If You Build It, They Will Come

The morning after our boat ride, we walked across the Chain Bridge to see Buda Castle (Budavári Palota), the historic castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest, first completed in 1265.

Even before we got across the bridge, however, we could tell that the palace that currently adorns the top of Castle Hill could not possibly be that ancient.

Even the “1880” date down near the entrance to the Castle Hill Funicular seemed questionably old.

We took one look at the long line for the Funicular ride to the top of Castle Hill, compared it to the short distance up on the adjacent paths and steps, and decided to walk up to the palace. Wise decision.

You might recall that back when we were in Vienna we visited the Belvedere Palace, once home of Prince Eugéne of Savoy. I wrote a post about him that I called Let's Talk Turkey in which I mentioned that the Ottoman Turks' unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1529 had been followed by 150 years of the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires duking it out across the Hungarian Plain.

Coincidentally, there was a statute of the good Prince right here atop Castle Hill in front of The current palace, Buda Castle!

Well, to continue that story, although the Ottoman army did not take Vienna in 1529, it did manage to capture and hold Buda during that campaign, following which the medieval Kingdom of Hungary collapsed, and in 1541 Buda became part of the Ottoman Empire.

Not a family to give up easily, the Habsburgs tried repeatedly to recapture Buda, mounting unsuccessful sieges on the city and castle in 1542, 1598, 1603, and 1684. Though damaged in these earlier actions, Buda Castle mostly survived until the great siege of 1686 when it was destroyed by a heavy artillery bombardment of the invading allied Holy League Christian forces which included the Holy Roman Empire of the Habsburgs. Not long afterwards, the Ottomans gave up their claims to Hungary in favor of the Habsburgs and retreated to the south.

In 1715, the Habsburgs built a small Baroque palace on the ruins of the original Buda Castle. The interior of the palace was left unfinished when work stopped in 1719 due to a lack of money for the project and in 1723 the palace was accidentally burned down.

Not long after, in 1748, Habsburg Empress Maria Theresia began construction of a new Baroque palace on the site which, upon completion, was used first as a convent, then as a university, and, finally, as the residence of the Habsburg Archdukes palatine who were to oversee continued Habsburg domination of the Kingdom of Hungary.

However, before a century had passed, Buda Castle was again reduced to ruins during the Revolution of 1848, a Pan-Europe uprising that sought to end monarchy on the continent. It failed, except in France; however, during the course of that struggle, rebelling Hungarian troops laid siege to the castle which was a stronghold of the Habsburg's Austrian troops. Artillery bombardment and heavy fighting in 1849 resulted in a fire that again consumed the castle.

Having reached the top of Castle Hill, we walked to the rampart on the southern end of the palace for a better view of Gellért Hill and the Statue of Liberty off in the distance.

The palace was rebuilt again between 1850 and 1856, but this time as an austere neoclassical Baroque building.

By treaty between Austria and Hungary in 1867 establishing the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph also became King of Hungary. The Hungarians were anxious to rebuild the palace to compete with other royal residences of the age, especially the Hofburg in Vienna, so a massive rebuilding effort was undertaken in 1875-1912.

After WWI and the disolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Buda Castle became the seat of the new regent of the Kingdom of Hungary, Miklós Horthy, who lived there with his family from 1920 until 1944 when he was forced to abdicate and the Castle was occupied by the Germans.

Along with the nearby Citadel, Buda Castle was one of the last strongholds of the German and Hungarian troops to fall to the Red Army in 1945 and heavy fighting and artillery bombardment destroyed Buda Castle once again, to the extent that had befallen the complex in 1686.

But in 1948, the new communist Hungarian government decided to reconstruct Buda Castle yet again and to modernize it in the process, removing the medieval elements that still remained and adding a modernist dome. Work on the exterior was finished in 1966, but the interior was not completed until the 1980s.

So, the short version is that the palace we were looking at in 2015 was, essentially, a 50-year-old Cold War relic.

We went around to the courtyard in the middle of the palace and spent about an hour in the National History Museum that occupies part of the palace.

Then we walked north through the arch and out of the courtyard and Buda Castle toward the Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom).

The original church on this site was built in 1015. It was destroyed by the Mongols in 1241, but was rebuilt not long thereafter.

During the 150 years of Turkish occupation (1529-1686), the church was used as the city's main mosque. At the end of the Ottoman occupation of Buda, the church was partially destroyed by artillery bombardment of the Holy League in the Siege of 1686. It wasn't satisfactorily restored until the end of the 19th Century.

The church was again badly damaged in WWII and wasn't restored to its current condition until 1970.

By now you've undoubtedly caught on to the fact that Hungary – like Poland to its north – has been the battleground of Eastern Europe for centuries.

Just beyond the Matthias Church is the Fisherman's Bastion (Halászbástya).

The Fisherman's Bastion is a recent addition to Castle Hill, having been built in 1895-1902 as a viewing terrace overlooking the Danube River.

Spaced along the wall are seven towers representing the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin establishing the Kingdom of Hungary in 896 A.D. So, I'm guessing that the Fisherman's Bastion was built as part of a millennial celebration, perhaps together with the Parliament Building, though I haven't read anything to that effect.

It's name supposedly comes from the fact that the fisherman's guild was given the task during the middle ages to man and defend this part of Castle Hill.

Frankly, I felt like I was at Fastasyland in Disney World, waiting for Cinderella to descend the stairs.


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