The History of Buda Castle after 1686

Life Reviving amidst the Ruins

Gyula Benczúr Gyula: The recapture of the Buda Castle, 1896 - detailExactly 145 years after the first kutbe - an official Turkish prayer on Friday - was heard in King Matthias's church, on the 2nd of September 1686 a Christian banner was again waving over Buda.

A few weeks after the withdrawal of the troops government officials and craftsmen arrived in Buda to reconstruct the walls and build accommodation for the 4,000 strong garrison left in the town. The only building materials to be found on the site were stones. Wood was brought from the Carpathians, roof tiles, nails, bands and even the locks of the town gates were brought from Vienna. Officers and officials occupied the most useable buildings. The staff and simple craftsmen utilised the cellars to shelter from the first winter, or they made some rooms in the ruined houses useable by patching the holes with planks. They usually cooked in the open air.

Jean-Baptiste Martin: Looting in the occupied Buda Castle, 1686 - chalk drawing

The revitalization of the town became the task of the royal chamber, which sought to establish offices here. In this all but deserted settlement the building plots were distributed free or sold at very low prices, although the buyers were obliged to develop them. The abundance of useable building materials from the ruins made the task of the new owners easier, and they managed to rebuild the town in two decades. Nevertheless a visitor in the 1760's would still be able to see various ruins from the time of the siege.

After Charles Herbel: The triumphal march of Charles of Lotharingia at the recapture of Buda, 1694During the reconstruction the castle preserved the structure of a medieval settlement in its main features. The network of streets and plots barely changed. The number of building plots decreased from 388 to 290 owing to plot mergings. A significant development was the forming of the bastion Lane on the western side. Earlier a row of houses leant on the top of the town wall, but in reconstructed Buda this typical medieval way of building can only be seen in the section between the Halászbástya (Fishermen's Bastion) and the Víziváros Kapu. In many places crossroads were enlarged into squares: Szentháromság tér (Holy Trinity Square) and Szent György tér (Saint George's Square) were formed then. Many small dead-end streets were closed. During the formation of the building blocks of religious orders, several smaller building plots were merged and the remains of medieval houses were demolished so that enormous churches and convents could be erected on the sites, all of which changed the townscape significantly.

Franz Ambrose Dietell: Trinity Column in Buda, 1714The reconstruction of town walls and bastions was considered an urgent issue, and their medieval structure was preserved. The complete reconstruction of the fortress took decades, the biggest rondellas only being completed in the middle of the 18th century. Since the settlement preserved the features of a fortress, several military buildings were erected: barracks, storehouses for food, army warehouses and a military hospital. Many of these could be found in the town, especially in Szent György tér: the headquarters of the garrison, the weapon warehouse, the canon arsenal and several barracks stood here, and from 1786 the Hungarian general headquarters of the army was set up here, too.

Being a civilian town, the royal palace was rebuilt relatively late. The ruined walls were demolished only three decades later, and the first building of the new palace complex was erected half a century after the liberation of the town, in 1735.

Fire In Buda, 1723 - work by an unknown masterThe revival of the town was interrupted, and sometimes even set back by numerous catastrophes. In 1691, for example, the army returning from the Balkans spread an epidemic of plague in Buda, which continued to claim lives for many years. The first column of pledge, the Holy Trinity Column (Szentháromság-oszlop) was erected in the memory of the plague in front of the Church of Our Lady in 1706. At that time the square was called Bei den Saulen (at the column). In 1723 the town was overcome by another terror when one of the houses at the Bécsi kapu (Viennese Gate) caught fire on Easter Sunday. The fire spread rapidly in the strong winds and consumed the western part of the town within an hour. Therefore this part of town had to be rebuilt. The fire caused a gunpowder explosion, which destroyed the Fehérvári Kapu, as well as several buildings in Szent György tér.

