Monday, 29 October 2007
©LucyMallows2007 digital photos of Hunyadi tér market hall, taken in June 2007
FIVE 110-YEAR-OLD MARKETS IN BUDAPEST
As Budapest's outer limits become swamped with ever more American style shopping malls, the traditional market halls of the city's heart modestly celebrated their 110th birthday this year.
In 1897, the Nagycsarnok (Big Market) No I, as the Vásárcsarnok was then called, opened its portals onto Fôvám tér the same day as four smaller roofed markets: No. II Rákóczci tér, No. III Klauzál tér, No. IV Hunyadi tér and No.V Hold utca.
These five markets are numbered I-V, and you can see if you look up at the beautiful facades above the 'csarnok' (market hall) sign and the Bejárás-Kijárás (entrance-exit) carved into stone or forged in metalwork.
In 1897, the Royal Health Ministry of the Austro-Hungarian Empire decreed that five markets should be built because until then food was sold from horse wagons along Andrássy út and the banks of the Danube. 'The health authority said food should not be sold on the street and so five markets were built,' said István Horváth, the market supervisor at Hold utca market.
Market No.1 is the showpiece, the Vásárcsarnok where Margaret Thatcher haggled for paprikas and lectured bemused shoppers on the rights and wrongs of a centralized economy in 1984.
When it opened in 1897, Emperor Franz Jozef paid a visit.
Samu Pecz designed the huge iron framework and its 10,000 square meter was originally built as the city's main wholesale market. After war damage and disrepair, Budapest City Council decided to renovate.
The market reopened in 1994 after three years of renovations costing Ft4 billion, and some 30,000 shoppers a day now come to visit 180 different stalls. The roof has tiles by ceramist Vilmos Zsolnay, which beckon local shoppers and tourists alike.
To celebrate the centenary year, stall holders whose stalls had been in the family for many generations were presented with a special diploma. Some were also entered into a competition, judged by experts and local shoppers.
The winner was Attila Tóth for his beautiful presentation.
In an Aladdin's cave of pickles, Tóth's shelves are lined with bottles and jars, filled with peppers, cucumbers, baby melons and green tomatoes in vinegar.
'I like the market better now after the renovation, it is more orderly. I understand how old people liked the previous jungle where they could rummage for bargains,' he said.
Tóth's stall can be found in the basement which was previously a warehouse for the traders upstairs. Tóth's stall is just past the Ázsia oriental food shop which has proved so popular it tripled its floorspace in April 1997.
On the ground floor, the stunning Minôségért Bt. came second in the competition with its displays of dried peppers and corn cobs festooned from the roof. Pensioner Chaim Pucz came back to work after previously working twenty years in the market selling confectionery.
She preferred the market in its pre-renovation state. 'I can't put my finger on it, but it just had a better atmosphere then, now many stallholders have left or died, it's not the same,' said Pucz and complained the new slippery floor tiles were a hazard in winter.
In 1924 Anna Bocsi started the cheese, túró and milk products shop. It has stayed in the family for three generations and is now tended by Ági and Zsuzsa Király.
No II Rákóczi tér.
The Józsefvárosi market hall was designed by the city engineering department and opened in 1897.
After reconstruction following severe fire damage, it reopened in 1992 as a traditional yet modernized market hall.
Rákóczi tér has always traditionally been the center of prostitution in Budapest and although brothels were officially closed down in 1948, the square continues to be the center of a down-market red light district.
This reputation diverts attention from the market which is a shame as it has some great bargains.
The market offers meat, fruit and vegetables. Fish open and close their mouths, jostling in black water. Many of the stall holders are in their teens and stand listlessly smoking behind the butchers' counters. There is also a section at the back for 'ôstermelôk' - the individual farmers who bring in their own produce.
A large eating area is the heart of the market. Shoppers stand at chest-high marble circles, devouring huge plates of blood sausage, fried chicken and fish, all washed down with a refreshing 'nagy fröccs' (white wine and soda spritzer) costing only Ft37.
Imre Farkas has run a fruit and vegetable stall here for twenty years. 'It was good then and it still is now. We are better and more beautiful than the Vásárcsarnok and we have parking space,' he said.
No III Klauzál tér market has now been almost entirely taken over by the Skála supermarket.
Only a few pickled vegetables stall linger on around the back
Katalin Hír is 80 years old and has seen the changes, in the 40 years she has worked here.
