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Castle Hill is part of the unique scenery Hungarians and tourists love about the capital

Budapest Castle Hill

Location: 1st district

How to get there: A Castle Bus (Várbusz) runs up and around from Moszkva tér (M2 metro stop)

 

The Castle Hill is part of the unique scenery Hungarians and tourists love about the capital. The fortification system and palace, historically residence of Hungarian kings, was originally built in the 13th century, following the Mongol invasion. Since then, it was destroyed and rebuilt many times. During the Turkish invasion of 1541, it did not incur much damage (the Turks captured it by trickery), but the Renaissance structures were almost completely destroyed by the siege of 1686, when the Hungarian-Austrian joint forces retook it. Since only a handful of inhabitants remained, settlers from abroad were invited to repopulate the area. The former capital became a small provincial town in the Habsburg Empire. Buildings were erected in Baroque style, but the town suffered great loss at a substantial fire, and then during the revolution of 1848. The district regained the status of an administrative center in 1867, when an independent Hungarian government was created, as a result of the Compromise with the Habsburg dynasty. In the late 19th century, Miklós Ybl oversaw the reconstruction and enlargement of the Palace, which was completed in neo-Baroque style, based on the plans of Alajos Hauszmann. The district suffered enormous damage again at the end of the 2nd World War, when it served as the last post of the Nazi German troops in Hungary, whose bitter resistance left the area in ruins. Traces of earlier structures were found during the reconstruction of homes, when it was discovered that many of them had been built on the foundation of previous ones.

 

The Royal Palace, located on the southern end of the district, comprises original features from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as it was often rebuilt, just like the rest of the area. The first royal residence was constructed by the orders of Béla IV, and the succeeding Angevin kings added new sections. Under the reign of Sigismund of Luxembourg (1387-1437), a much larger Gothic palace was established. By this time, it was considered to be one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe, reaching its zenith during the reign of King Matthias (1451-90). Together with the rest of the district, it was completely destroyed during the siege of 1686. In the early 18th century, a much smaller Baroque Palace was built, which was then gradually enlarged in size. The 1848-49 War of Independence brought the next phase of damage, subsequent reconstruction work was finished in 1904, by which time the size of the Palace from the original Gothic structure was more than doubled. The building served as command post for German occupying forces during the Second World War, and was left in ruin upon their retreat. The post war reconstruction included Baroque and Gothic elements. At present, the building houses the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Széchenyi Library.

 

The Statue of king St. Stephan, founder of state, stands in front of the Buda Castle, overlooking the Danube. The statue, the work of Alajos Stróbl, was unveiled in 1906. The king is wearing the Hungarian Holy Crown, and waves his scepter to signify the leaving of a blessing on the people. The nearly 5.5 meter tall pedestal was designed by Frigyes Schulek, the surrounding oval-shape fretwork balustrade is ornamented with relieves of Matthew, Luke, Mark and John, the four evangelists, along with the Lamb of God. Relieves on the four sides of the base tell about four main features of the king's reign, the first features the coronation, the second his lawmaking, the third displays a church building, and the fourth depicts the homage of Vienna. The sculptor also managed to "sneak in" prominent figures of his time to the relieves, placing them in the crowd: his co-artist, Frigyes Schulek, the famous novelist Mór Jókai, the painter Gyula Benczúr, the mayor of Vienna Dr. Karl Lueger, as well as his own mother.

 

Another statue in front of the Palace, overlooking the Danube, is the Statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy, commander of the army that liberated Hungary from Turkish rule in 1686. The statue comes from Zenta, where it lay unfinished until Alajos Hauszmann, being in charge of renovating and enlarging the palace, persuaded Emperor Franz Joseph to have it brought to this location.

 

A walk on Castle Hill leads through several squares, where various statues ornament the historic district. Heading north from the Castle, passing through beautiful ironwork gates, one steps out to Szent György Square, where the magnificent Turul Statue is located, right next to the upper terminal of the Budavári Sikló. The mythical Hungarian eagle features the bird, which legendary sired Álmos, father of Árpád, leader of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin. The statue is cast in bronze, with outstretched wings.