The Citizens of Buda

Alexander Glässer: View of Buda, middle of the 18th centuryThere were almost no civilians in Buda after its liberation from Turkish occupation, apart from a few Serb families from Viziváros, who returned to their houses and vineyards after the siege. In order for the town to revive a large-scale settlement of people was required. According to the Royal Military Council "it would be best to settle Germans and Catholics in the upper town [that is the Castle], and a mixture of Hungarians and Raczs (that is Serbs) in the lower town [Víziváros].

New settlers came at once to the town and its environs from both other parts of Hungary and abroad. The wealthier chose Buda - and not Pest - as their place to live. The advantages of the old capital were that it was well protected and it became the seat of the chamber administration. The reconstruction of the castle provided jobs for craftsmen, and after a relatively short period of time the famous vineyards offered a secure living for the new settlers. Based on a study of their names it can be ascertained that the majority of the settlers were Germans from the Austrian provinces, the German empire and the western counties of Hungary. Many people came to Buda and Pest from Vienna and Lower-Austria.

Peasants working in the wine-yard - detail of Schoffer's veduta representing Pest

In the first third of the 18th century the number of residents in the castle was stagnating, (the whole population of Buda was some 13,000-16,000, and it was considered the biggest Hungarian town). In the 19th century sources mention 5,000 residents, and this number did not increase at a later date either, since it was impossible to expand within the confines of the town walls.

Johann Christian Leopold: View of Buda and Pest, middle of the 18th century

In regard to the professions of the residents the most urban part of Buda was the castle and Viziváros. In the 18th century the most numerous group was that of the craftsmen, although their number decreased significantly during the century. The ratio of the people working in the catering industry was also relatively high, but in the course of the century the tradesmen left the part of the town where business was poor. From the 1780s, however, after the government authorities had moved to Buda, the number of aristocrats, officials and intellectuals increased considerably.

The population of Buda was composed of citizens, individuals under urban protection (so- called protected citizens) and residents without rights. Admission to citizenship had to be requested from the city council. If the council decided that the applicant enjoyed the required level of wealth and income - that is he owned an estate or he was a craftsman in a guild - the applicant could then take the citizens' oath after paying the so-called citizen fee. Since only Catholics were accepted as citizens, the numerous orthodox Serbs living in the suburbs could only become protected citizens, even if they were wealthy. The majority of the population consisted of residents with no civil rights.

Binder: Pest and Buda in the chart of guild of the brewers in Pest, second half of the 18th century

During the 19th century the ethnic composition of the town changed significantly - owing to the fast expansion of Buda and Pest. At the beginning of the century two thirds of the residents of Pest were probably German, and in Buda this ratio was even higher. According to the first official ethnic statistics in 1851 69 % of the residents of Buda considered themselves as being German. In the castle with their 42 % ratio they became a minority, the main reason for this being the settlement of Hungarian officials working in the local government offices.

The Free Royal Town

János Binder Fülöp: Saint Stephen offers Hungary to the Virgin Mary, with Buda in the background, 1763In 1686 the first owner of the reviving town was the army represented by the captain of the fortress. After the army the civil authorities also appeared: the Buda chamber administration declared that every estate of the newly conquered town and their income was the property of the treasury, and the director of the chamber became the administrative and executive authority of the town. Soon a third party appeared on the stage: the citizens of Buda, who wanted to administer their affairs themselves.

The representatives of Buda and the simultaneously reviving Pest were already invited to the Diet of 1687. The new mayor representing Buda learned there what significant economic and juristic conditions medieval Buda benefited from and what favourable circumstances the regaining of the old privilege would bring to its development. In the same year they petitioned the ruler to give back the old privilege of being a free royal town. The chamber, however, was unwilling to give back the territory - especially since it hoped for promising incomes. With this a long struggle commenced to regain medieval rights, and this was fought hand in hand by Buda and Pest.

