In 1873 Pest, Buda + Obuda merged renaming this traumatic and arresting city nestled along the Danube, Budapest.
This, our first post from Hungary, will focus on some of the highlights we discovered on the Pest side of Budapest.
Standing in the center of any one of the impressive bridges that cross the Danube may be the perfect place to drink in the panoramic views of this incredible urban destination.
The briefest History of Hungary
During the Iron age, 8th – 5th centuries BCE, the tribes that lived in this region were known as Pannonians and had likely emerged from the Ural Mountains in Russia. The Roman Empire conquered territory west of the Danube River between 35 and 9 BCE naming their new province Pannonia. In the late 4th century CE, Roman control collapsed with the invasion of the Huns. Seven Magyar tribes invaded in the 9th century, adopted Christianity within the next 100 years and the first Christian Kingdom of Hungary was established by 1000 CE.
In 1241, Mongols invaded the country and massacred half a million Hungarians in the fighting. The expanding Ottoman Empire further reduced the size and population when they conquered Hungary in the 15th century. The Austrian Habsburg monarchy stepped in to defend Hungary and oust the Turks and an Austria-Hungarian agreement was eventually signed in 1867 creating a joint Austria-Hungary empire, a dual monarchy and the 3rd largest country in Europe, after Russia and Germany. Following World War I in 1918 and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a much smaller Hungary emerged and was governed independently by the Kingdom of Hungary. A period sadly referred to as the ‘interwar’. During World War II, in 1944 and 1945, Hungary was occupied in turn by German and Soviet troops. After the war a heavily influenced Russian socialist People’s Republic government ruled from 1949-1989. Once the iron curtain fell in 1989 Communist rule came to an end. Hungary quickly adopted a “democracy package” and began to govern themselves and by 2004 they had joined the European Union.
The word Hungary comes from Hun and Magyar. The Hungarian word for Hungary is Magyarország, and modern-day Hungarians and their language can both be called Magyar.
Hősök tere or Heroes Square
Heroes Square is one of eleven separate UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Budapest. The centerpiece of Heroes Square is the Millennium Monument, built in 1896, to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin and the foundation of the Hungarian state.
This large square has a number of noteworthy statues including the first seven chieftains of the Magyars, the Memorial Stone of Heroes, a number of important Hungarian national leaders and 4 statues representing Labor, Wealth, Knowledge and Glory. There is a male statue who represents ‘War’. He is driving a chariot using a snake as a whip. There is also a female statue in a chariot holding a palm frond representing ‘Peace’.
The construction of the Millennium Underground took place at the same time, making it one of the first underground metros in continental Europe. We have been on this metro a few times when we visit the square. The Museum of Fine Arts on the left and the Hall of Art on the right were also built for the millennium celebrations. We spent an afternoon visiting both.
Időkerék or Timewheel
The Timewheel is one of the world’s largest hourglasses and found near Heroes Square. Made of granite, steel, and glass, and weighing 60 tons, this large structure is fascinating. You may know we love finding solar clocks, water clocks and sundials and this hourglass measures time as well. It takes the small granules of glass, referred to as sand flowing from the upper to the lower glass chamber exactly one year to empty. When the sand runs out on New Year’s Eve, the Timewheel is manually turned by 4 people using large cables, 180 degrees, to enable the countdown to begin for the new year.
There was construction impeding a great picture so we are posting this online photo.
Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum
The Hungarian National Museum, also often called the Museum of Fine Arts, was founded in 1802 and is the premier museum for Hungarian history, art and archaeology.
We had our first introduction to a handful of talented Hungarian painters and sculptors in this museum. The museum also has nine El Greco paintings, wonderful 14th and 15th pieces and just this year has acquired a large masterpiece entitled Reclining Nude by the French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).
A couple of fun facts are:
- During the 1890s the Hungarian Parliament held its sessions in a part of this museum.
- Behind the museum is a garden that today is used primarily for concerts. During his life, Ferenc (or Franz) Liszt (1811-1886) the famous Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist and conductor performed in this garden.
- A couple of scenes from the movie Evita, starring Madonna, were filmed at the museum. One on the front steps of the Museum and a second scene when Eva Peron was being carried into a ‘Buenos Aires’ government building in her coffin to lay in State.
