Budapest » Buda Castle
The Buda Castle (Hungarian: Budai Vár) is the historical castle of the Hungarian kings in Budapest, Hungary. In the past it was also called Royal Palace (Hungarian: Királyi-palota) and Royal Castle (Hungarian: Királyi Vár) .
Buda Castle was built on the southern tip of Castle Hill, next to the old Castle District (Hun: Várnegyed), which is famous about its medieval, Baroque and 19th century houses and public buildings. Buda Castle is part of the Budapest World Heritage Site, declared in 1987.
The first royal residence on the Castle Hill was built by King Béla IV of Hungary between 1247 and 1265. There is no archeological evidence about this residence so it remained unsettled whether it was situated on the southern tip of the hill or on the northern elevation near the Kammerhof.
The oldest part of the present-day palace was built in the 14th century by Prince Stephen, Duke of Slavonia, the younger brother of King Louis I of Hungary. Only the foundations remained of that Stephen's Tower (Hungarian: István-torony). The Gothic palace of King Louis I (1342-82) was arranged around a narrow courtyard next to the Stephen's Tower.
King Sigismund Luxemburg of Hungary (Hun: Luxemburgi Zsigmond, 1387-1437) greatly enlarged the palace. Sigismund, as a Holy Roman Emperor, needed a magnificent royal residence to express his primacy among the rulers of Europe. Buda Castle was the main residence of the Emperor, so during his long reign it became probably the largest Gothic palace of the late Middle Ages. Buda was also an important artistic centre of the International Gothic style.
The construction works began in the 1410s and were largely finished in 1420s although some minor works continued until the death of the king.
The most important part of Sigismund's palace was the northern wing, called Fresh Palace (Hun: Friss-palota). On the top floor of it there was one huge hall (70 m x 20 m) with a carved wooden ceiling and great windows and balconies looking to the city of Buda. It was called the Roman Hall. The façade of the palace was decorated with statues and coat-of-arms. The palace was first mentioned in 1437 under the name "fricz palotha"
Sigismund also strengthened the fortifications around the palace. The southern part of the royal residency was surrounded with narrow zwingers. Two parallel walls, the so-called cortina walls run down from the palace to the River Danube across the steep hillside. The most imposing structure, the famous Broken Tower (Hun: Csonka-torony), on the western side of the cour d'honneur remained unfinished. The basement of the tower was used as a prison, the top floors were probably the treasury of the royal jewels.
In front of the palace stood the bronze equestrian statue of Sigismund, later repaired by King Matthias Corvinus.
The last phase of grand-scale building activity happened under King Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490). During the first decades of his reign the king carried on and finished the works on the Gothic palace. The Royal Chapel - with the surviving Lower Church - was probably built that time.
After the marriage of Matthias and Beatrix of Aragon, the daughter of the king of Naples in 1476, Italian humanists, artists and craftsmen arrived at Buda. The Hungarian capital became the first centre of Renaissance north of the Alps. The king rebuilt the palace in early Renessaince style. The cour d'honneur was modernized and an Italian loggia was added. Inside the palace there were two rooms with a golden ceiling, the famous Corvina library and a passage with the frescoes of the 12 signs of the Zodiac. The façade of the palace was decorated with the statues of John Hunyadi, László Hunyadi and King Matthias. In the middle of the court there was a fountain with the statue of Pallas Athene.
Only fragments remained of this Renaissance palace: red marble balustrads, lintels, decorative glazed tiles of stoves and floors.
In the last years of his reign Matthias Corvinus began to build a new Renaissance palace on the eastern side of the Sigismund Courtyard, next to the Fresh Palace. The Matthias Palace remained unfinished because of the early death of the king. From written sources we know that it had a monumental red marble stairway in front of the façade. The bronze gates were decorated with panels depicting the deeds of Hercules. Matthias Corvinus was usually identified with Hercules by the humanists of his court. A great bronze statue of the Greek hero welcomed the guests in the forecourt of the palace complex where jousts were held.
The walled gardens of the palace were laid out on the western slopes of the Castle Hill. In the middle of the enclosure a Renaissance villa was built by Matthias. Only one column survived of this so-called Aula Marmorea.
After the death of Matthias Corvinus his successor, King Ulászló II carried on the works of the Matthias Palace, especially after his marriage with Anna of Foix-Candale in 1502.
After the Battle of Mohács the medieval Kingdom of Hungary collapsed. The Ottoman army occupied the evacuated town on 11 September 1526. Although Buda was sacked and burned, the Royal Palace wasn't damaged. Sultan Süleyman I carried away all the bronze statues (the Hunyadis, Pallas Athene and Hercules) with him to Constantinople. The statues were destroyed there in a rebellion a few years later. The Sultan also get hold of many volumes from the famous Corvina library.