She is one of only two individual traders who offer bottled vegetables, 'deadly poisonous hot' chili peppers and apricot preserve at only Ft40 a jar.
'It used to be a gold mine for people shopping here. You could find anything you want here, now people have no money, if they do have money they buy they own land and grow their own,' she says.
Hiding behind the McFridayKing circus at Oktogon is a gem, the last surviving market hall, still in its original, fading condition.
Market Hall No IV on the dilapidated Hunyadi tér was designed by Gyôzô Csigler, and although the outer stone work is crumbling, traces of the unusual masonry work of animal heads remain.
The vegetables are laid out in beautiful colorful designs, corn, grapes and paprikas all jostle for space.
The smells of pickles, smoked meats and the hum of voices bargaining make the market a tantalizing, sensual experience. On Hunyadi tér itself is an open air trading area.
The dusty square has been transformed into a lively flea market full of vegetables at cheaper prices, knick-knacks and odd treasures.
Katalin Kovácsik has been tending the 'savanyúság' (sourness = pickles) stall in the corner for 14 years and her mother worked for 17 years before that. She and her husband run the business which follows the cucumbers, pumpkins and baby melons through from seed to pickle stage.
'We have a piece of land where we grow the vegetables, then we process them at home on the kitchen table, then I sell them here,' she said, ladling huge handfuls of white cabbage from a bucket for a lady who wanted to make Székely káposzta (Transylvanian cabbage).
No. V Hold utca 13 still has the old signs revealing that the street using to be called Rozenberg házaspár utca (Rozenberg married couple executed for spying in USA)
The market was recently renovated and is now very smart.
The packed büfe selling sausage and 'csalamádé' (mixed pickles) and the cupboard-sized early morning wine bar is packed and sits next to an empty upmarket fish stall, offering paella and salmon.
The Hold utca market is good for fish and there is an excellent cheese stall, but upstairs on the new balcony, created in the 1994-96 renovations, are the real treasures.
For anyone working in the Bank center or around Szabadság tér, lunchtimes are now a culinary expedition around the world. The Mexikoi Sarok offers gaspacho, burritos, fajitas and taco salads, next door is the Spagettigyár with all kinds of Italian delicacies, after that comes the Chinese büfe where a chef can been seen chopping a mountain of fresh carrots, cabbage, onions, peppers and mushrooms from the stalls below.
There is also a salad bar in the corner, a 'rétes' (strudel) bar offering something sweet to follow.
For the health conscious, you can buy an ishler biscuit covered with carob rather than chocolate in the Biocentrum Biobolt and Teaház opposite.
On the ground floor amongst all the gleaming metalwork and polished floors, you can still find the traditional Hungarian foods. Huge buckets of white lard, slabs of 'szalonna' -bacon fat, fish and reconstituted chicken in breadcrumbs and mountains of goose crackling.
The stalls were passed down from generation to generation, an old lady recently retired but was working here since 1914 selling 'savanyúság' (pickles).
One stallholder said the new market looked lovely but old stallholders had been squeezed out by the high rent, no place was made for them when renovated, and the whole atmosphere of the traditional market could be lost forever.
She complained that the mall culture was taking over Budapest with another mall going up soon on Csepel island and more along the entire length of Váci út.
'They should build housing instead,' said supervisor András Vámos.
However István Horváth, market supervisor at Hold utca market said he did not fear competition from the malls. 'Fortunately, we still don't have that American tradition of shopping only once a week, we like to buy fresh products every day.'
Friday, 26 October 2007
Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace
The 179-room Art Nouveau Gresham Palace is an essential part of the city’s effort to bring Budapest’s belle époque back to life
The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, which opened again in 2004, started life as a temple to capitalism, created in 1907 for the London Gresham Life Assurance Society.
In 1999, the Canadian-based Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Gresco Investments Ltd. signed a development agreement the District V local council to restore the building to its former glory and create a luxury, 179-room (including 14 suites) five-star hotel at a cost of some $84 million.
The site where the Gresham Palace now stands originally housed a neo-classic palace called the Nako House, designed by József Hild and built in 1827 by wholesale merchant Antal Deron.
In 1880, the London Gresham Life Assurance Company bought the Nako House as its foreign headquarters on this site but then, in 1903, decided to demolish the Nako House and build from scratch.
