Bu­dapest: A Tale of Two Ci­ties on the Danube

Danube’s mag­nif­i­cence can­not be ap­pro­pri­ately ap­pre­ci­ated un­til see­ing it in Bu­dapest, the fa­mous an­cient city in north cen­tral Hun­gary.

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Li Shasha Edited by Mary Frances Cap­piello

The transna­tional Danube in Europe links 10 coun­tries, flow­ing through four cap­i­tals and sev­eral other ci­ties. How­ever, its mag­nif­i­cence can­not be ap­pro­pri­ately ap­pre­ci­ated un­til see­ing it in Bu­dapest, a fa­mous an­cient city in north cen­tral Hun­gary. This used to be two ci­ties fac­ing each other on op­po­site sides of the mid­dle reaches of the Danube River. In 1873, Buda on the left bank and Pest on the right were com­bined to form present­day Bu­dapest.

Bu­dapest: In­spi­ra­tion, Ro­mance and Bridges

To­day, Bu­dapest is renowned as the ‘‘Paris of Eastern Europe” and the ‘‘Pearl of the Danube.” It con­tains the rem­nants of mon­u­ments such as the Ro­man city of Aquin­cum and the Gothic cas­tle of Buda, both of which have had a con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence on ar­chi­tec­ture. The present-day city is one of the world’s out­stand­ing ur­ban land­scapes and il­lus­trates great pe­ri­ods in the his­tory of the Hun­gar­ian cap­i­tal. In 1987, Bu­dapest, in­clud­ing the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Cas­tle Quar­ter and An­drássy Av­enue, an area of 60 hectares, was added to the UN­ESCO World Her­itage List.

Buda on the hill and Pest on the plain are like lovers who live across the river. The Danube is like hon­eyed words flow­ing between them, and each bridge over the river is rem­i­nis­cent of lovers’ in­ter­locked hands. As a re­sult, Bu­dapest is a nos­tal­gic and ro­man­tic city. It has pro­vided in­spi­ra­tion to na­tive sons, poet Petofi San­dor (1823–1849) and com­poser Franz Liszt (1811–1866). It was one of the beloved em­press Sissi’s

most cher­ished places and el­e­ments as­so­ci­ated with Sissi, for­mally known as Elis­a­beth of Aus­tria, can be found through­out the city. One bust of Sissi is on dis­play in the Matthias Church in the Buda Cas­tle Quar­ter, which was built on the high­est spot in Hun­gary. Stand­ing in its tower build­ing, vis­i­tors have a mag­nif­i­cent view of the pic­turesque land­scape along the Danube.

Many trav­ellers to Bu­dapest may not know that An­drássy Av­enue, the city’s most thriv­ing street, is also as­so­ci­ated with Sissi. The street is named af­ter her ad­mirer, Earl An­drássy. At one end of the av­enue is the Elis­a­beth Square, which was named af­ter her.

To­day, there are nine bridges across the Danube in Bu­dapest, each dif­fer­ent in shape and style. Among them, the Chain Bridge is the old­est and the first per­ma­nent struc­ture to con­nect Pest and Buda. It is a land­mark of Bu­dapest, like the Eif­fel Tower for Paris or the Statue of Lib­erty for New York. Orig­i­nally known as the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, it was named af­ter the main fun­der, Earl Ist­van Széchenyi, a light cav­alry of­fi­cer from a Hun­gar­ian aris­to­cratic fam­ily. In De­cem­ber 1820, Széchenyi was in­formed that his fa­ther was crit­i­cally ill in Vi­enna. He then set out from Pest im­me­di­ately to see his fa­ther, but the float­ing ice on the Danube stopped the float­ing bridge which was used to cross it at that time. When Széchenyi was able to cross and reached Vi­enna, he found that his fa­ther had died. De­nied the chance to see his fa­ther one last time, he re­solved to build a real bridge over the river. Con­struc­tion of the Chain Bridge, which spans more than 200 me­tres (m), be­gan in 1839 and was com­pleted in 1849. At that time, it was con­sid­ered a world mar­vel. Dur­ing World War II (1939–1945), the Ger­man army blew up the Chain Bridge to se­cure the fort on the Cas­tle Hill. The Chain Bridge stand­ing to­day was re­built af­ter the war and was re­opened in 1949, 100 years af­ter the com­ple­tion of the orig­i­nal. Presently, the Chain Bridge al­lows ac­cess to Buda Cas­tle via cable cars, pro­vid­ing great con­ve­nience for tourists.