 

Budavári Sikló itself is not only a fine piece of ornament on Castle Hill, it is also a fun and effective way of transportation, a funicular railway, connecting the foot of the hill at Chain Bridge, and the top right by the Castle. It operates all year round, from 7:30am until 10:00pm, except for every other Monday, the spring (April 10-15), and the fall maintenance (October 23-27). With enough passengers to fill it, the operation is constant, but even when demand is lower, not more than 10 minutes pass between carriages. It was opened in 1870, and faithfully renovated in 1986. The line itself extends 95 meters up the hill. To compensate for the 48-degree slope, carriages are structured with two steps. The journey does not last long, but the view on the city is very pretty.

 

The next stop is the Parade Square, or Disz ter, which displays the Statue of a Hussar. The site was formerly a medieval market, which is resembled today by a host of souvenir shops, selling beautiful artwork in embroidery, pottery and woodcarving.

 

 The northbound walk continues on Holy Trinity Square, which was named after the Column erected in the center. The limestone column is nearly 15 meters tall, a hexagonal obelisk, abundantly ornamented with statues. The artwork of Fülöp Ungleich and Antal Hörger was erected in the Baroque era, between 1712 and 1713, as a memorial to, and hoped-for safeguard against the plague, which devastated the people of the region. The relieves on the pedestal depict a scene from the era, King David is pleading to see the end of the plague, with the Buda Castle in the background, while the construction of the Holy Trinity Memorial is under way. Two statuettes ornament each side of the pedestal's plinth, depicting St Joseph, St Roch, St Sebastian, St John Nepomuk, St Augustine and St Christopher. Right above them, a smaller plinth contains another statuette on each side: John the Baptist, St Francis Xavier, and Virgin Mary. The statues are between 1.8 and 2.8 meters tall. The trunk of the top part is decorated with floating angels and clouds, while the group on the very top represents the Holy Trinity.

 

The Fishermen's Bastion (Halászbástya) is located towards the Danube from Holy Trinity Square. This unique piece of architecture was created in the late 19th century, when extensive reconstruction took place on Castle Hill. As part of this reconstruction, the segment of the city-wall, standing behind Matthias Church, was renovated, and the existing parts of the fortress were connected by neo-Romanesque corridors, terraces and towers. Frigyes Schulek designed the existing building, and the Fishermen's Bastion has become one of the capital's finest landmarks. Besides being a romantic place to visit, it also offers a beautiful panoramic view on the Pest side.

 

The next stop, András Hess Square, carries the name of the man, who printed the first book in Hungarian in 1473. There is a statue to Pope Innocent XI, which was erected in 1936, at the 250th anniversary of the liberation of Buda from Turkish rule.  He was involved in organizing the recapturing armies.

 

The northern border of Castle Hill is the Vienna Gate Square, where the gate that stands today is a replica of the 16th century original. The square itself is dominated by the huge National Archive building, which was built during the second decade of the 20th century. The architect was Samu Pecz, the roof is beautiful, catches the eye from afar. Aside from this building, other fine examples of Baroque and Rococo architecture heighten the appeal of the square. Most prominent among these is a house, where the famous author, Thomas Mann lodged during several visits to Hungary between 1935-36.

 

Castle Hill hides an extensive, 1200 meter long Labyrinth (Budavári Labirintus) inside. The caves were created as an effect of the hot water sprigs, common to the area since the earliest times. The prehistoric man (the "Hunter of Buda) used these caves for refuge. As time passed, economic and military purposes prompted the connection of these small caves, both to each other, and also to the cellarage of the houses on Castle District, and the complex thus developed into a veritable labyrinth. During the 1930’s, the wartime defense program converted these into a complex shelter, large enough to accommodate up to ten thousand. During the Cold War, this served as a secret military installation, reinforced - and also disfigured - with concrete. Today, part of the system is open to the public, accessible from  Úri u. 9. and Lovas u. 4. Opening hours: 9.30am - 7.30pm. every day. Nighttime Labyrinth (with oil lamps) is also available: 6.00pm. - 7.30pm. The projection room, where short films are played in English, Hungarian, and German operates from 10.00am to 7.30.
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