The Castle District in Buda is the ancient kernel of the capital’s right-bank settlement. Everything that surrounds it was once only suburbs. From whatever direction you reach the Castle District, you cross the ramparts which completely encircle Castle Hill.
The whole area within the ramparts is protected as an ancient monument: the lines of the streets and the foundations and architectural remains of the buildings retain the atmosphere and memories of the medieval and eighteenth and nineteenth-century capital.
The building of the town began in the middle of the thirteenth century.
At the time of the 1241 Mongol invasion the town of Pest, built on the plain on the site of today’s Inner City and thus completely defenseless, had been burnt down and its population put to the sword.
The Royal Castle was built at the southern end of the plateau, the civilian town to the north.
At first the town was protected only by fences and the walls of the houses, but by the early sixteenth century it was surrounded by strong ramparts. The Turks in 1541 did not lay siege to Buda but captured it by trickery. Later they further fortified the ramparts. It was only after repeated sieges that the united Christian armies succeeded in 1686 in recapturing Buda Castle.
The country then came under the rule of the Hapsburg Emperor Leopold. The city of Buda was almost completely destroyed by the siege and only a handful of inhabitants remained. Therefore, in order to repopulate the town, settlers were invited from abroad. The former capital sank to the status of a small provincial town in the Hapsburg Empire. Then, during the eighteenth century, a little Baroque town grew up on the medieval ruins.
Not much more than 150 years after the Turkish devastation, in 1849, during the Hungarian War of Independence, the Castle was again besieged. It was only in1867 when, as a result of the Compromise with the Hapsburg dynasty, an independent Hungarian government was created, that the Castle District once more became the administrative center of the country. It was destroyed in the Second World War. Towards the end of the Second World War, it was in the Castle District that the last Nazi German troops concern treated and held out, from the end of December 1944 until the middle of February 1945, when the Soviet Red Army liberated the capital after a siege lasting almost two months. As a consequence of the Germans’ bitter resistance the Castle District again suffered enormous damage – part of the medieval remains that can now be seen were discovered during the reconstruction of houses which were found to have been built upon the foundations of earlier ones.
As Castle Hill rises 50 to 60 meters above the Danube, the inhabitants of Budapest rightly say that they go “up” to the Castle. If you are going by car, a winding road, which offers a wonderful view, starts at the Buda end of the Chain Bridge. However, the pleasantest approach is on foot.
You can start from any of the main streets running round the hill: Fõ utca, Batthyány utca or Attila utca, and by taking the quiet little streets, steps or slopes cut in the castle walls, you reach the Castle District in a very few minutes.
Holly Trinity Column
The first votive memorial was erected in 1706, after the bubonic plague epidemic which occurred in 1691.
However it was pulled down four years later as the citizens of Buda, for fear of the pestilence, wished to erected a larger votive column. The new memorial was finished by 1713. It is a hexagonal obelisk and on its pedestal era three relieves. In 1925-30 it was almost completely re-carved; the damage caused by the Second World War was repaired in 1968. The originals are preserved in the Kiscelli Museum.
The Fishermen’s Bastion
The Fishermen’s Bastion is one of the most popular spots of the Castle District with visitors, as it offers a grand panorama of almost the entire city. It is situated at the eastern side of Castle Hill, and can be reached from the center of the district, Szentháromság tér (Trinity Square). Its architecture is characteristic of the turn of the century; its flights of stairs, its projections, its turrets, and its ambulatory, like galleries make it a mixture of the neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque styles and of the romantic baronial castles. It looks much older as it is. It was built for the same anniversary as the Heroes’ Square. The architect wanted to make a nice frame with the little towers of the Bastion around with the big tower of the Matthias Church. There are 7 towers here – because there were 7 Hungarian tribes.
The Fishermen’s Bastion received its name from the medieval ramparts system which rose above the suburb named Fishermen’s Town. Furthermore, there used to be a fish-market behind the ramparts. Beneath the Fishermen’s Bastion lies the old suburb of Víziváros (Water Town), now full of new bindings. The reason of the name is probably that there was a huge fish-market here in the Middle Ages. The other reason is that the Fishermen guild had to defend this part of the city in case of attack.
Statue of Saint Stephen
In the upper court of the Fishermen’s Bastion stands an equestrian statue of Saint Stephen I , the first king of Hungary (1001-1038) and founder of the State. Stephen was born in 977, died in 1038. The statue was inaugurated near the Fishermen’s Bastion in 1906. Its creator worked on it for ten years. With enormous energy, he collected all the information he could connected with eleventh-century Hungarian art history, aiming at perfect historical accuracy down the smallest detail.
Statue of János Hunyadi
János Hunyadi, the future King Matthias’ father was a famous military commander who in 1456 repulsed the Turkish attack at Nándorfehérvár (today’s Belgrade). It was thanks to them that the Turks were unable to realize their plans until many decades later. It was to commemorate his victory that Pope Calixtus III ordered that church bells should be sounded every noon.
The Turul, formerly the sacred bird of the Ancient Magyars, was honored as the ancestor of the Hungarian people.
Its depiction played an important role in the series of festivities in 1896 to mark the thousandth anniversary of the Conquest when the bird was portrayed on numerous monuments. During the WW2 the statue miraculously remained.
The Statue of Eugene of Savoy
Opposite the front entrance overlooking the Danube is the bronze equestrian statue of the famous general.
It was he who led armies that liberated Buda and began the expulsion of the Turks from Hungary. The commission for the statue was originally given by the town of Zenta; the town however went bankrupt and could not pay the artist.
National Gallery – Nemzeti Galéria
The art of a small country is always a private affair and this is especially true of the art of the past.
Still, those who spend half an hour strolling around the exhibition of Hungarian Painting in the 19th Century will not regard it a waste of time. They should not bother about the names with strange spellings and historic figures unknown to them. The paintings in this exhibition, which takes up one floor of the gallery, breathe a definite awareness of life, a special “patriotic sorrow”.
Modern History Museum of the National Museum
The Museum used to be called “The Museum of the Working Class Movement” – a singularly fitting function in the royal palace. However, its exhibitions always focused on the history of Hungarian civilization.
When the totalitarian regime started crumbling, the musicologists were busy collecting the leaflets that called for demonstrations. This museum is situated in the northern wing of the Palace, so visitors can enjoy the view of Buda and Pest in three different directions.
The inside of the building was restored only in the 1970s. The building itself has two floors above the level of the courtyard, but the ground floor is really the fifth floor of the library. The library has about 2 million books and even more manuscripts, musical scores and newspapers.