Budapest is the capital of Hungary, its largest city, and the seventh largest city in the EU. Budapest was formed in 1873 with the merger of the cities of Buda, on the hilly, west side of the Danube, and Pest, on the flat, east side of the Danube. People, however, have lived in the present day capital since at least the first century AD when the Romans established a military outpost here. The Hungarians arrived in the late 9th century when the Magyars migrated into the Carpathian Basin.
The absolute highlight of the recent trip to Hungary was a dinner cruise along the Danube River. Meals on dinner cruises are often disappointing, but this was not true on this one. We had our choices of several soups, appetizers, main courses and desserts, all of which were as delicious as they were beautifully presented.
We boarded our boat on the east side of the river (point A on map below) and then headed north on the river. On the starboard, we passed the Hungarian Parliament (B) before the ship turned around at Margaret Island (C). As the boat went south, we passed Matthias Church (D), Buda Castle (E) and the Liberty Statue (F). Just past the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (G), the ship turned around. As we once again went north, we sailed past the Palace of Arts (H), the National Theater (I), and Corvinus University of Budapest (J). The eight-mile round trip was repeated several times as the sun set and the buildings along the river became illuminated.
At night, the Hungarian Parliament building shines like a jewel and it should since half a million gemstones and 88 pounds of gold (as well as 40 million bricks) were used in its construction; the Hungarian Crown Jewels are also kept here. At 879 feet long, 404 feet wide, and 315 feet tall this Gothic Revival building is the largest and tallest structure in Budapest. There are 242 sculptures of former kings, rulers, and military leaders on its internal and external walls and nearly 700 rooms and 10 courtyards within them. Construction took nearly two decades from groundbreaking in 1885 to completion in 1904.
Officially the Church of Our Lady, the Matthias Church in the hills of Buda soars over the Danube. St. Steven founded the church in 1015, but the current Gothic structure was erected in the late 14th century during the reign of Matthias I, King of Hungary. King Matthias was twice married in the church, first to Catherine of Poděbrady and, after her death, to Beatrice of Naples. Coronations for several Habsburg emperors including Charles IV, the last Habsburg ruler, took place in Matthias Church.
Perched 160 feet above the Danube, Castle Hill has been the home to kings of Hungary since 1265 when King Béla IV built the first royal residence on this site. The oldest part of the Buda Castle dates back to the 14th century when the initial residence was rebuilt. Additions, renovations, and expansions continued until the Ottoman Turks overran Buda in the early 16th century. Much of the palace was destroyed in the siege of 1686 when Christian forces expelled the Turks.
In the early 1700s, the Habsburgs demolished the ruins of the former palace and began working on a Baroque palace. Construction, however, was stopped after just a few years because of lack of funds. In the middle of the century, work began again and the palace was finally completed in 1769. Extensive rebuilding and renovation occurred in the 1850s and again between 1875 and 1912.
During the Soviet’s siege of Budapest at the end of World War II, Buda Castle was the last major stronghold of Axis forces in Hungary. The Soviet artillery bombardment and subsequent fires once again reduced the castle to ruins. Under the post-war Communist government, reconstruction took place from 1950 to 1962. Today, Buda Castle is a UN designated World Heritage site and home to three museums and the National Library.
The Liberty Statue was built in 1947 to commemorate the liberation of Hungary by the Soviets from the Nazis. The 46 foot tall bronze statue of a lady holding a palm leaf sits atop an 85 foot tall base on Gellert Hill and faces south along the Danube.
The initial inscription on the base of the statue read “To the memory of the liberating Soviet heroes by the grateful Hungarian people.” Disillusionment with Soviet rule, however, lead to the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 that was ruthlessly crushed within weeks by a Soviet invasion. After the transition to democracy in 1989, the inscription on the memorial was changed to read “To the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.” Liberty Statue is also called Freedom Statue.
Budapest University of Technology and Economics
The Budapest University of Technology and Economics was the first of two universities that we passed along the river. Founded in 1782, the school was the first in Europe to train engineers at a university level. In 1956, students and faculty from this university were among the leaders in the failed revolution. Currently, 24,000 students are enrolled here.
Palace of Arts and the National Theater
The Palace of Arts and National Theater sit side by side on the eastern shore of the Danube River. The Palace of Arts is a cultural center built to celebrate Hungary’s rich cultural heritage. The building was constructed in 2005 and it contains the Bartók National Concert Hall that seats 1,700; the Festival Theater that is a venue for dram, dance, chamber music, and jazz performances; and the Ludwig Museum, an art museum with works by contemporary Hungarian and international artists.
The current National Theater building is located just north of the Palace of Arts. Construction on this building began in 1998 and was completed in 2000. There are three stages within the theater; the main stage seats 619, while the two smaller stage — the Gobbi Hiller stage and the Kaszás Atilla stage — can be configured to seat up to 200 and 100 people, respectively. The National Theater has been an institution in Budapest since 1837.
Corvinus University of Budapest
The Corvinus University was the second university that we passed as we completed a circuit along the river. This university was founded in 1920 as the Faculty of Economics of the Royal Hungarian University. In 1953, its name was changed to the Karl Marx University of Economic Sciences, clearly not the best move. In 1990, after the end of Communist rule, the name was changed to the Budapest University of Economic Science. In 2004, it took its current name in honor of King Matthias Corvinus (King Matthias I). Currently, 18,000 students are enrolled here.
Kop Khun Krab and Köszönöm.
© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.