The Empire, which had incurred great debts during the war against the Turks, now found itself involved in the Spanish war of succession. Because of the war the country was literally robbed (in fact this was the immediate cause of the Rákóczi War of Independence, which broke out in 1703). Nor was Buda spared the crushing taxation. An audit by the chamber in 1701 found only 50 pennies in the treasury. The country was in difficulties, and this opened up the opportunity for liberation. Buda, Pest, Székesfehérvár and Esztergom made an agreement with the chamber in the spring of 1703 to pay 20,000 forints as "weapon redemption" in return for their privileges. Buda paid the greater part of this money, i.e. 8,600 forints. King Leopold I signed the letter of privilege on the 23rd of October 1703.

Leopold IThe magistrate performed the everyday tasks of administration, jurisdiction and economy, with the mayor and town judge in charge. The counsellors were helped by a growing number of special offices: the chancellery provided legal expertise, and the chamber office managed the incomes of the town, which was supervised by the audit office. In the course of time the recording of land registers, orphans and tax collection, which was carried out by a single counsellor, became a separate office. The concentration of executive duties in the office of town captain took place relatively late, in the 1780s. A growing number of professionals and trades people served the town: doctors, midwives, hospital wardens, watchmen, night guards, teachers, musicians and, of course, hangmen.

The activity of the magistrate, and especially the economy, was supervised by the communitas. It had two boards: an external council of 24 members and the council of voting citizens (consisting of the representatives of guilds and the dignitaries of the town). So the management of the town was in the hands of 100-120 citizens, and the majority of residents had no influence.

In the 18th century Buda did not have a book of law similar to the one it had had in the Middle Ages. In legal practice they applied Roman, Austrian, German and Hungarian laws in a rather eclectic way.

Sámuel Mikovinyi - Andreas and Josef Schmutzer: The view of Buda in the 18th century, with the shield of Buda and Pest - 1737, detail

The Heyday of Religious Life

The representation of franciscans on an 18th century wall picture in the church of St Francis's wounds in Buda (Víziváros), Batthány squareIn the Middle Ages there were numerous religious buildings in Buda. During the Turkish occupation they became either Islamic mosques or djamis, or they were used for profane purposes. After the reoccupation of the town the various religious orders started to compete for these buildings and estates.

In the religious life of the town - until its dissolution in 1773 - the Jesuit order had the greatest influence. Their activities included converting people of different faiths, the founding of "pious associations" and the organization of various religious events. Among these the most spectacular ones were the processions. Besides the usual four annual processions of the Catholic Church a further nine were introduced, in which - apart from the religious and secular dignitaries of the town - the guilds marched corporately under their own flags. A very special procession was that of the 2nd of September, which was held in the honour of the reoccupation of Buda. During this they commemorated the liberators together with the people of Pest. Until the dissolution of the order, the privilege of teaching was the exclusive right of the Jesuits in Buda.

Franz Weiss: The Franciscan convent, then the building of the Council of the Royal Governor in the Castle - coloured lithographyThe Franciscans, who were driven out of the Church of Our Lady by the Jesuits, received the Church of Mary Magdalene at the end of Úri utca. They continued to build their convents on the neighbouring estates for nearly half a century. The Carmelites settling in the town was similarly slow. In 1693 they received the Church of Szent János near Szent György tér, which had been abandoned by the Jesuits. The Convent of Szent János was finished only in 1734.

The Clarissan Order of Sisters was the fourth to establish itself in the castle. They had a huge landed property. In 1714 eight sisters moved into the rented building from Pozsony. As they did not find any free estates, they bought their property between Úri utca and Országház utca, where they built their church and convent. The latter was completed when Joseph II dissolved the order.