The Gresham Palace was designed by Zsigmond Quittner and the Vágó brothers and took three years to build, finally opening its grand gates in 1907.
The building was conceived as a kind of monument to Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579) the 16th century financier to Queen Elizabeth I, founder of London’s Royal Exchange and inventor of Gresham’s Law which states that, “Where legal tender laws exist, bad money drives out good money”.
The time of completion occurred during Hungary’s Golden Age and some of the most famous artists and craftsmen of the time worked to make the Gresham Palace one of the most glamorous buildings in Pest, and one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.The artist Géza Maróti created many original sculptures for the building.
Sculptor Ede Telcs created the relief of Thomas Gresham looking a bit like a jaunty sea captain at the top of the facade (shown in the picture at the top of this article), staring out at a slight angle to the Danube and across the Chain Bridge towards Buda.
The Gresham Palace was one of the first buildings in Budapest to have its Art Nouveau exterior illuminated at night and no expense was spared on the decor and the embellishments inside either.
Every bathroom and kitchen was fitted with ceramic tiles from the Pécs Zsolnay porcelain factory and Miksa Róth was commissioned to make the gorgeous stained glass windows on every landing.
The wrought iron peacock gates came from the prestigious Gyula Jungfer workshop and furniture maker Endre Thek was commissioned to fill the rooms with his elegant creations.
The Gresham building also featured state-of-the-art technology, full electrical wiring, central heating, two-meter-thick cellar walls to prevent flooding and something known as a ‘central vacuum system’ which was a kind of communal vacuum cleaner which wound its way around the building.
Cleaners only had to connect a tube to a nozzle in the wall of the apartment and there was instant suction.
The ground floor and first floor hosted the Gresham Company’s offices, the Gresham Café and a finishing school for daughters of the aristocracy called “English Young Ladies”.
The second and third floors were comprised of around half a dozen luxury apartments where many of the country’s elite took rooms. Government minister Count Gyula Andrássy took rooms in the Gresham Palace, his brother Géza was conveniently chairman of the board of the Gresham Company’s Hungarian subsidiary.
The fourth floor contained more modest apartments for the company’s traveling insurance salesmen while the fifth floor just under the roof housed the servants’ quarters.
Between the wars, the Gresham Café was the meeting place for the Gresham Circle of artists. The Podium Cabaret in the basement was the place where Bohemian artists rubbed shoulders with fur-clad aristocrats while they watched the risqué and satirical shows.
The cabaret was closed for a time in the twenties for being too ‘daring’ but enjoyed a second lease of life between 1936 and the outbreak of the War.In the Café above, important figures such as István Szőnyei, József Egry, Pál Pátzay and Jenő Barcsay discussed new movements in art.
The radical Nagybánya school gathered here as did writers and artists, all followers of a movement that urged a humanist, respectful approach to art, one that preserved the values of the past.
The Gresham Circle ceased to exist in 1944.
During World War II, the building was hit bombarded from across the river by revolutionaries trying to dislodge the Russians from the Interior Ministry next door.
During the winter of 1944-45 Soviet soldiers occupied the Gresham Palace and burnt much of the furniture to keep warm while the residents huddled in the cellar.
When the Chain Bridge was blown up during the German retreat, the shock waves blew the peacock gates on Mérleg utca right off their hinges.
In 1948 the Hungarian Communist Government nationalized Gresham Palace and scores of new tenants moved in, sub-dividing the palatial apartments into smaller flats.
The Gresham Café managed to keep going through the grim fifties and sixties, and in 1957 even had the first Wurlitzer organ in the country.
Between 1948 and 1990, the building declined into a sad state disrepair.
The café closed and a Chinese restaurant took its place, then a casino moved in.
Small businesses, a hairdresser and a locksmith moved into the arcade but all around the walls were crumbling.
In the seventies, the building was listed as national protected landmark in the late 1970s and in the 1976 list of protected monuments the Gresham is described as being 'of monument character'.
With the change of political system in 1990, the Government transferred ownership of Gresham Palace to the District V Council.
Oberoi, an Indian hotel chain offered to restore the palace in return for permission to turn it into a hotel.
A deal was announced in 1991, however the Council had not considered the 38 remaining tenants of the building.
Much legal wrangling ensued and four years later, Oberoi had lost patience and sold its interests to Fejér & Associates.
