are also buildings which exhibit traces of several other styles: French medieval, ancient Egyptian, and just about anything between the two !

Váci Street, which runs parallel to the Danube, is lined in the main by such buildings. It is one one of the most famous streets in the city and has had the most expensive fashion shops for over a century. At the end of Váci Street, beyond the point where the now demolished Váci Gate stood, is Vörösmarty Square, formerly the Haymarket. The most renowned coffee-house in Budapest, the Gerbeaud, is here.

Of course , a walk in the city should begin on the riverbank. Between Elizabeth Bridge and the Chain Bridge, the embankment is lined with three luxury hotels. The war left this whole area in ruins, but before that it was the place where high society came to stroll, chat and sit in elegant cafés and restaurants. From those days only a boat station remains which is now the starting point for river cruises.

By the boat station is a small square wedged between the hotels. Here with its back to Vörösmarty square, stands the Vigadó Concert Hall, a romantic building from the last century whose Eclectic style recalls a fabulous, imaginary Middle Ages.

lanchidIf we look northwards along the Pest bank of the Danube we find, between the Chain Bridge and Margaret Bridge, another cupola, that of the Parliament building. This Neo-Gothic palace was built at the turn of the century as a symbol of the millennium of Hungary, which was then being celebrated.

 

And yet another cupola rises above the houses of Pest. The St.Stephen's Basilica, a rather gloomy, Neo-Renaissance style cathedral, took fifty years to complete and was consecrated at the turn of the century. Rather unusually, a statue of a king stands on its altar : Saint Stephen, the first king of Hungary, crowned on Christmas Day in the year 1000 with a crown sent by the Pope. This merciless monarch converted the pagan Magyars to Christianity by use of every means available to him, including force. The Holy Crown, with which he is represented on paintings and in statues is, however, associated with this person only by tradition.
bazilikaWe know for for certain that this royal diadem, of unclear origin and assembled from various parts, could not have been worn by Stephen, although it is without doubt very old and was used during the reign of the kings of Árpád dynasty. At the end of the Second World War the crown became a "prisoner of war" in the USA, to be returned from Fort Knox only in 1976. It is now exhibited In the House Of Parliament along with other coronation regalia.

Just to the right of the Basilica, our eyes meet the straight line of the most beautiful avenue in Budapest. Andrássy út cuts through Pest from the Small Boulevard to the greenery of City Park (Városliget), where, at the turn of the century, the city ended. In the park stands the Chateau of Vajdahunyad, the only building still standing from the national fair organized to celebrate the Hungarian millennium. Today most of it houses the Museum of Agriculture.

Andrássy Avenue is lined with attractive Neo-Renaissance houses, once the homes of the aristocracy and well-to-do classes, which have preserved the taste and wealth of the early years of this century.

The impressive Opera House also stands on this avenue. In a square near the junction with Teréz körút, one finds the Academy of Music - founded by Ferenc Liszt - with its Art Nouveau concert hall, perhaps the most beautiful in Europe.

This most beautiful of Budapest streets ends in theatrically designed square, the Heroes' Square: on both both sides there is a building with a tympanum and a colonnade, obviously erected to be museums. The one on the right is the Palace of Exhibitions (the Mücsarnok), the largest exhibition hall of the city for major temporary shows; the one on the left is the Museum of Fine Arts. This museum has one of the finest collections of paintings ranging from the Italian early Renaissance to French fin de siécle of many museum in Europe.

In the center of the square a huge obelisk rises with an archangel holding aloft the patriarchal cross of the apostles. It is the embodiment of Hungarian history, as the other hand holds the Holy Crown. To the foot of the pillar seven proud and fiery horsemen in oriental garb. They are the "seven leaders", the chieftains of the seven Magyar tribes which settled here in 895 A.D. There is a semi-circular colonnade behind the statues of the tribe chieftains, between whose columns the greatest figures of Hungarian history can be seen. Heroes' Square is the largest square in Budapest, capable of holding half a million people between the two museums. So it is hardly surprising that the key moments in the 20th century, many public meetings and demonstrations have taken place here. The most important occasion recently was in the summer of 1989, when the remains of Imre Nagy, the Prime Minister executed after the 1956 revolution, were laid on the steps of the Mücsarnok before being reburied with some of his companions.

Next to the Heroes' Square is an area of concrete used mainly as a car-park, which, however, is also of historical interest. This wasteland was created by the cutting down of some of the park's trees and was the venue for the huge officially organized marches and processions of the 50s. A gigantic statue of Stalin used to stand here before it was demolished by demonstrators on the 23rd of October, 1956.

 

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