The building of the former Carmelite convent, and that of the Várszínház, 1787In the 18th century the presence of religious orders endowed the castle with a religious character in regard to both its dwellers and the townscape. This faded in the time of enlightened absolute monarchy, especially after Joseph II's measures concerning religious policy. The Jesuit order - which was the most active in organising religious life and ran the most schools in the castle - was dissolved during the reign of Maria Theresa, in 1773. The other orders in the castle were only able to survive the Jesuits by a decade, since Joseph II dissolved all the religious orders in his country, except for those that dealt with education and nursing. Between 1782 and 1786 the orders in Buda shared the same fate. Their buildings were given over to the government offices that moved here from Bratislava. Out of the four churches only two - the Church of Our Lady and the Church of Mary Magdalene - were allowed to retain their original function. The church of the Carmelite order became a theatre (Várszínház) and their convent was turned into a casino, which wans't a place for gambling but rather a social club. The spire of the church of the Clarissans was demolished, and the interior was divided into levels for offices.
A minor change in the Catholic character of the castle came about in 1844 when the Lutheran congregation of Buda was formed. The Protestants first appeared when government offices were moved to the castle and Joseph II issued his Patent of Toleration, but Palatine Joseph's Protestant wives also played an important role in the strengthening of their positions. The first small Lutheran church was built in Szent György tér as Maria-Dorothy's "home chapel", which was replaced by the Lutheran church at Bécsi kapu tér at the end of the 19th century.

Procession of St Stephen's day at the Millennium

The Castle as a School Town

The letter of privilege of the University of Buda, 1780The Buda castle became a real school town in the 18th century. Educational institutions could be financed by a huge foundation established by the archbishop of Esztergom, Széchenyi George in 1687 so that the Jesuits could found an academic college, a seminary and an institute for training state officials in Buda. Secondary education started at the end of 1687, and the building of the college was completed by 1702 on the northern side of the Church of Our Lady (Nagyboldogasszony-templom). The building of the seminary and the secular institute was then started on the southern side of the church. Educational activities there began in 1712. The Academicum et Universitastis Collegium was officially opened in 1713, and primarily trained priests.

The school complex was at its biggest in the middle of the 18th century: in 1757 it had about 800 students - mostly from the country, and they were educated by some 40 Jesuit priests, the best representatives of Hungarian science. The increase in the number of students necessitated a bigger building: the new house of the academy was built in 1747 in Szentháromság tér, opposite the college. It was considered the most beautiful and best-equipped school in contemporary Hungary.

The placing of the University to Buda, silver memorial coin

Although the secondary school and the academy were put under the supervision of the state, they kept their Catholic character even after the Jesuit order had been dissolved in 1773. Following that the majority of the friars taught as secular priests.

The opening of the University of Buda - copper engravingFrom 1777 Buda became the centre of Hungarian education for a short period of time. That year the only university of Hungary - which was founded in 1635 by the archbishop of Esztergom, Péter Pázmány and was formerly located in Nagyszombat, a small town on the edge of the country - was moved to the capital. In 1635 founded the university. Although it was called "Royal University" it had a close relationship with the Catholic Church. The faculties of medicine, law and humanities, the main grammar school of Buda, the Theresa Academy, which provided training in law and philosophy, the library and the scientific collections were placed in the unused royal palace. The faculty of theology together with the seminary was housed in former Jesuit buildings in Szentháromság tér. As an external sign of the new function a four-storey observatory tower was built on top of the palace. (It was demolished in 1830.) 400-500 students attended the university in Buda. Although in 1780 the queen gave the palace to the university, it did not stay there long. As the government offices moved to Buda, they needed space, so in 1784 Joseph II moved the faculties to Pest, while he had the seminary and the Theresianum moved to Pozsony.

