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Budapest/Castle Hill

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Central Hungary : Budapest : Castle Hill
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In the courtyards of the Royal Palace

Castle Hill in Buda, is on the western side of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary.


Headline text

Understand

Castle Hill, known as Várhegy in Hungarian, was first settled in the thirteenth century, after a Mongol attack led Buda's citizens to seek a more easily defended neighborhood. The royal Hungarian court also decided to move, to the southern end of the hill. By the fourteenth century, there were an estimated 8,000 residents in Buda. After a long (1541-1686) period of Turkish rule, a 75-day siege left Buda in ruins, and Austrian authorities counted a mere 300 people left. This would not be the last heavy attack on Castle Hill. In 1849 and 1945 the Baroquified area once more came under attack. A completely surrounded German force held out for almost a month in January 1945, in the thirty-first siege of the city.

Get in

As private cars are not allowed to enter the zone, your only options remain public transport, walking or taxi.

Szell Kalman ter, Buda's main transport hub (station M2), makes the most convenient entry point to the Castle District. You can walk upon the hill (it takes about 20 minutes) or take the bus 16 or 16A. When you come up from the subway station look for the outdoor stairway leading to a pedestrian bridge over the trolley tracks. Up the steps, over the tracks, cross the street to the mid-block bus stop.

It's also pleasant to walk by Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd) from Pest and walk up by the narrow streets or paths (as Király lépcső or Kemál Atatürk sétány). Walking from Pest is likely to be faster than public transport or taxi on peak hours.

The spectacular but very touristy and pricey cable car (funicular) called Budavári Sikló (HUF 900/1500 one way/return, children HUF 550/1000) climbs up Castle Hill from Chain Bridge's Buda side to Fisherman's Bastion (Halászbástya). As the cable car is rising up the hill you get a beautiful view of Pest across the river. Alternatively you can check the view from one of the two small pedestrian bridges over the cable car way - for free.

Get around

Buda Castle is small enough to discover it on foot. However, if you get tired, you can jump on bus 16 (formerly known as Várbusz) which has several stops inside the Castle District. Overpriced horse carriages are also waiting for taking you on a tour.

See

  • Royal Palace (Királyi palota). Probably the most popular attraction on Castle Hill. It is unusual in that it has never actually been occupied by the Hungarian Royal family, and is more of a pseudo-historical mishmash, like the Mátyás-templom.
The first palace, in Gothic style, built and added onto over 300 years, was destroyed by the Christian army that liberated Buda from the Turkish occupation in 1686. In 1715 work started on a completely new, smaller Baroque palace, but over the years more and more space was added to the palace until it reached its current length (304 meters). The palace, in neo-Baroque style, had many added wings (which now house the National Gallery, among other treasures--see below). Reconstruction after the various indignities suffered during rebellions of the nineteenth century finished in 1904. This reconstruction, by Miklós Ybl and Alajos Hauszmann, was undone by German troops holding out at the end of WWII. The roof fell in entirely and most of the furniture was destroyed.
A Baroque façade which had never existed before and a real dome (there had previously been a faux dome with attic space beneath) were added to the building. Today the building houses three large museums (see below) and the National Széchényi Library [1].
The statue of Hussar general András Hadik, a favorite of Empress Maria Theresia is well known to local students. The statue, designed by György Vastagh Jr. was presented to the public in 1937. The general is on horseback; take a close look at the horse's testicles. They are shiny yellow, unlike the patina on the rest of the statue. Engineering students have for years polished the horse testicles on the morning of difficult exams, supposedly for luck.
  • Mary Magdalene Tower (Mária Magdolna torony), on the corner of Országház utca and Kapisztrán tér is the part of a 13th-century Franciscan church used by Hungarian speakers. Under Turkish rule, this was the only church allowed to remain Christian: all others were converted into mosques. The chancel was destroyed in World War II and has not been rebuilt except for one stone window, as a memento.
  • Vienna Gate (Bécsi Kapu) at the northern end of Castle Hill. This was the market for non-Jewish merchants in the Middle Ages, and is where all four streets that run the length of the hill converge. The Vienna Gate inspired a typical Hungarian parental retort for children who talk back, they will be scolded with "Your mouth is as big as the Vienna Gate!" The gate is not really large or extraordinary, but you can climb over it anyway.
  • Matthias Church (Mátyás templom). The rococo spire of this church is one of the easily seen landmarks of the var.
    • History: Originally the Buda German community's parish church, its official name is the "Church of the Blessed Virgin". The popular Hungarian king, Mátyás, held both of his weddings here, and so it is known as the Matthias Church. Today an eclectic mix of styles, the church was started in the thirteenth century. The main apse, which ends in a seven-sided polygon, is in French style and is the earliest extant section. The central section was built about 100 years later. During the Turkish occupation of Budapest, all the furnishings were removed and the painted walls whitewashed to cover art unacceptable to the Islamic eye. Once returned to the Catholic community, it was Baroquified (i.e. covered with Baroque ornamentation that obscured the original style like many other Central European churches were), and the rose window was bricked up. In the last century, between 1873 and 1896, Frigyes Schulek began a major renovation and restoration of the Matthias Church.
    • The interior is sumptuously decorated in a style which is on the one hand art deco and yet evokes the medieval predecessors of this structure. As you enter the church turn to the right and proceed down the right hand aisle to the front of the church. For a small fee you can visit the underground treasury which includes a replica of the Crown of St. Stephen -- the real crown (a 12th century object even though Stephen was a 10th century king) is on display in the parliament building. Also take a look at the opulent chapel at the rear of the church (around the corner to the left of the entrance. Be aware that this is a functioning church and you may find that at times it is closed to visitors for church activities or concerts.
    • To the left of the neighboring Hilton Hotel is what looks like the wall of a medieval church with a monument set into it. In fact it is a copy of a monument located in Belsen, Germany (near Dresden). The copy was erected by the ilton Company. It portrays King Mátyás (15th century), the most beloved of Hungarian Kings.
    • In front of the Matthias Church is a tall column decorated with many statues – this is a “plague monument” erected by thankful survivors.
Fisherman's Bastion
  • Fisherman's Bastion (Halászbástya). This is the large white tower and lookout terrace complex you see hanging over the side of Castle Hill beneath the Mátyás Church. It was built between 1890-1905, and is named after both the medieval fishmarket once nearby and the Guild of Fishermen who defended this section of the wall during past wars. The story is that different trades were responsible for defending different parts of the castle walls and that this section of the defenses was raised by the fishermen’s guild. In fact, the structure is a late 19th century fantasy built to add class to the area. That this is an invention does not detract at all from the attractiveness of the structure, nor from the impressive views of the river and Pest on the opposite side. The mounted statue between the bastion and the church is King Stephan (Istvan in Hungarian) the first king of Hungary (crowned about 1000.) He was declared a saint for his efforts in bringing Christianity to Hungary. He carries the apostolic cross with two crossbars – a symbol granted him by the Pope. In tourist season there is an admission charge of about $1 to climb on the bastion. In the daytime around the year, the bastion is the place most overcrowded by tourists in the Castle Hill, mainly brought in here by buses.
  • The sculpture of a Turul bird just outside the cable car station is not, as you might think, an eagle, but the mythical turul bird (which is believed to be a kind of falcon). This bird is a part of the story of how the Magyars settled the Hungarian homeland. This bird appeared in a dream to the wife of the Magyar leader Ügyek and told her that she would be the founding mother of a new nation.
  • The National Gallery (Nemzeti Galéria, in palace wings B, C and D) houses an astounding collection of paintings. For those interested in Hungarian artists, this is the museum to visit. The exhibition of nineteenth-century Hungarian paintings is most notable.

