Photographs of progress on the riding hall and stables of Buda Castle, on the Buda side of the Danube in Budapest, raised my spirits this holiday season. Almost complete, the reconstruction seems a good way to express hope in the future as we enter the new year. The riding hall was designed by Alajos Hauszmann and built in 1899–1900, heavily damaged in World War II and demolished during the communist era. Its reconstruction is part of a larger plan under Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán to restore the Buda Castle, which contains the national gallery, history museum and library today, but still features the dubious renovations by the communists in the 1950s.
Critics of Orbán say he wants to turn the Castle District into a sort of Kremlin on the Danube. An anonymous article expressing skepticism of the huge project ran in 2014 on the Hungarian Spectrum website. Another anonymous post there yesterday reported that Orbán will move his office into the Castle Theater on Jan. 1, the day after tomorrow. The first article, whose author’s name I could not locate, said:
A few days ago [in 2014] the Hungarian public learned that billions of forints, part of which will of course come from Brussels, will be spent on the reconstruction of the Castle District (Várnegyed) and the Royal Castle. The whole project might take twenty years. László L. Simon, the undersecretary in charge of culture, is responsible for the project, named the National (what else?) Hauszmann Plan. The plan is grandiose and, in my opinion, unnecessary. Fueling it, I suspect, is Viktor Orbán’s megalomania.
Another more gentle article, “Budapest: From Rubble to Remarkable,” by Heather Hall on the tourist-oriented website ferretingoutthefun.com, is historical in tone. Hall notes that Budapest (originally twin cities, Buda and Pest, straddling the Danube and joined under the Hapsburg administration in 1873) was largely destroyed in the war but has been rebuilt to such a degree that one might never guess. Hall writes:
Like much of Eastern Europe, Budapest took a beating during World War II. Bombs rained down like a proliferation of hailstones and left smoldering piles of rubble in their wake. Then, in a final act of desperation, German troops blew up the city’s bridges during their retreat from the advancing Soviet army. By war’s end, a staggering 75 percent of Budapest lay in ruins.
Walking around Budapest today, it’s difficult to believe that so much of it is newly built. The Hungarians have slowly and painstakingly reconstructed their beloved city, from the Hapsburg palace atop a Buda hill to the iconic domed Parliament building standing proudly on the Pest side of the Danube. Looking at photos of the destruction, I am astounded at the transformation. Budapest has truly risen like a phoenix from the ashes. The city’s rebirth is made even more amazing given the fact that the Soviets took over Hungary after the war and tried to impose communism on the reluctant population.
After forty years of Soviet rule, Budapest could be chock-full of squat grey concrete structures but, mercifully, it is not.
Hall’s article contains lots of lovely photos of Budapest today. Please read the whole thing.
Returning to the riding hall, I support its reconstruction regardless of the politics that drive it. Any society after such a massive interruption of its society and its culture should be striving for reconstruction. Hall does not reveal whether the city’s reconstruction was initiated under the communist regime – presumably after the Hungarian popular revolt in 1956 – or after the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s. Either way, when the strides taken by Budapest to rebuild after World War II are considered, the excellent idea here in America of rebuilding Pennsylvania Station in New York City seems positively quaint by comparison. As described by Hall, the work in Budapest seems well beyond the extensive rebuilding in such places as Warsaw, Berlin and Dresden, of which I am much more familiar.
I expect to visit Hungary someday. I am a quarter Hungarian and my wife, Victoria, is 100 percent Hungarian. Her parents fled Hungary together in the back of a truck after the failure of the revolt and, after a few years in Canada, ended up as welcome emigrés to America, first in Houston, where Victoria was born, and then in Providence. Whatever one may think of Orbán and his policies, his continuation of Budapest’s reconstruction is unassailable. It is constantly resisted by modernists whose worldwide architectural train wreck is shamed by every stone used in any reconstruction, wherever it takes place, be it in Budapest, Berlin, or New York City. Budapest is another example of a growing popular revolt against modern architecture and modern urbanism. Bravo, Hungary!
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David, Orban’s policies, like similar ones by the ruling party in Poland, certainly APPEAR to be appalling–without personal experience we must depend on news sources that may be biased, but, as always, when multiple sources from different perspectives report the same things one can be a bit more certain. Then there are the words and actions of the man himself and his supporters. But none of that matters in judging a work of architecture or restoration. It is because of the potential for misuse of cultural heritage for political advantage that those of us who have different values than Orban and his friends (including those in the US!) need to declare that a love of historical architecture and a wish to see contemporary and historic building in continuity rather than contrast is NOT a property of right-wing regimes or movements. I have been solidly left-of-center my entire adult life and most of my architecturally traditionalist colleagues are, too. The reconstruction of good historical buildings and monuments cannot be allowed to be solely an instrument of political propaganda. It must be a matter of cultural renewal and the building-up of a good city. We can say to Orban and others: “Reconstruction of lost beautiful buildings, and the design/construction of beautiful new ones in continuity with them is a noble objective. We commend you for supporting that, but we reject any suggestion that doing so is exclusively the property of any political party or group, as the defense and extension of our architectural heritage is the property of all people everywhere. As UNESCO has declared, the heritage of each is the heritage of all. Please keep that in mind!”