Junker K.: The Royal Palace as University at the end of the 18th century - copper engraving

A Capital City again

Maria Theresa with her crownsBy the beginning of the 18th century almost all the territory of Hungary had been liberated from Turkish occupation. The ruler had to face the tradition that his predecessors' residence had been in Buda. (During the 150 years when the central part of the country was under Turkish rule, Pozsony which was near the border and close to Vienna, became the capital of the remnants of the Hungarian Kingdom.) There was no chance for the Hungarian king, who came from the Habsburg dynasty and who - as a German-Roman emperor - was also the head of a great Central-European empire, to move to Buda from Vienna. Although the Hungarian estates made serious attempts at making Buda the royal residence again, in reality they would have been satisfied with Buda as a second capital, where the king would stay regularly. Maria Theresa wanted to fulfill this wish this when in 1749 she decreed that the construction of the royal palace be continued. The law, however, was not put into practice: during the 40 years of Maria Theresa's reign (1740-1780), she visited Buda only twice, for very short stays in 1751 and 1764.

The Buda Castle in the 18th century - engraving by Mansfeld

Several attempts were made to use the huge empty building. The queen first intended to give it away to her dearest daughter, Maria Christina and her husband, Albert, prince of Saxonia-Taschen, who was appointed governor. They, however, moved to Pozsony very quickly as the government office run by him, the Council of the Royal Governor was located there.

The Franciscan convent, later the building of the Council of the Royal Governor in the Buda CastleThe decade of Joseph II's rule (1780-1790) was a busy period in Buda: the ex-capital was close to gaining back its medieval privilege. The king centralised the government offices of his provinces in Buda, and in 1784 he relocated the administrative and financial government offices, the Council of the Royal Governor and the Royal Chamber, from Pozsony to the castle of Buda.

The placement of the offices did not cause any problems: they were placed in the huge building complexes of religious orders, which had been dissolved in 1782. The Council of the Royal Governor and the Supreme Court moved into the convents of the Franciscans and the Clarissans, which were next to each other in the block between Úri utca and Országház utca. The building of the 1790-1791 Parliament, No. 28 Országház streetThe National Archives were also housed here from 1787. The Chamber used the Jesuit buildings in the Szentháromság tér (these stood on both sides of Matthias Church), which were emptied after the university had moved to Pest. In the convent of the fourth religious order of Buda, the Carmelites, first a casino for officials was established, later the highest military authority of the country, the Headquarters of the High Command were moved there.

In spite of the centralisation of administration here, Buda could not deal with all the functions of a capital. Diets were still held in Pozsony, with only three short sessions convened in Buda: the representatives of the estates met in the diet building located within the building complex of the Council of the Royal Governor.

Baroque palaces in the Buda Castle, No. 58-60 Úri street

The Habsburgs in Buda

Palatine Archduke Alexander Leopold's portrait, end of 18th centuryAlthough the palace, which was enlarged during the reign of Maria Theresa, was always ready to receive the king, the ruler rarely visited Buda and even then only for short periods of time. The luxurious imperial suites were furnished from the Hofburg storehouses from Vienna in vein, as the residence towered over the town like an uninhabited island. The only time the king stayed here for an extended period was in 1809: Francis I, who had fled from Vienna to escape from Napoleon, spent a few months here.

The only place where life was to be found was in the in the southern wing of the palace, where the palatine lived from 1790. (The palatine was the second elected dignity after the king.) Until 1848 this important position was filled by three persons, all of them originating from the Habsburg family: Archduke Alexander Leopold between 1790-1795, his brother, Joseph from 1796 to 1847, and his son, Stephen were the heads of Hungarian administration and jurisdiction until September 1848. 

Miklós Barabás: Palatine Joseph, 1846From among the three palatines Joseph spent the longest time in Buda, and it was he who left his mark on the townscape. He made a special point out of turning Pest, which at the time was a small provincial town, into the political, economic and cultural centre of the country. He supported the founding of social institutions, economic enterprises and their development from official resources, and sometimes from his own pocket.

