Budapest is the capital city of Hungary. Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, its World Heritage Sites attracts over 20 million visitors a year.
From the middle of the nineteenth century Budapest underwent an unprecedented surge of building and expansion. In contrast with other European capital cities, whose transformation into a modern metropolis was the continuation of a long period of historical growth, Budapest attained world status and became largely what we know today over a period of only 40 to 50 years. This was not entirely due to the economic growth of the time, but also to disasters like the great floods of 1838, in which thousands of buildings in Pest were ruined. A new, modern town grew up in their place. It was at this time that the great avenues and boulevards were laid out. Some brave visionaries even considered making what became the Great Boulevard (Nagykörút) navigable, as it had once been a minor branch of the Danube. It was also in the 1840s that the first gas lamp, a great wonder of the age, appeared on the wall of the National Museum. Within a decade there were ten thousand of them being supplied by Pest’s new gasworks. This was soon followed by the first waterworks and, with the building of the Opera House, the Parliament and the bridges, by the turn of the century Budapest had caught up with its old rival Vienna.
Pioneering Air Conditioning in the Parliament
Town planners and builders of the late nineteenth century were certainly fond of grandeur and adornment – witness, for example, one of Europe’s most splendid parliament buildings on the left bank of the Danube. The Eclectic building is itself an example of the art of the period – with its Gothic towers, intricate stonework and 88 statues on the outside, and its baroque grand staircase, frescoes, mosaic windows, Gobelin tapestry and paintings inside. The cooling system for the Parliament building was unique at the end of the 19th century. Air ventilation tunnels were routed to the two fountains that were situated in the square in front of the building, and the fresh air that was blown back into the chambers was pleasantly cooled by water. When this system was later superseded much of the tunnel work was bricked up, although some of the original air passages are still in use today. In times of great heat, circulating air can be cooled by huge quantities of ice.
On the Trail of World Heritage – by Number Two Tram
The number two tram can be boarded in Kossuth Square in front of the Parliament building: it is an excellent means of sightseeing. From its windows the entire World Heritage section of the Danube panorama of both Buda and Pest can be seen. First stop is Roosevelt Square, by the Chain Bridge, where stands the 1860’s neo-Renaissance edifice of the Hungarian Academy of Science. Next door is one of the finest art nouveau buildings, the Gresham Palace. It was the city’s largest residential structure (130,000 square feet) when it was built in 1907 for the English Gresham Life Assurance Company. After the First World War a coffee house opened on the ground floor which became a favourite meeting place for progressive- thinking intelligentsia and artists in the 1920s and 30s. The building has recently undergone extensive restoration and now houses the city’s most elegant luxury hotel. The Continent’s First Underground Railway When Budapest’s first underground railway opened for service in 1896 it was the first of its kind on the Continent, and only the second after London. It conveyed passengers just below street level from the City Centre to the City Park in around ten minutes. The twenty-foot wide tunnel is supported by riveted iron pillars, and the restored stations with their wooden ticket kiosks and ceramic tiled walls faithfully recall the atmosphere of a century ago. The first set of coaches lasted in service for eighty years, and an example of one is preserved in the Underground Museum. After Budapest’s second Underground line was built, a deep-tunnel construction called the Metró, the original one affectionately became known as the “Little Underground”.
The Most Beautiful Example of City Planning
The route of the original Little Underground follows that of Budapest’s most elegant boulevard. Andrássy út represents the pinnacle of Budapest’s late nineteenth century city planning. It is also home to many of Pest’s theatres, including the imposing Opera House, with its columns, statues and terraces, as well as the Operetta Theatre and numerous others on neighbouring side streets. Just before the Oktogon is Liszt Ferenc Square, a place that has in a short time become one of the capital’s favourite pleasure grounds – filled with coffee houses, international restaurants, club restaurants, musical bars and jazz clubs. In summer it seems that half the city is here relaxing and enjoying itself at the outdoor tables.
Andrássy út terminates opposite one of the best known groups of statues in Hungary, the Millenary Monument at Heroes’ Square. Construction began in 1896, and the centrepiece is a 118-foot Corinthian column supporting a 16-foot statue of the archangel Gabriel. In his right hand he is holding the holy Hungarian crown, and in his left the double Apostolic cross – just as he is supposed to have appeared in a dream to Hungary’s first king. The statue won the Grand Prix at the 1900 Paris World Exhibition. Around its base are equestrian statues of the seven chiefs of the conquering Magyar tribes, and within the arched colonnades to the sides stand bronze figures representing the most illustrious rulers of Hungarian History.
Largest Collection of Fine Arts