In 1997, Gresco entered the picture and arranged for the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to manage and operate Gresham Palace.
Gresco agreed to the National Board for the Protection of Historic Monuments (OMVH) which had earlier granted license on condition that the exterior, the ceramic decorations, the glass interior arcade and the stained glass windows on every staircase be restored in a sensitive manner.
To see the stunning interior in all its glory, indulge in a calorific chocolate cake at the elegant Gresham Kávéház (coffee house), sip a Martini from a soup tureen-sized glass at the alabaster and black marble bar before dining in style at the superb Páva restaurant where the menu is overseen by Moroccan executive chef, Abdessattar Zitouni.
The Páva restaurant serves a contemporary fusion of Italian and Hungarian cuisine complemented by a list of 140 Hungarian wines, selected monthly by a group of independent wine writers.
The Szepsy Tokaji dessert wine, the 'king of wines and wine of kings', according to Louis XIV, makes a truly aristocratic accompaniment to the house’s foie gras.
Save a tiny wiggle of your digestive tract for the gourmet delight of carpaccio of pineapple for dessert.
Then strut off to bed like the aforementioned peacock.
*Readers in Brussels might be interested to learn that a building in Belgium's capital has a hallway devoted to Thomas Gresham. You can see a relief of and tribute to the insurance salesman par excellence in the café and shop entrance hallway of the Palais des Beaux-Arts on Rue Ravensteinstraat.
Four Seasons Gresham Palace
Budapest - District V
Roosevelt tér 5-6
Getting there: Tram 2 to Roosevelt tér
Tel: (36 1) 268-6000
Fax: (36 (1) 268-5000
Four Seasons Gresham Palace website
Páva (Peacock) Restaurant
Budapest - District V
Roosevelt tér 5-6
Getting there: Tram 2 to Roosevelt tér
Tel: (36 1) 268-6000
Fax: (36 (1) 268-5000
Open for dinner only, 6pm-11pm daily
Wine List 9/10
Overall rating 9/10
October sees the last chance lomtalanítás
No wonder they invented the term and the ritual: ‘spring cleaning’.
Once the sun finally peeps through, it is the best time of year to sweep away the dust accumulated during the winter, throw open the windows, take a deep breath and access the situation.
An essential part of the vernal rejuvenation is the desire to clear out all the unwanted excess baggage surrounding our lives and start again.
Purging the cupboards and chucking out all the junk we’d long forgotten gives an intense feeling of pleasure and rebirth, before it all accumulates again over the coming year.
In North America, the Saturday garage sale is an old tradition and in Britain car-boot sales are an important part of community life.
In Budapest, the 'spring' clear-out lasts from March to October and brings as much joy to the treasure-seeker as to those who throw out.
In Hungary, the ritual is known as lomtalanítás, which is literally the act of liberating oneself from lom - lumber, or unwanted household articles.
'I think all nations like to throw out stuff and start afresh', said sociologist Zsuzsa Éles.
'In Naples at New Year they throw out unwanted furniture from upstairs windows which can be quite dangerous. In Hungary we are more organized with different districts at different times'. Lomtalanítás occurs on prearranged days, notice of which is usually posted by letter boxes in the apartment block.
Residents are advised to put their trash out on the pavement during the evening before collection.
Sometimes these are hasty affairs, finished within a 24-hour period.
If you live in Downtown District V, there is a load of fascinating junk, but this year you have already missed the kukások (rubbish collectors) who arrived on the morning of Saturday 28 February and had everything swept up by 9am.
On Friday evening, 16 April, Bródy Sándor utca in District VIII was completely blocked from the Nagykörút to the Kis (Múzeum) körút with ironmonger’s items bargains blocking access and a wealth of heavy oak furniture for whoever fancied such a thing.
Lomtalanítás cuts across borders and class-divides, uniting everyone with the joy of finding a little nugget of treasure for free.
Even French screen legend Catherine Deneuve entered into the spirit of the event.
Last year, she was reportedly spotted in District V indulging in the traditional Hungarian treasure-hunting sport while in town for the Opera Ball.
She obviously has a keen eye for a bargain and, I heard, she crammed four chairs into the back of her chauffeur-driven Audi in the district V chuck-out, taking a little piece of Hungary back to her Provence farmhouse.
Larger districts can take three to four days to get everything cleared away.