The residences of the palatine family were built in the southern wing of the palace. (The main wing was always kept for the ruler, but on special occasions the palatine could use the banquet halls.) Joseph's wife was chosen from the Russian ruling family. When Czar Paul's daughter, Alexandra Pavlovna arrived in Buda, the medieval residential town seemed to flourish again. The appearance of the czarina, who was used to great pomp and had a huge private income at her disposal, boosted cultural and social life: Haydn and Beethoven were guest musicians in Buda at that time. This lively court life did not last long: two years later, in 1801, Alexandra Pavlovna died while giving birth. She was only 19.

József Pollencig: The Palatine's reception in the ceremonial hall of the palace, 1795Archduke Joseph married for the second time in 1815 to Princess Hermina, Saxonian-Anhalt, who also died in childbirth two years later. His third wife, Maria-Dorothy was the princess of Würtemberg. They were married in 1819 and she survived her husband by eight years, dying in 1855. The Habsburg descendants from this marriage lived in Buda until 1945.

The latter two spouses of the palatine led a rather puritan royal household. The lifestyle of the palatine's family was no more ostentatious than that of a wealthy bourgeois family, the family successfully fulfilling the expectations of the Biedermeier age with their quiet family life.

Borovikovsky: Portrait of Alexandra Pavlovna, end of the 1790sBoth wives were generally respected in Pest-Buda because of their social sensitivity. In 1817, having seen the horrors of famine resulting from the previous year's poor harvest, 20-year old Hermina initiated and patronised the establishment of various social organizations. The third wife, Maria-Dorothy continued the activities of the founder, who died at a young age. Under her patronage an orphanage was established for abandoned children, a home for the poor, and a "volunteers work house" for the unemployed.

In the last decades of his 50 years of activities Palatine Joseph was highly respected in Hungary. When on 13th of January 1847 he died at the age of 71, the whole country mourned the "Hungarian archduke". He was buried in the palatine's crypt - which he had had built - under St Sigismund chapel, where his descendants continued to be buried until 1944.

After the 1848-1849 Hungarian War of Independence another Habsburg, Emperor Francis Joseph's nephew, Albrecht became the head of the Hungarian military and civil authorities. The archduke, empowered with the title of governor, arrived in Buda on 14th October 1851. As the palace was still under reconstruction after the siege, he located his court in the Sándor Palace, only moving to the rebuilt palatine's wing together with Archduchess Hildegard in 1856.

Anton Einsle: Portrait of Mária Dorottya, 1847Archduke Albrecht was the direct deputy of the emperor in Hungary, therefore he was entitled to princely pomp, and his income was determined accordingly. The strict Archduke was slow to give up his reserved attitude towards the rebellious Hungarian capital, but after a while he attended the theatre with his wife, and tried to attract the official and social elite to his house. Hildegard also tried to meet the demands associated with her position: taking the place of Palatine Joseph's wife, she took up the cause of charitable women's societies, and with her enthusiasm she won recognition and popularity among the people.

The Liturgical Centre of the Nation

The Holy Right, King St Stephen's hand relicsAlthough Buda Castle and Palace did not become a royal residence during the 18th century, in addition to being the venue for governmental functions it became the sacral centre of the Hungarian Kingdom because of the relics stored there: the Holy Right Hand and the Crown Jewels.

First, the Holy Right Hand - the preserved right hand of St Stephen, the founder of the state -, the most important Hungarian relic, was placed in St Sigismund Chapel in the Palace, in a spectacular ceremony on the 20th of July, 1771. Saved from the Turks, this relic was kept in Raguza, in Dalmatia (today Dubrovnik, Croatia) and Maria Theresa regained possession of it from there. She appointed the provost of Buda to take care of it and a separate elliptic building - St Stephen's chapel or the chapel of the Holy Right - was attached to St Sigismund chapel in the enclosed court of the northern wing. From then on Buda became the centre of the first Hungarian saint, St Stephen's cult. The highlight of this was the procession held on the name day of Stephen, the 20th of August, between the Sigismund Chapel and the Church of Our Lady. This day, officially first commemorated in 1818, was the most important Hungarian state holiday until 1944.