To the south of the Chain Bridge is the El­iz­a­beth Bridge, which is the most beau­ti­ful bridge cross­ing the Danube, and is also named af­ter Sissi. Stand­ing next to the Elis­a­beth Bridge is the Free­dom Bridge sym­bol­is­ing Franz Josef I, her hus­band. Built in 1896, the Free­dom Bridge is a dark green bridge, at the open­ing cer­e­mony of which the then Em­peror of Aus­tro-hun­gary (reign: 1867–1918) cut the rib­bon. It was re­named Free­dom Bridge af­ter the end of World War II. The Free­dom Bridge and the Elis­a­beth Bridge are col­lec­tively called the “cou­ple bridges,” sym­bol­is­ing love and free­dom. When re­ferred to alone, nowa­days the Free­dom Bridge is sim­ply called “green bridge” be­cause of its colour.

Bu­dapest’s nine bridges have other no­table char­ac­ter­is­tics. Some are wide enough to al­low two trol­ley buses to pass each other, so they are still in use to­day. The city’s lat­est ad­di­tion, the Lagy­manyosi Bridge, was com­pleted in Novem­ber 1995 and has now been in use for more than 20 years.

Buda Cas­tle, a Mu­seum on the Cas­tle Hill

Ev­ery day, ve­hi­cles on these pic­turesque bridges shut­tle vis­i­tors across the Danube, between the po­lit­i­cal cen­tre of Buda and the com­mer­cial cen­tre, Pest. The main his­tor­i­cal sites in the city are mostly lo­cated on the west bank of the Danube, on Cas­tle Hill. They in­clude the Gothic cas­tle of Buda and his­tor­i­cal hu­man set­tle­ment sites. Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find­ings show that the ear­li­est set­tlers in the area were the Celts, but they left few traces. How­ever, Bu­dapest was also the site of the sec­ond-cen­tury Ro­man city of Aquin­cum. The ru­ins of this city are the most com­plete Ro­man relics present in Hun­gary from that time.

Buda Cas­tle, with is ex­quis­ite shape, long his­tory and pre­cious col­lec­tions, at­tracts vis­i­tors from all over the world. To guard against in­va­sion from the Tatars, King Bela IV (reign: 1235–1270) of Hun­gary spent decades build­ing the cas­tle dur­ing the 13th cen­tury. Its site on Cas­tle Hill was es­pe­cially se­lected for de­fence. The long and nar­row an­cient city on the hill was 1,500 m long and no more than 500 m at the widest point. The city was sur­rounded by a wall built against the hill on four sides with three gates. Dur­ing the 1541 to 1686 Ot­toman Turk­ish oc­cu­pa­tion, Buda Cas­tle served as a mil­i­tary gar­ri­son. By the 17th cen­tury, the Hab­s­burg Monar­chy drove out the Turk­ish army and re­built the cas­tle in a Baroque style. This cas­tle was de­stroyed by fire. The ren­o­vated Buda Cas­tle in 1930 was again dam­aged in the flames of World War II. To­day’s Buda Cas­tle was re­built in 1950, and houses the Hun­gar­ian Na­tional Gallery and the Bu­dapest His­tory Mu­seum.

There are four main streets in the Buda Cas­tle, with sev­eral side streets and lanes in­ter­sect­ing and even­tu­ally lead­ing to the main streets. Big or small squares are formed where side streets meet, just like in many an­cient Eu­ro­pean me­dieval ci­ties. The roads in­side the cas­tle are made of stone and lined with houses and street lamps like they were in the Mid­dle Ages. Many his­toric el­e­ments from the reign of the Ot­toman Turks have also been pre­served. The heart of the Buda Cas­tle is the Trin­ity Square, on which the iconic Baroque Trin­ity Col­umn stands. A Gothic-style cathe­dral which had been erected on the square was de­stroyed dur­ing the Turk­ish oc­cu­pa­tion and re­built in the late-19th cen­tury.