In 1529 the Ottoman army besieged and occupied Buda again. The palace was badly damaged that time. Under the reign of King John Zápolya (1529-1540), the last national ruler of Hungary, the palace was repaired last time. On the southern tip of the Castle Hill the Great Rondella was built by Italian military engineers. The circular bastion is the most imposing surviving structure of the old palace.
On 29 August 1541 Buda was occupied again by the Ottomans without any resistance. The Hungarian capital became part of Ottoman Empire as the seat of the Eyalet of Budin.
Although Turkish travel writers wrote enthusiastically about the beauty of the palace of the Hungarian kings, the new Ottoman government left the palace decaying. It was partially used as barracks, storage place and stables, otherwise it stood empty.
The palace was called Iç Kala ("Inner Castle") and Hisar Peçe ("Citadel") by the Turks. The name of the cour d'honneur was Seray meydani. The favourite nickname of the complex was "Palace of the Golden Apples".
In the era between 1541 and 1686 the Habsburgs tried re-capture Buda several time. Unsuccessful sieges in 1542, 1598, 1603 and 1684 caused serious damage. The Ottoman authorities repaired only the fortifications.
According to 17th century sources many buildings of the former Royal Palace were roofless and their vaults collapsed. Nonetheless the medieval palace by-and-large survived until the great siege of 1686.
Destruction of the medieval palace
The medieval palace was destroyed in the great siege of 1686 when Buda was captured by the allied Christian forces. In the heavy artillery bombardment many buildings collapsed and burned out. The Stephen's Tower, used as a pulver tower by the Ottomans, exploded. According to contemporary sources, the giant explosion killed 1500 Turkish soldiers, and caused a tidal wave on the Danube that washed away standing guards and even artillery batteries on the opposite shore. It was caused by a single cannon shot by a friar called Gábor, also referred as Tüzes Gábor ie. "Gabriel Fiery".
Habsburg military engineers made several plans and drawings about the buildings in the next decades. Although the walls mainly survived, the burned out shell was rapidly decaying because of the lack of basic maintenance. In the decade between 1702 and 1715 the Stephen's Tower totally disappeared, and the palace went beyond repair.
In 1715 King Charles III ordered the demolition of the ruins. Johann Hölbling surveyed the still existing structures. According to the order of the king the surviving marble statues, antiquities, inscriptions and coins were spared (there is no evidence about the realization of the royal decree). The main part of the palace and the Broken Tower were totally demolished, the hollows and moats were filled, and a new flat terrace was established. Luckily the southern fortifications, zwingers and rooms were only buried under tons of rubbish and earth.
Early Baroque palace
In 1715 a small Baroque palace was built according to the plans of Johann Hölbling. This very simple rectangular building had an inner court and a shorter side wing which was later demolished. The Hölbling palace is identical with the core of the present-day palace ie. the Baroque Court of the Budapest Historical Museum.
The inside of palace was left unfinished and in 1719 building works stopped. The Hofkriegsrat commissioned Fortunato di Prati to make several plans for the palace but lack of money hindered their implimentation.
In 1723 the palace accidentally burned down, and their windows were walled up to stop further deterioration of the building. Several drawings from the 1730s and 1740s show the unfinished, decaying shell of the simple two-storeys blockhouse. Some engravings show an idealized, finished version which never existed. Some time around 1730 the roof was repaired.
In 1748 Count Antal Grassalkovich, President of the Hungarian Chamber appealed to the public to finish the derelict palace by means of public subscription. Palatine János Pálffy also called upon the counties and the cities to grant for the project. The moment was favourable becase relations between the Hungarian nobility and the Habsburgs were exceptionally good. Hungarians supported Queen Maria Therese in the dire need of the War of the Austrian Succession. The Queen was grateful, and the new Royal Palace became the symbol of peace and friendship between the dynasty and the nation.
The Hillebrandt-façade of the cour d'honneur
The plans of the splendid, U-shaped Baroque palace with a cour d'honneur were drawed by Jean Nicolas Jadot, chief architect of the Viennese court. After 1753 the plans were modified by his successor, Nicolaus Pacassi. Ignác Oraschek master builder, who guided the works between 1750-1755, also modified the plans according to his own ideas. The foundation stone of the palace was laid on 13 May 1749, the birthday of the Queen. The works continued in a good pace until 1758 when financial difficulties caused a seven years break. By that time only the interiors were left unfinished.
According to surviving historical documents the layout of the palace followed the signed plans of Jadot from 1749. The façades, some interior elements and the St. Sigismund Chapel are the works of Pacassi, while the special double false domes were probably planed by Oraschek, formerly the master builder of Count Grassalkovich. Double false domes were typcal features of the so-called Grassalkovich-type Baroque castles like Gödöllő. This special feature was later removed from the palace.