János Fülöp Binder: Memorial on the occasion of the arrival of the Holy Right to Buda, 1771The Holy Right Hand was removed from this location before the siege of Buda in 1944. Since the chapel, which was damaged in World War II, was not reconstructed, the relic was placed in Saint Stephen's Basilica in Pest.

From 1790 the second most important national treasure, the Holy Crown and the Crown Jewels were kept in the chapel of the Palace. Joseph II did not have himself crowned as king of Hungary because taking the coronation oath would have limited his power. He had these highly respected national symbols taken to Vienna as museum pieces. With the collapse of the absolutistic system of the "hatted king" the crown was brought back to Hungary in a triumphal march. It arrived in Buda on 24th of February 1790 - coinciding with the announcement of Joseph II's death. His descendant, Leopold II issued a decree, according to which the Crown had to be kept together with the sceptre, the orb, the sword, the cloak, the gloves, the stockings and the sandals.

From that time on the Crown Jewels were removed from the palace only for short periods of time: for the coronation in the autumn of 1790 and in 1830 when they were taken to Pozsony, and in times when war threatened. At the beginning of 1849 - during the Hungarian War of Independence - the Hungarian government took the jewels with them to Joseph Hillebrandt: The drawing of the chapel of the Holy Right, around 1778Debrecen, and after the defeat of the war of independence the fleeing Hungarian Prime Minister, Bertalan Szemere had them buried in Orsova, near the border of the Turkish Empire. The jewels, which were found four years later, were again ceremoniously returned to Buda. In the following decades they were displayed to the public on the occasion of the coronation of Francis Joseph in 1867 and on that of Charles IV in 1916, as well as on some special occasions (for example, at the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 1896).

The Holy CrownThe Crown Jewels were kept in the "Crown Chamber" above the chapel until 1900, at which time they were placed in a special safe-room made for this purpose in the western wing. The main symbol of the Hungarian state finally left the Castle in November 1944. They were removed in fear of the approaching Soviet troops, and initially taken to western Hungary, and then on to the territory of the Third Reich, from where the Americans took them. In 1978 - as a sign of international détente - the government of the United States of America gave the relics back to Hungary. From 2000 the Crown has been kept in the Houses of Parliament, and the rest of the Crown Jewels are displayed in the National Museum.

Transporting the Crown to Buda, 1790 - coloured engraving

Coronations in Buda

The coronation oath of Francis I in Buda, 1792 - coloured copper engravingIn modern times Buda was the venue for three coronations: in 1792 Francis I, in 1867 Francis Joseph and in 1916 Charles IV were crowned in the Castle. These celebrations were performed according to a strictly determined ritual, certain parts of which, however, could vary depending on the circumstances (the king's personal wishes, or the political situation), and certain scenes could also be changed.

The coronation of Francis I was set for the 6th of June 1792. The series of celebrations, however, had started four days prior to the king and his escort's participation. The ruler, at the head of a long procession of carriages entered the castle through the Bécsi kapu after the symbolic reception of the keys of the town. The young king and his wife were greeted by the council's respect, and a triumphal arch, music, a religious service, and in the evening ornamental floodlights were also part of the celebrations.

Francis I's coronation sword cut at the Franciscan convent in Buda - coloured copper engraving, 1792The dignitaries of the Hungarian estates gathered for the coronation in the Church of Mary Magdalene. According to tradition the Primate of Hungary, the Archbishop of Esztergom, József Batthyány led the ceremony with the assistance of the palatine, Alexander Leopold (who was the brother of the king). After the ceremony the king and his escort walked to the Matthias Church, where the king initiated soldiers ('vitéz') into the Order of Golden Spur. Heading the procession the master of chamber threw gold and silver coins, which had been minted in memory of the coronation, to the huge crowd. After these ceremonies the king rode to Víziváros to take the coronation oath on the platform in front of the church of the Capuchins and to perform the symbolic sword cuts towards the four cardinal points on the coronation hill set up near today's Margaret Bridge: these symbolised the fact that he would protect his country from its enemies.

