Because the sun was shining we left the hotel early this morning to take full advantage of the unexpectedly good weather. On the other side of the Liberty Bridge was the Market Square and the covered central market building. As with other cities that we have visited the market was filled with excellent produce, meat, fish vegetables and, this we hadn’t seen before, several stalls devoted to selling different paprika and herb combinations to be used to flavour the Hungarian national dish of goulash.
The weather now was unbelievably good, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and the temperature was several degrees above average for this time of the year. Today we were going to concentrate on Pest but with an eye on the blue skies had a mind to return to Buda for photo opportunities that had alluded us yesterday. This meant that time was an issue so there was no time to dawdle about. From the market we walked through the streets of the city, past the Hungarian National Museum and down a long road that went past some very fine buildings and came out in a Elizabeth Square which was big and spacious and was surrounded by impressive buildings and wide boulevards. In the nineteenth century Budapest earned the tag of Paris of the East and looking around it was easy to see why.
After the creation of Budapest as one great city, there was a rush of construction and Pest was extensively remodelled in the image of Vienna, acquiring the main arterial street Nagykörút or Great Boulevard and another, Andrássy Avenue, which led out to Hero’s Square and a great park with magnificent fountains and lakes, and all of this frantic reconstruction reached a fanatical peak to coincide with Budapest’s millennium anniversary celebrations of the settlement of the Magyars in the region of 1896.
Today Budapest is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and is considered an important Central European hub for business, culture and tourism. we weren’t expecting this and it certainly took us by surprise and like most other places we were beginning to realise that two days was hopelessly inadequate to appreciate this really fine City.
Moving swiftly on we were in full speed sightseeing mode now and next it was St Stephen’s Basilica which at ninety-six metres high is the tallest building in Budapest. Actually the Hungarian Parliament building is also ninety-six metres high which might sound a bit of a coincidence but in fact this is no accident and is quite deliberate because the number ninety-six refers to the nation’s millennium, 1896, and the conquest of the later Kingdom of Hungary in 896.
The Basilica is named in honour of Stephen, who was the first King of Hungary from 1000 to 1038 and whose mummified fist is kept in a shrine at the back of the church. There is also a copy of his crown which is quite important to Hungary because it represents the legitimate authority to govern the country and it was first used in the coronation of Stephen which is an event that marks the beginning of Hungarian statehood.
The Holy Crown was removed from the country in 1945 for safekeeping, and entrusted to the United States government. It was kept in a vault at Fort Knox until 1978, when it was returned to the nation by order of U.S. President Jimmy Carter and it is now kept at the Hungarian Parliament building where it belongs. It is a pity that Jimmy Carter doesn’t run the British Museum because if he did then the Elgin marbles might get returned to Athens.
Seven years after Budapest was united from the three cities in 1873 the National Assembly resolved to establish a new representative Parliament Building that appropriately expressed the sovereignty of the nation. A competition was announced, which was won by the architect Imre Steindl and construction from the winning plan was started in 1885 and the building was inaugurated on the 1000th anniversary of the country in 1896 (no surprises there) and completed in 1904. During construction the project was a major employer in the city and there were about one thousand people working on its construction in which forty million bricks, half a million precious stones and forty kilograms of gold were used.
It is the third largest Parliament building in the World after those in Roumania and Argentina. Although it has an eastern appearance it is similar to the Palace of Westminster and was built in the same Gothic Revival style and has a symmetrical facade and a central dome. It is two hundred and sixty-eight metres long and one hundred and twenty-three metres wide. Its interior includes ten courtyards and six hundred and ninety-one rooms.
It is set in the spacious Louis Kossuth Square and there is plenty of room to wander around and admire the magnificence of the building. Louis Kossuth led the 1848 revolution that attempted to overthrow the Hapsburgs and there is a large monument to his memory at one end of the square. At the other end is a statue of Imry Nagy, another Hungarian martyr and hero, who was Prime Minister during the post war occupation years and led the ill-fated 1956 anti-soviet government after the revolution of the same year attempted to break free from Soviet control.
Nagy’s government formally declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October this had seemed to be successful but on 4th November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and during a few days of resistance an estimated two thousand five hundred Hungarians died, and an estimated two hundred thousand more fled as refugees. Mass arrests and imprisonments continued and a new Soviet installed government was installed and this action strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe. Nagy was executed for treason in 1958.
I have to confess that Budapest was an absolute revelation, I had not been expecting anything so grand, it was easily as good as Vienna and in my opinion much better than Prague, the scale of the city eclipses Bratislava and Ljubljana and I liked it as wll as any other city I have visited. An interesting fact is that after London in 1863 it has the second oldest metro system in the world which was opened in the famously important year of 1896.