Residents happily put beds, cupboards and mattresses, never mind those rotting fridges and quasi-sputnik washing machines outside without fear of local busybodies accusing them of anti-social behavior.
At first glance most of it appears to be junk.
But within minutes, the mounds become a magnet for antique collectors, scrap metal or cardboard merchants, gangs of traders and curious passers-by.
Teams go around the district in gangs, commandeering the best piles and sitting guarding them, while others seek out more tempting mountains of garbage.
They can be quite intimidating these days.
It seems that trash (scrap metal, possibly an antique chair or picture frame ) is big business, particularly in upmarket neighbourhoods like Rózsadomb (District II) with tasty pickings to be found.
During the lomtalanítás in District V one year, I was kept awake all night by enthusiastic groups of hunters.
People rummaged though the piles and argued over territory.
Peering over the balcony in the early hours, I witnessed an elderly gentleman carefully taking apart an ancient television.
He removed certain pieces meticulously, only he knew which bits were worth keeping.
For many, lomtalanítás represents an essential source of income. Just after the change of political system, I once witnessed evolution, if not revolution, in progress through lomtalanítás in District XIII.
Among a mountainous pile of cupboards, fridges and mattresses were strewn copies of a leather-bound book series entitled Sztálin I - XX, and the owner had decided it was time to relieve himself of all of them.
When I first walked past, the collection was complete.
Later in the afternoon, some issues were missing - obviously the more exciting episodes in the dictator’s life.
Eventually, by evening all the books had been snapped up.
Nearby, two students unfurled what must have been a very luxurious Persian carpet, but now only a few worn threads testified to its once-glorious past.
They seemed quite delighted with the find, however, rolled it up and headed off home. Lomtalanítás used to be quite a gentle pursuit, akin to sorting through dusty old books at a Sunday morning village fete.
Now with the growing gap between rich and poor, an element of desperation has crept in.
'A vaguely-regulated war has broken out in many districts, as groups of organized gangs tour the streets with their Ladas snapping up all the scrap metal and threatening those who converge on their patch', said Éles.
Tortured by incessant banging on those old-style drum washing machines, I wondered if I could make a sociological survey, during the metallic hammering which went on all day in my district’s appointed cathartic weekend.
It seemed that everyone in District XI was chucking out their top-loading East German models en masse, then possibly buying a swanky new brand, to keep up with the Kovácses.
The lomtalanítás ritual is like a giant recycling effort catering to the various needs of the population.
Unlike enforced recycling in Western Europe, based on guilty consciences, lomtalanítás represents a more local, evolutionary method which works just as efficiently as bottle banks. Those who take items home today will probably place them back on the pavement at some future date, nothing is really being thrown away and so the process perpetuates itself.
To the eternal horror of my Hungarian partner, I can never resist a quick look through the piles, which loom high in front of my door.
I shall be on the lookout in September when District XI has its regular purge and now I have the perfect excuse - if a superstar like Madame Deneuve doesn’t mind having a rummage for a bargain, then who are we to be so fastidious!
Go on, chuck out then get stuck in, who knows what you’ll discover.
The website of the Fővárosi Közterület-fenntartó Zártkörűen Működő Részvénytársaság (Zrt)
has a list of what districts chuck out on what dates, with maps and everything!!
Digital photo of the Széchenyi Lánchíd lion
by © Lucy Mallows 2006
With all the hoo-ha over the naming of Budapest's latest Northern MO Danube Bridge and faux-political commentator Stephen Colbert's success in getting 17 million people to vote for 'The Stephen Colbert Bridge' as the new híd-moniker, here is the real story of the Bridges of Budapest.
The world’s great cities are almost always graced with great bridges.
London has Tower Bridge, San Fransisco has the Golden Gate, Florence the Ponte Vecchio and Paris the Pont Neuf.
Budapest has the iconic Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd), but it also has six more road bridges linking Buda and Pest, each with a fascinating tale to tell.
The mighty Danube flows for 2,850km through Europe from Breg in the Black Forest to the Black Sea and passes through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania on its journey to the swampy delta at Sulina. It is Europe’s second longest river after the Volga.
In Vienna, however, the Danube doesn’t run through the center of the city.
In Budapest the Kék Duna (Blue Danube) as its known cuts right through the heart of the city, both literally and geographically, dividing the hilly residential Buda from the flat commercial Pest and running right up the middle like a gash across a lover’s chest.