In the front of Buda Cas­tle stands a statue of the Tu­rul bird, built in 1986 to com­mem­o­rate the 1,000th an­niver­sary of the set­tle­ment of the Mag­yars. The Tu­rul is a sa­cred totem for the Hun­gar­ian peo­ple. Leg­end has it that the Mag­yars were led to Bu­dapest by the soar­ing Tu­rul, which dropped the “sword of Attila” (flam­ing sword of God) there.

Matthias Church and Fish­er­man’s Bas­tion

There are two other fa­mous at­trac­tions on Cas­tle Hill, namely Matthias Church, with a his­tory of over 700 years, and the un­usu­ally-shaped Fish­er­man’s Bas­tion. Matthias Church is a su­perb Gothic build­ing with a spec­tac­u­lar arch in­laid with dark brown, light yel­low and light green glass that shines in the sun. In the white walls of the church are long vaulted win­dows, with win­dow lat­tices of carved stone. Sev­eral slim and pointed tow­ers dec­o­rate the eaves of the roof. A cylin­dri­cal spire that was once used as a minaret stands at the main door, or­na­mented with tall win­dows of blue glass in arched, pointed fames of carved stone, mak­ing the spire look like a del­i­cately scu­plted tower of ivory. The spire ta­pers abruptly at the top like a dag­ger ris­ing into the sky, dis­play­ing its solem­nity and ho­li­ness.

Build­ing of the church was com­pleted in 1269, and in 1470, King Matthias I (reign: 1458–1490) of Hun­gary and Croa­tia or­dered his royal em­blem to be hung on the gate. A tall bell tower was an­other later ad­di­tion to the build­ing. The church and bell tower were to­gether named Matthias Church. Over the next few cen­turies, many kings were crowned there, so it came to be called “the coro­na­tion church” by the Hun­gar­ian peo­ple. The church also now bears the im­print of Sissi, where Franz Joseph I and Sissi were crowned king and queen of Hun­gary in 1867.

The church has gone through many ad­di­tional changes through­out its his­tory. Its in­te­rior art and fres­coes were de­stroyed when it was oc­cu­pied by the Turk­ish in the 16th cen­tury and trans­formed into a mosque. It was then re­stored as a Catholic church af­ter Buda re­cov­ered its ter­ri­tory. The present-day Matthias Church was ren­o­vated in 1874 and 1896 in a Neo-gothic style some Turk­ish el­e­ments were added. The most beau­ti­ful fea­ture of the church is its spi­ral side­walls and roof in­laid with stained glass. Look­ing up, the ceil­ing re­sem­bles a snail’s shell, spi­ralling up in cir­cles. The crown and scep­tre from when Sissi was crowned queen of Hun­gary are on dis­play on the sec­ond floor. Cu­ri­ously, a statue of a crow with a ring in its mouth can be found on the spire of the church’s fa­cade. This is be­cause of a leg­end that some­one tried to kill King Matthias I with a poi­soned ring dur­ing his reign, but the ring was car­ried off by a fly­ing crow. Since then, crows have be­come a sym­bol

of good for­tune in Hun­gary. Now, a mu­ral of a crow with a ring in its mouth can be found in­side the church.

Not far from Matthias Church is the Fish­er­man’s Bas­tion. Fac­ing the Danube and the Hun­gar­ian Par­lia­ment Build­ing, the Fish­er­man’s Bas­tion boasts pic­turesque views. Many new cou­ples choose to take wed­ding pho­tos there. The ro­man­tic Fish­er­man’s Bas­tion is also known as a “land of first kisses,” as it is said to wit­ness more first kisses of Hun­gar­ian youth than any­where else in the coun­try. The Fish­er­man’s Bas­tion has po­etic scenery be it morn­ing, dusk or night, fur­ther adding to its ro­mance.

Built in 1905, the Fish­er­man’s Bas­tion is made en­tirely of white mar­ble and is el­e­gantly shaped. It was orig­i­nally the site of a fish­ing vil­lage and fish­er­men later built the bas­tion to pro­tect their homes. To­day, up the bas­tion’s stairs is a spa­cious square above the cas­tle, which over­looks the Danube flow­ing qui­etly below and gives a panoramic view of Bu­dapest. This at­trac­tion is as­so­ci­ated with Em­press Elis­a­beth, or Sissi, as well. It is the site of a pop­u­lar cafe where Sissi fre­quently en­joyed cof­fee. The en­tire Fish­er­man’s Bas­tion area is now an im­por­tant place for Bu­dapest cit­i­zens to take a leisurely walk af­ter din­ner, and a fa­mous des­ti­na­tion for tourists.

