We’ve got one last day to make the most of this amazing city and what better place to start than at the Hungarian Parliament Building. The neo-Gothic building is the largest in Hungary and was opened in 1902 after some 100,000 people helped construct it using 40 million bricks, 500,000 precious stones and 40 kilograms of gold.
As mentioned in my last post, the building is the equal tallest in Budapest at 96 metres. Unbeknowest to me, until now, is that the number 96 actually represents the year 896 AD, when the Hungarian nation was officially founded. Numerologically-in-spired, the building was then inaugurated on the 1,000th anniversary of the country in 1896.
While the main façade displyaing statues of various Hungarian and Transylvanian royalty, leaders and militiary personnel overlooks the Danube River, the official main entrance is from Kossuth square to the east side. All up more than 240 sculptures adorn the walls on both the inside and out.
Today, only a small portion of the building is used for parliament business and you’re much more likely to run across tourists inside, than official parliamentarians. With entrance fees running to NZ$35 per person (non-EU citizen price), we weren’t that keen to see where laws used to be passed in order to get their pound of flesh from the citizenry, so instead invested our time in looking at the superb architecture, for free, from the outside.
About two hundred and fifty metres south of the Parliament Building is the Shoes on the Danube Bank sculpture memorializing the deaths of more than 20,000 people, mostly Jews, who were killed at the river by the far-right Hungarian Arrow Cross Party during World War II. Containing sixty pairs of iron shoes, the sculpture represents how the victims were required to remove their shoes prior to being murdered and their bodies thrown into the river.
With the chilling reminder of some of the disgusting events that transpired even in this beautiful place, we grabbed the metro up to Heroes’ Square near Városliget (City Park). The metro (or the Millennium Underground Railway as this part of the metro is officially called) deserves its own mention, as it is the third oldest underground after the London Underground and Mersey Railway and the first that was built on the European mainland.
Emerging from the metro/underground, the weather had taken a decided turn for the worse as if to mirror our own mood about having to move on. With thunderstorms and rain beckoning we quickly checked out the Millenium Monument. The top of the column depicts the Archangel Gabriel holding aloft the Holy Crown of Hungary (which is now on display in the central domed hall of the Hungarian Parliament Building) and the apostolic double cross, whilst the base shows statues of the the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars, who led the seven tribes of Hungary at the time of their arrival in the Carpathian Basin in 895 AD.
At the back of the monument, two matched colonnades each contain seven statues representing great figures of Hungarian history.
In addition to the fine Kunsthalle and Museum of Fine Arts buildings that stand astride Heroes’ Square, is the fairytale-esque Vajdahunyad Castle, tucked in just behind the square. Another building constructed as part of the Millennial Exhibition celebrating 1,000 years of Hungary, it was designed to represent copies of a range of buildings from different parts of the Kingdom of Hungary. As such, there is a wide range of different architectural styles including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, so as to ensure at least one of your favourite styles is shown.
Unfortunately, the heavens decided it was time to open up above us and we had to cut short our exploration of this fascinating part of Budapest, which also includes the sensationally famous Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Another time.
Having started our day at the place of modern day blood suckers, what better way to finish it than at a place promoted as having an historical connection with the most famous blood sucker of all, Count Dracula. Situated back up in the Castle District om the Buda side, the Labyrnth is a huge network of underground caves and tunnels created from the hot thermal waters coursing through the subterranean rock under the castle.
Having purchased our NZ$30 family ticket we wandered through a range of damp and cool passageways with a variety of statues, fountains, pillars, and paintings in the caves and on its walls.
Bizarrely, the Labyrinth also hosts a bunch of waxwork mannequins dressed up as opera characters as if in some masquerade party. With no idea what the connection was, we listened to the music before forging on.
At one point there’s the opportunity to walk blindly through the tunnels, holding nothing but a rope to guide the way. This, I’m guessing, is designed to set the scene for the upcoming attaction of Dracula’s Chamber.
Supposedly, Dracula, or Vlad Tepes as he is otherwise known, was held in the Labyrinth for 10 years from 1463, after John Jiskra of Brandys captured him, on orders from King Matthias Corvinus. Whilst the historical accuracy of this is very questionable, as nearly all evidence points to him instead being held in Visegrad 40 kilometres distant from Budapest, it hasn’t stopped the good folk at Labyrinth from continuing to play this and having some heads impaled on stakes at the location where he is supposed to have been held.
The brochure we saw ranked the Labyrinth as the 8th most visited tourist attraction in Europe. Based on what we saw, I’m thinking that’s probably a myth as well, as the visit is hardly the thing that’s going to blow you away. Still, it was a distraction for an hour or so and quite different than our usual sightseeing excursions, so I suppose it does have its place. Maybe a better idea would’ve been to visit after 6pm, when the guided tour is lit only by your own oil lamps.
So, with our appetitie for blood whetted, it is now time to make our way eastwards. Not, as you’d think straight to Dracula’s home country, but instead to the place of Bull’s Blood.