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Castle Quarter (Budapest, Hungary)

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      23.11.2011 13:18
      Very helpful



      up the hill among the tourist sights

      First settled in the 13th century, when Hungarians moved across the river to escape the Mongol attacks, the Castle Hill became a location of king Bela's keep and following that, numerous other castles and palaces. Buda Castle Hill is one of the most interesting and attractive for sight-seers parts of Budapest, with many historical buildings, viewpoints eating and drinking places. It's also a bit of a tourist trap, and thus perhaps not the best place for a good value refuelling stop, but worth the visit nevertheless.

      The normal touristy way up the Castle Hill is using the funicular, but as this is not included in the family travel card we bought earlier and costs a whooping SIX EUROS for a return ticket - very expensive for a ninety second ride and not really worth it. The bus no 6 goes up the hill from a nearby location and is free with the family daily ticket so we pack on that. Up there, we choose to miss the neo-Baroque Buda Castle (apparently, it was never inhabited by the Hungarian royalty) which, although containing excellent collections of art, will take too much time of our single Budapest day.

      One of the best reasons to go up the castle hill is for the views it affords towards the Pest, and particularly the wedding-cake of the Parliament raising in its neo-Gothic splendour from the river bank.

      Somewhat reminiscent of the London's Houses of Parliament, the Hungarian Parliament building was designed by Imre Steindl and opened in 1896, on the thousandth anniversary of Hungarian state (which was then a semi-autonomous part of the dual monarchy of Austro-Hungary, demoted from the brief existence as a republic following the 1848 revolution), to be finally completed in 1902 to and is one of the largest parliament buildings in Europe, measuring 268 metres in length and 96 metres in hight.

      A symbol of sovereignty and national unity, it is decorated with nearly 90 statues of Hungarian kings and nobility and holds Hungarian royal insignia. Generally in a Gothic Revival style, decorated with a proliferation of turrets, pointed arches and mock buttresses, the Parliament has a dome, topped by a Gothic pinnacle, but itself more of Florentine-Renaissance provenance. Strangely, it fits within the whole to create an almost magical impression: a light, fairytale-like structure despite its huge bulk and heavy-going heraldic connotations.

      It's possible to do an interior guided tour but even just looking at the building from the outside especially from the Castle Hill is quite high on the 'magic views of the world' list.

      The next stop on our brief tour of the rather touristy and crowded Hill is Matthias Church (named after a popular king that held two weddings here - officially it's The Coronation Church of Our Lady). Originally started in the 13th century, it underwent several changes and restorations in later years. Nowadays it presents an attractive, mostly 14th century florid-Gothic exterior (restored 19th century) with a strikingly beautiful tiled roof. Next-door is a modern Hilton hotel with a mirror wall in which the reflections of the church play with the castle-inspired shapes of the modern building.

      Immediately next to the Matthias Church is the Halászbástya or Fisherman's Bastion, an unashamedly mock-Gothic structure that provides unsurpassed viewing terrace but is also a rather attractive (despite its clearly 19th century origins) structure in itself, with its grand staircases, cute conical turrets and many walkways. Stephen I in bronze watches the tourists milling bellow his horse-mounted statue, guarded by the falconers in medieval garb, complete with a hooded eagle but with very modern mobile phones. We walk back down to the Danube bank, the balconies and terraces of the Bastion raising above us, an archetypal image of a medieval castle.


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