Pest, an An­cient City on the Plain

Across the Chain Bridge to Pest on the east bank, one can clearly see the Royal Palace on the op­po­site Cas­tle Hill and the Lib­erty Statue on the Gel­lért Hill. The nearby An­drássy Av­enue was built in 1872 to re­lieve traf­fic pres­sure on the par­al­lel Király Street. The An­drássy Av­enue was named in 1885 af­ter then Prime Min­is­ter Gyula An­drássy, the na­tion’s first prime min­is­ter and a main sup­porter of the con­struc­tion project. In 1867, an agree­ment was reached between the rulers of Aus­tria and Hun­gary to es­tab­lish Aus­tria-hun­gary. Sissi be­came the queen of Hun­gary and Earl An­drássy was ap­pointed as the prime min­is­ter. On June 8, 1867, Sissi ar­rived in Bu­dapest and was crowned by Earl An­drássy amid the cheers of the Hun­gar­ian peo­ple.

An­drássy Av­enue was once the “Wall Street” of Aus­tria-hun­gary. It is lined with glo­ri­ous build­ings which were mostly owned by aris­to­crats, bankers and land­lords. They are now pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tions. There are many his­tor­i­cal struc­tures there such as the world-renowned Hun­gar­ian State Opera House and the Franz Liszt Academy of Mu­sic. Some of the vil­las now serve as em­bassies of for­eign coun­tries.

On the out­bound end of An­drássy Av­enue is the He­roes’ Square, which was built in 1896 to com­mem­o­rate the 1,000 years of Mag­yar set­tle­ment in Bu­dapest. The Mil­len­nium Mon­u­ment in the mid­dle of the square is a Baroque cylin­dri­cal stone topped by a statue of Ar­changel Gabriel. Its base bears stat­ues of seven chief­tains of the Mag­yars, all ar­moured and on tall horses, with weapons in their hands. The Bu­dapest Hall of Art and the Mu­seum of Fine Arts also sit on the square.

There are other no­table lo­cales in the square’s vicin­ity. Be­hind it is the City Park, built in 1817 fea­tur­ing hot springs, zoos, play­grounds and botan­i­cal gar­dens. Es­tab­lished in 1908, the Széchenyi Ther­mal Bath within the park has a his­tory of more than 100 years, with 12 hot springs, five swim­ming pools, an out­door spa, sauna, mas­sage area and other fa­cil­i­ties. The park’s Va­j­dahun­yad Cas­tle com­bines a va­ri­ety of ar­chi­tec­tural styles from Eu­ro­pean his­tory, in­clud­ing Ro­man, Gothic, Tu­dor and Baroque.

An­other pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion is the Mil­len­nium Un­der­ground Rail­way, oth­er­wise known as Bu­dapest Metro Yel­low Line 1, the old­est sub­way sys­tem op­er­at­ing in Europe. Metro Yel­low Line 1’s ren­o­va­tions and ex­pan­sions have pre­served its orig­i­nal 1896 ap­pear­ance. The line is still served by three old- fash­ioned car­riages ( 6 m wide × 2.7 m high). These train car­riages are made spe­cially and fur­nished with or­nate floors, wooden benches, long wooden chairs, wooden win­dows and wall lights in the shape of kerosene lamps. Be­cause of this, ev­ery plat­form along the Metro Yel­low Line 1 looks like a set for a nos­tal­gic film. The 5- km- long Metro Yel­low Line 1 in­cludes 11 stops and passes by ma­jor at­trac­tions such as the Hun­gar­ian State Opera House, the He­roes’ Square and the Széchenyi Ther­mal Bath. It has re­mained a ma­jor means of trans­porta­tion along An­drássy Av­enue.

The Hun­gar­ian Par­lia­ment Build­ing lo­cated on the Danube

Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Matthias Church has a his­tory of more than 700 years.

Fish­er­man’s Bas­tion, the per­fect van­tage point for en­joy­ing views of Bu­dapest

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