Of all the statues in Budapest – and there are many – this is a particular favorite. It’s only 12-years-old, created in 2001 by Pál Ko. Check out the details on the leggings and toes.
On the masts of the Liberty Bridge, you can just glimpse the bronze statues of the Turul, a divine messenger of Magyar mythology. A symbol of power and nobility, the falcon-like Turul makes its home in the tree of life, in company with the spirits of unborn children in the form of birds. You’ll see it on the Hungarian coat of arms.
Gellért Hill (Szent Gellért hegye) is named after Saint Gerard, a man with the unfortunate honor of being the first bishop to be sealed into a barrel pierced with nails and heaved over a hill into the Danube. His patron, King Stephen, had recently died and the rebelling pagan Magyars (one shown here) weren’t interested in theological debate. You’ll see Gerard’s name adorning the popular Hotel Gellért and Gellért Baths in, yes, Gellért Square.
In the 18th century, Gellért Hill was the site of a popular calvary. On Easter Monday, pilgrims would labor their way up the steep slopes, past paintings depicting the sufferings of Christ, to celebrate the resurrection. Refreshments and religious tchotchkes were available from nearby vendors. They still are.
One of the most pleasant ways to reach the Gellért Monument is by ambling downhill, above secret crystal caves and the roots of former vineyards, and through streets lined with foreign embassies. On the day I was there in June, I saw a gentleman in ceremonial African garb stride out of his iron gates and step neatly into a waiting town car.
As one of the highest spots in the city (771 ft.), Buda’s Gellért Hill is hard to miss.
It’s also hard to attack, which is why it now has a ruddy big citadel on top. It was built by the Habsburgs, after a little dust-up known as the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. The fortress’s walls were originally up to 20 feet high and 10 feet thick. From those lofty heights, the Emperor could shell discontent citizens on both sides of the river.
The Liberty Statue is Soviet – can you tell? – designed by the Hungarian sculptor Kisfaludi Strobl to honor the soldiers who liberated Budapest from the Nazis in World War II. That thing she’s wielding is a palm leaf, symbol of victory.
Originally the inscription read:
A HÁLÁS MAGYAR NÉP
To the memory of the liberating Soviet heroes [erected by] the grateful Hungarian people [in] 1945
But, not surprisingly, this wasn’t exactly the most popular sentiment in 1989. So it was erased and changed to:
To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary
If you’ve got a spare shekel (or forint), it’s worth poking your head into the Hungarian National Museum.
Like all national museums, there is an extraordinary amount of historical flotsam and passels of bored school kids, but there is also:
Beethoven’s Broadwood Piano
Acquired for 181 florins by C.A. Spina after Beethoven’s death and gifted to Liszt. It’s a modest, mahogany beast with, apparently, an incomparable silvery sound. To quote from Jeffrey Dane’s article on Pianos of Beethoven and Other Famous Composers:
“We know that he snapped the strings and splintered the hammers of his Viennese pianos, as much from the strength of his playing as from the relative weaknesses of the instruments.”
Made in London, the Broadwood was better equipped to stand up to Beethoven’s enthusiasm.
The “Habanski” (Hutterites) were German-speaking Anabaptists who migrated across the continent from Switzerland. They arrived in northern Hungary during the 16th century and started producing their blue and white tin-glazed pottery – you’ll see reproductions in the tonier gift shops all over Budapest.
Wisely, the Hutterites kept their manufacturing process deathly secret, though scholars hypothesize they picked it up from Anti-Trinitarian Italians fleeing the Inquisition.
15th Century Viaticum Caskets (and Anything Made of Gold)
Hungarian artists had a lot of precious metal on hand – according to the Hungarian National Museum site, “the greatest portion of the gold production of the known world came from Hungarian gold mines” in the first part of the 14th century – and they weren’t afraid to use it. The museum is chock’a’block with exquisite crowns, belt buckles, chalices, mantel clasps – pick an object, any object.
But the highlight may well be the Viaticum caskets. Crafted in the form of medieval churches, these containers were built to carry the Eucharist to the dying. They’re not large, perhaps a few feet, but incredibly intricate. Bedside mourners would have been able to pick out tiny gargoyles on the church steeple. If you’re going to go, you might do worse than going with a vision of unearthly splendor before you.
In Budapest, even elderly saints work out. St. Stephen’s Basilica was only completed in 1905, and you can see the same musculature at work (or at the gym) in early 20th century print. The extensive poster collection in the Hungarian National Museum contains gems like this one:
The first issue of Nyugat, a famous literary journal, appeared in the city’s coffeehouses in 1908.
Floods peaked at 8.91 meters in Budapest, but swamped much of the surrounding countryside. On a train ride from Budapest to Slovakia, we passed roads, fields and crops underwater. There were sandbags in the streets of Visegrád and flood fences along the rails. Only red tile roofs remained.