Do

Buy

Eat

Coffeehouses

  • Café Miró - Cozy coffeehouse in the Castle District, just 50 metres from St Matthias Church, but the waitresses are extremely impolite.
  • Ruszwurm Cukraszda (Confectionery), Szentháromság utca 7 (right across the street from St. Matthias Church), (36-1) 375-5284. Open daily 10AM-7PM. This tiny coffeehouse in the Castle District is the oldest continually operating café in the city; probably one of the best pastry shops in Budapest. As a coffeehouse it dates to the 1820s, and its original furnishings are still intact. Because the furniture is original, this may be one of the only non-smoking cafés in the city. On a historical note, this location has sold sweets of some kind or another since the Middle Ages, when it was a gingerbread shop. The same family has been operating Ruszwurm since the early years of this century, and all the cakes are made on-premises.

Restaurants

Budget

Mid-range

  • Rivalda, Színház u. 5-9, +36(1)489-0236, [2]. 11.30am-11.30pm. One of the only restaurant travel guides recommend on the Castle Hill. Mains around €15. Classic-style luxury interior. Dilled Wild Boar Ragout Soup is good; Linguine with Duck Confit is very unusual (combines pasta, pumpkin, feta and ruccola); hot chocolate is quite thick cocoa drink.

Splurge

Drink

  • House of Hungarian Wines (Magyar Borok Háza), I. Szentháromság tér 6, [3]. daily 12 PM to 8 PM. For a reasonable price (presently around 3500 ft) you get to wander around their cavern and taste selections from over 55 different kinds of wine. A great place to get a sampler before you go shopping for wine. You even get to taste a variety of the divine Tokaji dessert wines, and will get a souvenir glass at the end. Use your Budapest Card for extra discounts.

Sleep

Don't expect cheap accommodation in the Castle Hill area. Consider staying in Buda instead.

Budget

  • Buda Castle Apartment, Iskola utca 34, 1th District. [4], tel: +36(309)547 851, email: rentinhungary@yahoo.com. €36.60/night for apartment, depending on season and duration. The apartment is very close to Fisherman's Bastion, to the Chain Bridge and Danube river, there is perfect public transportation. See also Rent in Hungary in the Apartments section of Budapest for details on this operator.

Mid-range

  • Carlton Hotel is situated at the foot of the famous Fishermen`s Bastion and the romantic castle quarter, just a few steps away from the city`s central business and shopping districts and the Chain Bridge.

Splurge

  • Hilton Hotel. Excellently located to the north of the Mátyás Templom. You can decide if the modern architecture with mirrored windows is a triumph of commercial design or a hideous blight.

Contact

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