Budapest is one of those cities that seems to leave a mark on everyone who visits it. A place you would never get bored of, no matter how many times you go. There is always something left to see, something that will draw you back, like a beautiful woman who winks at you right before she turns the corner. If you fell in love with this alluring city and want to know more about it, here are 10 things you may not know about Budapest:
The city of Budapest has been officially created on 17th November 1873 by the merger of the neighboring cities of Pest, Buda and Óbuda. The unification was an extremely important historic event that lead to a rapid development of the city, but naming the new capital created a lot of controversy. Some of the names suggested included Hunvár, Etelvár, or Honderű, but in the end Budapest won, becoming thus the official name of the Hungarian capital.
Budapest’s blend of old and modern makes the city an architectural delight. What you may notice when you first look at Budapest’s downtown is that all buildings seem to stand at about the same height. Except for two. Szent Istvan Basilica and the Hungarian Parliament, which both measure exactly 96 meters.
As it appears, no building in Budapest can be taller than 96 meters. The number 96 represents the year when the Magyars settled in the area (896). The fact that Szent Istvan Basilica and the Hungarian Parliament are the same height is not coincidental, but rather symbolic for the equal importance of religion and government in Hungary.
If you ever visited a synagogue you probably noticed they are generally quite simple and austere places of worship. But not the Great Synagogue in Budapest. This Jewish temple that stands tall and majestic on Dohány Street features one of the largest and most impressive cathedral naves that I have ever seen. No wonder it is considered the most beautiful synagogue in all of Europe.
Erected between 1854 and 1859, the Great Jewish Synagogue seats 3000 people and is considered the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest one in the world (after Belz Great Synagogue, in Jerusalem).
There is only one metro system in the world that has been designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and that is the Budapest Millennium Underground. The line was opened in 1896, making it the oldest metro line of continental Europe and the second oldest in the world, after the London Underground. 1896 was the year when Hungary celebrated its 1000th anniversary, hence the name Millennium Underground. The line is still operational today (M1) connecting the Heroes’ Square and Vörösmarty Square.
Hungarian citizens as well as citizens of other states of the European Union over the age of 65 can travel free of charge on BKV Budapest public transport services. When required by inspectors they have to present a personal identification card or document certifying their age and citizenship. The service includes buses, trolleybuses, trams, Metro and above-ground suburban trains. The funicular, chair-lifts and boat trips are not included.
Beneath the city of Budapest lies a hidden subterranean world: a maze of over 200 caverns created by the large number of geothermal springs in the area. Many of these caves are open to the public for guided spelunking adventures. But right beneath the Castle Hill there is an underground labyrinth that has a much more tumultuous history. The Budavari Labirintus (which is about 6 mile long) served as a refuge for prehistoric men, as a cellar and a prison in medieval times, a bomb shelter and a military hospital during World War II, and a command post during the Cold War. In more recent times, the Labirintus has been turned into a museum that displays Budapest’s rich history. The original Labyrinth was ranked among the 7 underground wonders of the world.
In 2011 the Labyrinth was raided by the police and subsequently closed (for reasons that have never been officially disclosed.) After it reopened only a part of it was accessible for visitation. We were lucky enough to visit the Budavari Labirintus in 2004 (the photos above have been taken during that visit).
The unique piece of art in Budapest’s City Park depicting a 13th century chronicler seems to have some miraculous powers. The legend has it that touching the pen of the Anonymus will bless you with great writing abilities (maybe I should have touched it before starting my blog!) You may not believe in its magical powers, but the shiny surface of the pen suggests that many people still do.
Hungary has an incredible abundance of underground hot water sources, so there is no surprise that Budapest is considered the thermal bath capital of the world. There are dozens of spas and baths in the Hungarian capital, some of which are housed in magnificent buildings (Szechenyi Baths, Gellert Baths, Kiraly Baths). The chemical composition of the waters differs from bath to bath and is absolutely unique in the world.
Did you know Budapest has a train that is run almost entirely by children? The Children’s Railway was started after World War II as a training ground for communist kids after a model introduced in the former Soviet Union in the 1940’s. School children between the ages of 10 and 14 complete a four-month training course to become train conductors, workers and inspectors on the 11 kilometre railway.
Except for the station master and the drivers who are adults, all the other jobs are performed by children who take their role very seriously. The ride is about 45 minutes long and takes you to the top of the Buda Hills. There are some beautiful spots where you can stop to admire the scenery. Buying a day ticket gives you the option to hop off and hop back on at one of nine alpine-looking stations.
Few of the visitors of Budapest know of the little church in the rock under the Gellert Hill of Budapest. With so many other grandiose churches to visit in the Hungarian capital, it’s no wonder that Sziklatemplom (‘Rock Church’) gets overlooked. If you happen to be at the Liberty Bridge (the green metal one), you can take a look at this strange chapel founded by a a group of Pauline monks in 1926.The Cave Church (which is still in use) is not spectacular, but it has its own charm. Definitely off the beaten path, but worth a half an hour detour.
This is a post for The Weekly Postcard Blog Link-up