The magnificent panorama surrounding the river is the nerve center of the city, the place every tourist visits and swoons at the sight, justifiably listed as one of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites.
To cross the river from Buda to Pest one could use the red metro line, but most choose the more photogenic method, the bridges.
A common Budapest phrase says, “The best thing about living in Pest is the view of Buda,” and it is the fabulous panorama swinging down from the Liberation Monument, past the fairy tale castle and Fisherman’s Bastion all the way to Margit Bridge that makes the view so special.
There was a bridge across the Danube as early as the C15th.
In King Zsigmond’s time, there is record of a pontoon bridge. Musztafa Szokollo, who ruled during the Turkish occupation, built a pontoon using 70 floating boxes.
Nowadays, each híd (bridge) has a totally different character and style.
We start from the northernmost of the city bridges, Árpád híd (although strictly speaking there is one further up, the Újpest vasúti híd, or Újpest Railway Bridge).
Árpád híd, named after the leader of the seven tribes of Magyars who rode into the Carpathian basin in the 9th century, is the longest of the Budapest bridges and one of the youngest.
The authorities decided in 1939 that workers from Óbuda should be able to move more easily to the Angyalföld district and that a bridge was needed.
However, the work was held up by the war, and the bridge was not finished until 1950 when it was named Stalin híd.
Árpád híd also offers access to Margit Island on the other end of which is Margit híd.
I visited Visegrád Sanitorium and while there I met two elderly sisters Bozsi and Rózsika, who spent regular cure sessions there and even had a special room to themselves. Bozsi was on Margit híd when the Germans blew it up in November 1944, “I have had stomach and nervous problems ever since,” she said.
She was one of the few survivors of the dramatic incident, black and white pictures of which can be seen in the Margit Bridge subway on the Pest side.
At the time – a Saturday afternoon – the bridge was full of pedestrians, trams and cars and several hundred people were killed.
In fact the explosion was an accident, the charges exploding while the German engineers were still underneath the bridge, setting them.
For a while, a temporary rope bridge, known by locals by the nickname Manci, led from Szent István Park to the island so stressed out Pest folk could still enjoy a walk amongst the trees.
The bend in the middle, commonly known as the könyök (elbow) had to be so designed to take account of the currents coming from either side of Margit Island.
Margit Bridge was the second permanent structure when it was built between 1872 and 1876 by French engineer Ernest Gouin’s company Societé de Construction des Battignolles.
The statues, which you can see from the lower reaches of Margit Island were designed by Parisian sculptor Thabard.
If you go to the embankment on Kossuth tér, just past the statue of the seated poet Attila József, you can see the place where Kossuth Bridge set off towards Batthyány tér on the other side. The inscription reads: “In this place stood Kossuth Bridge. Our workers’ heroic and self-sacrificing work in eight months built the bridge as a temporary replacement for all the bridges senselessly blown up by the fascists.
On January 18, 1946, on the first anniversary of the last fascist bombing, it was opened to traffic. Its temporary objective completed, it was taken down in 1960.”
The Kossuth Bridge was designed by Károly Széchy and had nine spans, and because of financial constraints, was constructed mainly of metal girders bolted together, standing on eight iron and concrete supports.
Széchenyi Lánchíd – The Chain Bridge
The famous landmark of Budapest, the Széchenyi Lánchíd – Chain Bridge – was commissioned by Count Istvan Széchenyi and was the first of the eight permanent road bridges in the city. Széchenyi asked Frenchman Marc Isambard Brunel for advice on bridge building and in 1832 he went to see William Tierney Clark’s bridge across the Thames at Marlow, England.
Clark was asked to design a bridge for Budapest and another Clark, no relation, Adam was the contractor.
The bridge was built between 1839-49. The lions guarding each end were designed by János Marschalko and local legend has it that the sculptor forgot the tongues and when this was pointed out by a little boy at the opening ceremony, he was so distraught, he committed suicide by jumping off the bridge.
Some people claim there are tongues, but if they are there, they are nigh on impossible to detect, even if you clamber on the graffiti-covered pedestals at the four corners of the bridge.
Count Széchenyi then decide that a tunnel should be built to link the bridge to the Tabán district, on the other side of the Castle hill, and construction began in 1853.
