I’ve got a new favourite city. Or technically three cities as Budapest only came into being in 1873 when three previously separate towns, Buda, Óbuda, and Pest, were officially unified. More often than not, people refer to only two towns merging, as Óbuda simply means old Buda and prior to 1873 people often referred to the area colloquially as Pest-Buda. Three cities or two, it matters not, Budapesht, as us locals call it, it undeniably one of the most attractive cities in the world and sure to enchant anyone who makes their way here.
We’ve scored a beaut apartment in District I, tucked in just below Buda Castle on the west side of the Danube River. Buda Castle comprises part of the Castle District, which is home to most of the attractions on the Buda side of the Hungarian capital and which easily contains a full days worth of attractions.
Our adventures begin in the northern part of the Castle District at Buda Tower, which used to be the site of the Church of Mary Magdalene. Built just after Buda Castle was founded in the mid 13th century AD, what began as a chapel was expanded to a three-aisle church by the end of the 15th century, at which point the accompanying tower that still stands today, although not in original form, was also built.
During the Ottoman occupation, the Church of Mary Magdalene was the only Christian place of worship, although it had to be shared by both Catholics and Protestants. I’m sure that went down well at the time. Even this ceased in the 16th century when the church was converted into a mosque. Following the defeat of the Turks in 1686, the church was given back to the Franciscan Order, who promptly demolished most of it except for the tower and then used the stones to build a new single-nave church, in Baroque style.
Continuing its troubled history, the building was severely damaged during World War II before being destroyed once again, although this time by the communist hierarchy, so that all that exists now is the tower which only opened to the public only as recently as 2017.
Having paid our discounted family entrance fee (1,800 HUF) and climbed the 170 stairs to the top of the tower, we were able to read all about this history and then drink in the panoramic views of the most important buildings in Budapest and the nearby Buda Hills.
Descending back to terra firma, we skipped past the MIlitary Museum, which would’ve been interesting if we’d had time to visit, before wandering past the decorative National Archives of Hungary Building and looking at Vienna Gate.
As the name suggests, Vienna gate used to connect the castle with the highway to Vienna, although there’s little traffic that goes through it in any direction these days.
In need of sustenance, we dropped into the super cute Walzer Cafe where the girls had an impromptu game of horseys before we were able to carry on our merry way.
From the cafe it is only a short two minute stroll to Matthias Church which, according to church tradition, was first founded by the King of Hungary Saint Stephen, in 1015 AD. Destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century, its outrageous gothic style was restored with new motifs including a diamond patterned roof tiles by the architec Frigyes Schulek in the late 19th century. Extremely controversial at the time, it has ensured that the church has its own unique flavour.
St Stephen’s Statue is situated just to the side of the church that used to bear his name. The first King of Hungary, St Stephen is primarily responsible for the establishment of a Christian state that ensured that the Hungarians survived in the Carpathian Basin after their conquests over the Slavs, Huns, Avars, Vlachs and various other peoples who previously had controlled this part of central Europe.
Both the statue and Matthias Church stand in front of what is one of the most famous of the attractions in the Castle District, the Fisherman’s Bastion. With towers right out of a fairy tale, its hard to believe that this Disney-esque bastion was actually built between 1895 and 1902 in order to celebrate 1,000 years of a unified Hungarian state. No prizes for guessing that its architect was also none other than the man responsible for Matthias Church, Frigyes Schulek.
The free to enter Bastion is positively teeming with tourists, all keen to take in its amazing views. Which is actually what the Bastion was designed to do, in order to provide the perfect lookout point in any weather, whilst also enhancing the beauty of the Matthias Church.
While the popularity of the Fisherman’s Bastion is such that it is swarming with people, there are a few places where it is a bit quieter, including the statue of Friar Julian and Saint Gerard. Friar Julian was an early Hungarian explorer aftern my own heart, who travelled through modern day Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan in search of Magyars who had remained in the eastern homeland.
Here, with a few carefully created angles, you can almost pretend that you have the bastion to yourself.
A little bit further along from the Bastion and Matthias Church is Buda Caslte proper. The castle and palace complex used to be home to Hungarian King and was first completed in 1265. However, the massive Baroque palace there today which houses the Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum was “only” built by 1760 AD. To help tourists ascend the 50 metres from the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and river below, a funicular was built in 1870, proving that us tourists were just as lazy 150 years ago as we are today.
Not to be missed when at Buda Castle is the neo-Baroque fountain mastpiece, sometimes called the Trevi Fountain of Budapest, but properly known as the Matthias Fountain.
Here King Matthias is shown having slayed a mighty stag with his hunting party. The composition scheme was approved by King Franz Joseph, the uncle to the heir apparent Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who’s assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 effectively started World War I.
The castle’s walls are just yet another place in which to partake in the magnifient views of the Danube and Pest side of this great city.
At the feet of the castle is the renovated 19th-century Neo-Renaissance complex of exhibition halls, theaters, gardens & restaurants, called the Castle Garden Bazaar. Here you can sit on park benches, roll down grass hills as our kids did, or simply look at the plentiful architecture, sculptures and fountains to your heart’s content with nowhere near the same crowds as up higher on the hill.
And to think, that’s only one part of one half of this great city. No small wonder that I love it sooo much!