Műcsarnok Kunsthalle or Hall of Art
Across the square facing the Museum of Fine Arts is the beautiful Hall of Art building also built in 1896. The Hall of Art does not have its own collection but instead hosts temporary exhibits.
We were pleased to find an excellent “Salon of Architecture” exhibit. There were pictures and descriptions and wonderful models of amazing examples of architectural structures that have been created and installed in the past 5 years in Hungary. There is no doubt that architecture is both an art and a science. Architecture in general is one of the highlights of Europe.
Additionally the nearby Vajdahunyad Castle was built in 1896 as part of the large 1000-year celebration. The castle was designed to incorporate several landmark buildings from different areas of Hungary, especially the Hunyad Castle in Transylvania (now in Romania). Look for a bust of Béla Lugosi, the Hungarian-American actor who played Count Dracula in the original 1931 film.
The castle was originally meant to be only a temporary structure made from cardboard and wood for the Millennium celebrations but it was so popular that in 1904-1908 it was rebuilt using stone and brick.
We thoroughly enjoy seaching for the many interesting statues in Budapest and we found the statue of a hooded figure called Anonymous in the courtyard of the castle. Anonymous, the unknown chronicler, lived in the 12th century.
Fiumei Road Cemetery + Piety Museum
This vast 140 acre landscaped garden cemetery was a short metro ride for us. There were towering limestone mausoleums, impressively designed tombstones, crypts and statues to explore. We are slowly learning and recognizing a few of Hungary’s most famous statesmen, artists and citizens.
The motto of the Piety Museum, which can be found within the walls of the Cemetery, is: “If you want to know how much a nation appreciates its past, look at it’s cemeteries.”
The Piety Museum permanent collection gives an overview of how burial traditions in Hungary changed and the exhibition presents interesting relics of the ‘mourning culture’ of Budapest especially in the 19th-20th centuries. One surprising exhibit that caught our attention was ‘turning cremation ashes of a family member or pet into diamonds’. 😮
Országház – The Hungarian Parlament
Hungary’s Parliament building, built 1885-1902, is said to be the third largest Parliament building in the world. It has 691 rooms, 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) of stairs and a height of 315 feet (96 meters).
While Budapest has countless architectural beauties, the stately Parliament building, perched along the Danube River bank, is, without a doubt, the consummate gem of the city skyline.
The forint (abbreviation: Ft; code: HUF) is the currency of Hungary and the long-term goal is to eventually replace the forint with the euro.
The forint’s name actually comes from Florence, where gold coins were minted beginning in the mid 1200s. In Hungary, florentinus, later changed to forints, were first used in the early 1300s and off and on for the next 600 years.
Forint banknote denominations are: 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 and 20,000 Ft and coins come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 Ft. There are neither 1 or 2 Forint coins; purchases are rounded to the nearest 5 Ft.
ATM machines often have written in big bold letters EUR HUF and our daughter joked that a bankrobber walking into a bank might go up to a teller and say “Give me all EUR HUF!!!” 😂 Such a comedian!
Lieutenant Columbo and ‘Dog’
Budapest’s statuary is prolific and yet we were surprised when we found a life-size bronze sculpture of Lieutenant Columbo here.
American actor Peter Falk played the fictional and likeable Lieutenant Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department for many years on TV. Apparently his ancestors were Hungarian and following so many years occupation and turmoil, Hungary seems to like to acknowledge its native sons and daughters.
Budapest and Hungary have experienced much more than their share of foreign rule, occupation, conflict and loss of territory. The Hungarian people have been the recipients of crimes by both the fascist and communist leaders and it has been only 30 years since this country regained her independence. Hungary may still suffer from the 40-year communist regime legacy but her outlook is positive. Today the unemployment rate is 3.5%, the inflation rate is 3% and we have witnessed construction absolutely everywhere. We couldn’t count the plethora of construction sites and cranes on Budapest’s streets and skyline.
Locals told us that due to the global climate change, the heat of summer starts much earlier than it did a couple of decades ago. We can attest to that as June temperatures have been nudging into the low to mid 90°s F so we have had to plan our excursions accordingly. Regardless, one week in and our tourist experience has been warm and wonderful in this scenic location.
Egészségedre (pronounced: a/geisha/gedra) from these Budapestians,
Ted and Julia