People used to joke that it was built so that the bridge could be dragged into the tunnel during the rain. The inscription in English on the Pest side of the tunnel reads, “To commemorate the only two surviving bridges designed by William Tierney Clark, the Széchenyi chain bridge over the Danube in Budapest and the suspension bridge over the Thames at Marlow, England.”
It is reported, however, that he used the still-standing Hammersmith Bridge as a model for his design.
Erzsébet híd was the fourth bridge built, following the Lánchíd, Margit and Ferenc József (now called the Szabadság híd).
In 1885 the government decided to build a bridge between Eskü tér (Oath Square) now called Március 15 tér and the Rudas Baths on the Buda side.
The original plan was to build the Buda side at a slightly northern spot but that would have involved demolition of the Tabán inner city parish church.
After much discussion with church officials, it was agreed to built it heading towards the base of Gellért hill and that is why the road has such a dangerous swing around to the right when leaving the bridge. It was the longest single span bridge in the world until 1926.
However that is not the bridge you will see today – the original was blown up by the retreating German army in January 1945, along with all seven other Danube bridges.
A modern elegant white suspension bridge was built in 1965 with six lanes of traffic. The view from the bridge toward Saint Gellért on his hill is one of the most spectacular vistas in the city.
The name Szabadság híd means Liberty Bridge. Most bridges in Budapest are named after a person and the Liberty Bridge was at one tie called Ferenc József after the Emperor.
The third of the bridges, it was designed by Aurel Czekelius, according to János Feketeházy’s plans and the Emperor himself hammered in the last rivet.
On the top of each pillar is a Turul – the mythical Hungarian bird standing on a golden ball. Its girders are very easy to climb and that may be a reason why it is one of the most popular bridges from which to commit suicide, although maybe it is for more romantic reasons, since the name ‘Szabadság’ suggests release from the cares of the world.
Other bridges are also quite popular for suicides, including the Chain Bridge, and I have even seen a man on the top of difficult-to-scale Erzsébet Bridge. He had climbed up the service ladder inside one of the columns when its little hatch had accidentally been left unlocked.
Petőfi híd, named after the revolutionary poet, Sándor Petőfi, is possibly the least inspiring of all the Budapest bridges.
It links with Margit Bridge right round at the other end of the Nagy körút, the grand boulevard which rings Pest. Slightly older than Árpád híd, it dates from 1933-37 and was built by Algyay Hubert. Until 1945, the bridge was named after Miklós Horthy, Hungary’s right wing leader and ‘admiral without a sea.’
Lágymányosi híd, which looks like a kind of red toast rack, is the newest of all the bridges and replaced the összekötő vasúti híd (linking railway bridge).
Lágymányosi híd links up with Árpád híd via the great Hungária ring road, an outer version of the grand boulevard.
It was opened in 1996 and has special giant mirrors which light the road evenly.
…and the bridge that never was
There is one more bridge which never got built, for which some may say thank goodness, but which would indeed have been a dramatic sight.
Towards the end of the last century, engineers were discussing how best to reach the top of Gellért Hill.
Spurred on by the tourist office, people were asked to make suggestions on how to reach the peak.
Some suggested a funicular, others a cogwheel railway in place of what is now Hegyalja út. However the most interesting proposal was put forward by János Ruppenthal, who suggested building a giant steel tower where Irányi utca leads out onto Belgrád rakpart.
From this tower a bridge would lead right to the summit of Gellért Hill.
On the bridge two carriages similar to the Castle District’s Funicular would travel up and down the still relatively steep climb giving a gorgeous, if rather terrifying view to passengers.
On the lower portion of the iron girders, a ramp would be built for pedestrians to make the breath-taking and spine-tingling walk.
A lift would lead up the tower but if people wanted to save money they could stagger up on foot. The design was to be similar to the Ferenc József bridge (Szabadság híd) although lacking its dainty character. It was in fact, positively clumsy.
An article appeared in the Vasárnapi Ujság (Sunday News) and then the storm broke. Experts and laymen all rose up against this “mindless plan” which would “for eternity disfigure our world city, whose glorious sights have so often invigorated visitors from home and abroad.”
Ruppenthal suggested it would be useful for tourists, and mentioned how people had baulked at the Eiffel Tower’s construction. City leaders debated but rejected the idea. The reason given was “that was Paris, this is Budapest,” and the case was closed.