Thursday Top Ten: 19th Century Buildings And Architectural Sights In Hungary
Tamás Székely 2016.12.08.
In Hungary Today’s weekly series “Thursday Top Ten” our readers can learn about the most interesting things one can find about Hungary in connection with a given topic. Following last week’s article about Hungarian diaspora, this week we continue our series about the amazingly rich architectural heritage of the Carpathian basin from the ancient times to today. Our fourth target is the 19th century architectural sights of Hungary, namely those remarkable buildings that were constructed between the Napoleonic wars and the First World War.
1. National Museum
The building of the Hungarian National Museum was designed by Mihály Pollack, one of the founding fathers of 19th century Hungarian architecture. Although the museum itself was founded in 1802, its purpose-built new home was erected between 1837 and 1847 in a neo-classical style. In the middle of the tympanum is the female figure of Pannonia enthroned. In each of her hands there is a laurel wreath, offering a personification of science, art, history and fame. The Museum played a major role in history as the Hungarian revolution of 1848 was partially spurred by the reading of Sándor Petőfi’s 12 points and the famous poem Nemzeti dal on the front steps of the museum.
2. Széchenyi Chain Bridge
The first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary, the Szécheny Chain Bridge, was opened in 1849 after the Hungarian revolution. Following the initiative of influential statesman Count István Széchenyi, the bridge was designed by the English engineer William Tierney Clark in 1839. At the time of the construction, which was supervised locally by Scottish Engineer Adam Clark, the 202-meter long center span of the Chain bridge was one of the largest in the world. The lions at each of the abutments, carved in stone by sculptor János Marschalkó, were installed in 1852.In World War II, the bridge was blown up on 18 January 1945 by the retreating Germans during the Siege of Budapest, but it was completely rebuilt in 1949.
3. Vígadó Concert Hall
The building of the Vígadó, a legendary concert hall located along the Danube Promenade in Pest, was built in 1865, replacing an earlier concert hall destroyed in the Hungarian War of Independence in 1848-1849. The style of the building can be best described as Oriental and Hungarian Art Nouveau mingling with romance and a rich addition of uniquely pleasing detail. Frigyes Feszl, the architect of the new building, worked together with Károly Lotz and Mór Than, star artists of the age, who painted the ballad themed-frescoes of the interior. The imposing main concert hall of Vígadó, which can accommodate up to 700 people, is to this day one of the most significant venues of music life in Budapest.
4. Saint Stephen Cathedral
The Saint Stephen Cathedral, the largest church in Budapest, can be seen from virtually all parts of the city. The dome is 96 meters high, the exact same height as the Parliament Building. The Basilica’s construction begun in 1851 by József Hild, before being taken over by Miklós Ybl in 1867 and completed by József Kauser in 1905. The Classicist-style building houses Hungary’s most sacred relic: the Holy Right, which is the mummified right hand of Saint Stephen, the first king of Hungary, after whom the Basilica was named. Famous masterpieces in the church include statues by Alajos Stróbl and a painting by Gyula Benczúr that depicts Stephen offering his country to Virgin Mary.
5. Opera House
Designed by Miklós Ybl, a major figure of 19th century Hungarian architecture, the neo-Renaissance building of the Hungarian State Opera House is located in central Budapest, on the world-famous Andrássy boulvard. The construction lasted from 1875 to 1884 and was co-funded by the city of Budapest and Emperor-King Franz Joseph. The opening night was held on 27 September 1884. The gala performance, conducted by Ferenc Erkel and his son Sándor, featured the first act of Bánk Bán, the overture from Hunyadi László and the first act from Lohengrin. Miklós Ybl’s neo-renaissance palace has remained virtually unchanged is also the home to the Budapest Opera Ball, a society event dating back to 1886.
6. New York Palace
Budapest’s prestigious New York Café first opened its doors on 29 October 1894. Originally built by the New York Life Insurance Company as a local head office, the building now serves as Boscolo Group’s luxury hotel, restaurant and coffeehouse. The statues and other ornaments on the front side of the building, as well as the groundfloor café’s 16 imposing devilish fauns, each one beside the café’s sixteen windows, are the works of Károly Senyei. The building has lived through many eras: it had been a center for Hungarian literature and poetry for decades before being nationalized during the Communist era. However, it was reconstructed between 2001 and 2006 in a way which reflects the tendency to regain its old patina and reputation ranking it as the “Most Beautiful Coffee House in the World.”
7. Hungarian Parliament Building
As the millennial celebrations of 1896 approached in Hungary, the national demand for representation gave birth to the conception of an eclectic Parliament building, inspired partly by the Palace of Westminster of England. The construction of the magnificent building began in 1885 and fully completed in 1902. Ornamented with white neogothic turrets and arches, it forms the most outstanding landmark of the Pest side horizon. Statues of Hungarian monarchs and military commanders decorate the outer walls, while the unique interior design includes huge halls, over 12,5 miles of corridors, a 96-meter high central dome and 691 rooms. The Hungarian Parliament building is the third largest Parliament building in the world.
8. Fisherman’s Bastion
Built between 1895 and 1902 by Frigyes Schulek, and rebuilt by his son Janos Schulek after the devastation of the Second World War, the Fisherman’s bastion (Halászbástya) of the Buda castle was also inspired by Hungary’s 1896 millenium. The Gothic revival monument was designed to complement the Matthias Church and to commemorate the Fisherman’s guild that fed the occupants of the city through sieges. Although it obtained the name bastion, it was never actually intended for defensive purposes. It has seven spires, symbolizing the seven Hungarian tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896. In addition to the bastion, a bronze statue of Stephen I of Hungary mounted on a horse, was erected by Alajos Stróbl in Neo-Romanesque style in 1906 between the Bastion and the Matthias Church.
9. Museum of Applied Arts
The home of the Museum of Applied Arts, the first museum in Hungary, which explicitly collects contemporary artefacts, is a masterpiece of Hungarian Art Nouveau. The palace was built between 1893 and 1896 on the plans of Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos. The inner and outer ceramic cover of the building as well as the roofing are from the world-famous Zsolnay porcelain manufacture of Pécs. Classics of European applied arts give the core of the museum’s collection from the Middle Ages until the present day. The first items in the significant international and Hungarian collection were donations in 1909 from Peter and Irene Ludwig, an art-lover couple from Germany.
10. Cifra palace of Kecskemét
Located in the town of Kecskemét, about 90 kilometers Southeast of Budapest, the so-called Cifrapalota (Cifra Palace) is a unique piece of Hungarian Art Nouveau architecture, known for its wonderful ”waving” walls, shining roof tiles and ceramic ornaments of plants and animals. Built in 1902 on the plans of Ödön Lechner to serve as an apartment block and later as an officers’ casino, the building now houses the Katona József Múzeum, which exhibits local artwork and agriculture. Like the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest, the Cifra Palace is also decorated with ceramics from the famous Zsolnay factory in Pécs.