I agree with you on all of that, Steve, of course. But I am wary that there is considerable bias against Orban based on his support for blocking immigration, and his belief that a nation has a right, if not a duty, to take steps when its culture is under attack. As a person for a long time of the center-right, I see very much evidence from a very wide range of sources on a subject that I have observed closely that, whatever his flaws, Orban is being unfairly criticized in some regards, and that those who oppose him will use that opposition to block cultural reinforcements such as the castle and the riding hall.
I try to keep politics out of my blog, because at this time it is so likely to cause unanticipated consequences. And it is certainly true that new traditional architecture must not be permitted to fall into the hands of just one side, if it has not already done so, or to be used to make cases that have nothing to do with architecture. The article I linked to shows the same risk remains today. As you know, many on the left have long tarred all trad work on the basis of a dishonest association of trad with Hitler, a big lie that has, alas, been extremely effective. As for my own political views, they were shifted from the left to the right in the 1970s mainly by the criticism made in The New Republic of Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy. So you never can tell, eh?
He don’t really stop immigration, he just sold the most valuable buildings in Budapest to turkish and arab investors, to turn them into hotels. And it’s a bit ironic that you visit a hungarian city, but you pay for a non-hungarian company for a room. Especially a muslim one
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Hungary, and Budapest. Sadly, you clearly don’t see the events that are happening in the background. Our preservation of historical monuments and buildings was never so awful like today. In the past 8 years since the beginning of Orbán’s regime numerous old buildings and even protected buildings were demolished in favor to foreign investors. We lost last year the VIII. district’s (Palotanegyed) oldest building, probably was older than the National Museum of Hungary itself, it was built maybe in the 1830’s. And just because it wasn’t protected by the government, and because an investor want to build a modern house on the lot. Also in the past few months some buildings lost it’s protection because of the government. These buildings are the property of Orbán’s friends or family members. So usually these protections means a barrier for the investors.
Most of the Hungarians who truly love Budapest and it’s built heritage are not happy about the Lovarda at all, since the true 19th century and early 20th century built houses are disappearing in downtown. It’s only a 21th century concrete building, covered with 19th century styled decorations, has no purpose whatsoever.
I suggest you to Google “Corvin-Szigony projekt” a whole district has been disappeared.
Or I can send you links from recent how many buildings were demolished thanks to our government.
It saddens me, Greetings, to hear this. No doubt preservation and restoration cannot expect total success. There are compromises and mistakes, and perhaps Orban has allowed some idiot backers to take advantage, and maybe you are overly pessimistic in your analysis. No slight to you, but I hope so. On the other hand, you live there, and are in a better position to know. Things are so awful in so many places I want to hope the best for Budapest.
I am truly not pessimistic. The situation of our heritage never been this awful. It has happened a few months ago. Personally Orbán canceled the building’s protection, because he had a friend who needed the lot. And this happened in an UNESCO protected area – https://24.hu/kultura/2018/10/30/ujabb-vedett-hazat-bontottak-le-a-belvaros-sziveben/
This one happened 3 years ago. They just demolished 1 house inbetween the other 2 old – Ukrainian investors gonna build the new apartment – https://index.hu/urbanista/2016/04/05/elpusztitottak_egy_gyonyoru_klasszicista-romantikus_utcakepet_ferencvarosban/
Also, we are now going to lose the Vörösmarty tér as well. The government now planning to reconstruct the whole square, meaning the original 19th century railing is gonna be destroyed, and the square itself as well. https://imgur.com/a/55Ecg9T
Beautiful detail. Lovely
My mother in law was Czech but spent the last two years of the war in Budapest. Unfortunately she did not get back to see Budapest (or Prague for that matter) until 1993. My goodness, both cities had changed a lot!
I think Orbán’s politics are appalling, but he is right about one thing – Budapest SHOULD be the centre of a growing popular revolt against modern architecture and modern urbanism.
Not sure I’d call Orban’s politics appalling, don’t know well enough what I read is true or spin by his opponents internally and externally. I do think the EU’s steps taken against Hungary are appalling. Thankfully, he and the EU are pushing Budapest’s revival, so I can’t be too angry at either.