In 1764 the Queen visited the palace and allowed the spending of 20'000 thalers a year for the purpose. The work was recommenced in 1765 according to the plans of Franz Anton Hillebrandt. Hillebrand altered the cour d'honneur façade of the central wing in Rococo style. In 1769 the St. Sigismund Chapel was consecrated, and in the same year the palace was finished. According to the aggregate statement of Grassalkovich the costs were 402'679 forints.
Nuns and scholars
The future function of the complex was uncertain. It was obvious that the Queen has no intention to use it as a residence because she hasn't spent much time in Buda. In 1769 Maria Theresa gave one wing to the Sisters of Loreto from Sankt Pölten known as Englische Fräulein or angolkisasszonyok. The building was officially handed over on 13 May 1770 but the splendid Baroque rooms were absolutely unsuitable for a monastery. In 1777 the Queen decided that the University of Nagyszombat should move to Buda.
The nuns moved out and the palace was hastily adapted to its educational purpose. The works were guided by Farkas Kempelen. New classrooms, teacher's cabinets, museums, library and a university press was built. In 1777-79 the frontal false dome was removed to erect instead a four-stories observatory tower, planned by Hillebrandt or Karl Georg Zillack.
The ribbon cutting ceremony of the university was held on 25 June 1780, the 40th anniversary of the coronation of the Queen. The throne room became a splendid aula decorated with frescoes depicting the four faculties. In 1953 two grisaille fresco was discovered on the shorter sides of the room.
In 1778 Hillebrandt built a new chapel for the Holy Right of Saint Stephen of Hungary, the mummified right hand of the first Hungarian king, recovered by Queen Maria Therese from the Republic of Ragusa in 1771. The Chapel of the Holy Right was sitatuated near the St Sigismund Chapel, in the middle of an inner court. Its outside form was octagonal, the inside oval and was crowned by a dome. The altar-piece was painted by Joseph Hauzinger.
Palace of the Palatines
Functional problems of the university remained basically unresolved, so in 1783 the faculties were moved to Pest. In 1791 the palace became the residence of the new Habsburg Palatine of the Kingdom of Hungary, Archduke Alexander Leopold. After the early death of the palatine in 1795, his younger brother Archduke Joseph succeded him (1796-1847). The last palatine of Hungary was Archduke Stephen between 1847-1848. The palatinal court in Buda Castle was the centre of fashionable life and high society in the Hungarian capital.
In 1810 the palatinal palace was damaged by a fire. In the next decades many plans were made to raise the building with an upper storey but they weren't executed, although the observatory tower, which hindered the works, was removed in 1827-30. In 1838 the crypt of the St. Sigismund Chapel was rebuilt according to the plans of Franz Hüppmann. The Palatinal Crypt was the burial place of Palatine Joseph and his family. The crypt is the only part of the palace that survived the destruction of WW2.
Palatine Joseph established gardens on the southern and eastern hillsides of the Castle Hill according to the plans of Antal Tost. The gardens of Buda Castle were among the most famous English-style landscape gardens in Hungary.
Palatine Stephen finally left the palace on 23 September 1848 when the break between the liberal Hungarian government and the dynasty became inevitable.
On 5 January Buda was occupied by the Austrian army led by Prince Alfred zu Windischgrätz. The chief commander lodged in the royal palace.
On 4 May 1849 the Hungarian army of Artúr Görgey laid siege on Buda Castle, defended by General Heinrich Hentzi. On 20 May the Hungarians captured Buda with a great assault. The palace was the last strongold of the Austrian troops and became a site of heavy artillery fighting. The ensuing fire consumed the the central and southern wings that completely burned out and their interiors were destroyed.
Age of Franz Joseph
The palace was soon rebuilt between 1850 and 1856 by Josef Weiss and Carl Neuwirth. The 13-axis central wing was raised with a third storey and a very squat attic-tower. The central risalit was decorated with a balcony of six colossal columns. With these changes the former Viennese Baroque palace of Maria Theresa became a more austere Neoclassical Baroque building.
The throne room was redecorated with marbles and stuccoes. After 1853 stately rooms were designed in French Rococo style with white-gold stuccoes and furniture from the Hofburg.
That time the palace was already too small for the needs of the royal court, so the kitchens and service rooms were housed in the neighbouring Zeughaus. The palace was connected with the Zeughaus with a glassed-in passageway.
On the western side of the cour d'honneur two smaller buildings were erected by the plans of Weiss and Neuwirth in 1854. The two-storeys Stöckl housed the apartments of the Archdukes and imperial officials. The Wachlokal was built for the royal guards.
Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria visited Buda Castle in 1856 and 1857. Later in 1867 after the Ausgleich Franz Joseph was crowned to the king of Hungary. The palace played an important part in the lavish ceremony, symbolizing peace between the dynasty and the nation.
In the last decades of the 19th century Budapest experienced rapid economic development. Ambitious urban planning projects were carried out to express the growing whealth and higher status of the Hungarian capital. Among these projects special attention was paid to the rebuilding of Buda Castle. The autonomious Hungarian government intended to create a royal palace that matches any famous European royal residence (especially the old rival, Vienna's Hofburg). The process of rebuilding lasted about forty years between 1875 and 1912, and caused sweeping changes in topography of the whole area.
At first the Várkert-bazár (Royal Garden Pavilion) was built on the embankment of the Danube, at the foot of the Castle Hill, between 1875 and 1882. This splendid Neo-Renaissance gateway was designed by Miklós Ybl, the most famous Hungarian architect of the period. The structure was an open business arcade with pavilions, stairways and ramps and two blocks of flat. Ybl also built a new waterworks pumping station, called Várkert-kioszk (Royal Garden Kiosk) and two stair towers standing against the medieval cortina walls. The southern one followed French Renaissance style, resembling a small turreted castle, while the northern one was similar to a Gothic brick-donjon. Only Várkert-bazár and Várkert-kioszk survived the destruction of the 20th century of these works.
In 1882 Prime Minister Kálmán Tisza charged Ybl with drawing a masterplan for rebuilding the palace. In his 1885 masterplan Ybl preserved the old Baroque palace but mirrored it on the western side of the cour d'honneur, doubling the size of the residence. He also planned a new carriegeway on the western hillside demolishing the medieval walls and towers of the Újvilág-kert terrace. The main problem was caused by the narrowness of the natural plateau of the Castle Hill because there wasn't enough space for the new Krisztinaváros wing (so called after the neighbouring city district). Ybl solved the problem with erecting a huge substructure that goes down to the foot of the hill. The monumental western façade sits on this windowless, three-storeys high substructure so the whole palace is making up a towering, 6+3-storeys high block almost absorbing the whole hill. On the other hand the main façade on the cour d'honneur has only the same modest height as the Baroque palace. The whole façade was clad with stone slabs while the old parts are stuccoed so the difference between the original Baroque and the Neo-Renaissance wings is obvious. The formerly open cour d'honneur became a closed court with a splendid, arched gateway guarded by the four lions of sculptor János Fadrusz. The court is called Lions Court (Oroszlános udvar).
The works began on 1 May 1890 but Ybl died on 22 January 1891. His successor, Alajos Hauszmann only slightly modified the plans of the Krisztinaváros wing. In 1896 the building reached the level of the court and King Franz Joseph ceremoniously laid down the foundation stone of the palace that was soon completed.
The siege during 1944-45
The Buda Castle was the last major strongpoint of Budapest held by Axis forces (Germans and Hungarians) during the siege of Budapest in 1944-45. Heavy fights and artillery fire rendered the palace once again into a heap of ruins. As a last resort, the defenders finally attempted to break the Soviet blockade, but utterly failed, leaving 90% of the soldiers dead on the sidestreets of Buda. Allegedly the Russians knew about their plans and aimed heavy weapons at the possible escape routes hours earlier. This is considered one of the biggest military catastrophes of Hungarian history by many historians, comparable to the Russian breakthrough at the Don in 1943.
Historical Museum of Budapest in the Buda Castle
The Historical Museum of Budapest is located in Buda Castle, boasting over 4 floors. This museum presents the history of Budapest from the beginnings until the end of the Communist era. There is also the restored lower part of the medieval Royal Chapel, and underground there are examples of dungeons and other displays. Outside one can observe the architectural beauty of the Buda Castle and see wonderful small gardens in the medieval "zwingers" (walled enclosures). There is also a closed-off well, and a magnificent view of the surrounding area, the Castle District. There is a tower which can easily be accessed in the outdoor area, and a walkway on the same level. Both the tower and the walkway boast shocking panoramas of Budapest, especially the Parliament building, the Danube, the nearby streets, and, on a clear day, the Freedom Statue.
The museum is fairly cheap and, if one wishes to save the expense of buying books of the Buda Castle, a photography ticket (Hungarian: fotójegy) is available (in the summer of 2005, the price of a photography ticket was 600 forint, which is equivalent to about 3 USD).
The castle also houses the Hungarian National Gallery. As part of the castle, there are excavations and smaller ruins.
See Budapest Museums for more information on the Historical Museum.