The coronation of Francis Joseph in the Matthias Church, 1857On the 8th of June 1867 Francis Joseph was crowned in Buda and Pest according to traditions and in the course of an especially spectacular celebration. There was a desire to celebrate the reconciliation of the nation and the ruler with great pomp (Francis Joseph had already been the ruler from 1848, i.e. for two decades before the coronation.)

The celebrations lasted for a week, and commenced with the arrival of the royal couple. The scene of the preparations, i.e. symbolic acts between the ruler and the parliament - the exchange of documents, the invitation for the coronation -, was the throne room of the royal palace. The interior of Matthias Church was decorated with carpets, upholsters and flags, and a splendid throne was placed there. On the day of the coronation the political and religious elite of Hungary marched in the procession, which started from the palace. The king covered this short distance on horseback wearing the uniform of a Hungarian general. On both sides the dignitaries of Pest and Buda escorted him.

It was the Archbishop of Esztergom again, who performed the coronation ceremony in Matthias Church. At the most important point of the ceremony, the placing of the Holy Crown on the king's head, the Prime Minister, Count Gyula Andrássy, assisted the archbishop. After listening to Ferenc Liszt's Coronation Mass - written for this special occasion - the king walked to the garrison church, the Church of Mary Magdalene on a path covered with the cloth of the Hungarian Tricolour, to initiate soldiers ('vitéz') into the Order of Golden Spur while the mounted chancellor of the exchequer threw memorial coins to the crowd.

The coronation hill and the Buda Castle, 8 June, 1867After that the king and his escort proceeded on horseback along the Chain Bridge (Lánchíd) to the central church of Pest. On the platform of the church he took the king's oath in front of the members of Parliament. On Coronation Hill erected in front of the foot of Chain Bridge, in Pest Francis Joseph performed the four sword cuts on horseback. He sealed the great reconciliation by giving the 100,000 gold pieces, which he had received as a coronation present from Parliament, to disabled soldiers who had been injured in 1848-1849 and by declaring full amnesty for political prisoners.

Charles IV and Queen Zita in 1916, after the coronationFrancis Joseph's successor, the last Hungarian king, Charles IV was crowned on 30th of December 1916. As World War I was raging at the time the ceremony was not as pompous as in 1867, and it was limited to the area of the Castle for security reasons.

To the resounding sound of cannon fire and the ringing of bells the coronation procession marched from the royal palace to Matthias Church. The young king and his wife covered this short distance in a Rococo coach driven by eight white horses. The Archbishop of Esztergom again performed the ceremony, and was assisted by the Prime Minister, Count István Tisza. This time the new king initiated soldiers into the Order of Golden Spur at the very scene of the coronation, in Matthias Church. This otherwise protocol-like action was made rather dramatic by the presence of assembled disabled soldiers, some of whom were amputees, victims of the ongoing horrific war...

King Charles IV took the coronation oath on the platform erected in front of the church, next to the Szentháromság Statue (Holy Trinity Statue), after which he proceeded to Szent György tér on horseback to perform the traditional sword cuts on the hill.

Soldiers and other Armed Men

A Crown Guard aristocrat from county Heves, 1792After the Turkish occupation Buda was not exposed to any further threats until 1848. The castle, however, preserved its features of being a fortress during this long period of peace. This was officially brought to an end only in 1874. With the development of artillery the castle, surrounded by higher hills, lost its strategic importance, but because of the institutions located there it had a military character even in the 19th century. The Ferdinand barracks stood in today's Kapisztrán tér, and the József barracks stood in today's Táncsics utca. The military establishments were principally concentrated in Szent György tér. The Hungarian High Command operated in the former Carmelite convent, the building of the Main Guards looked onto Dísz tér, and there were two barracks in the place of Sándor Palace, which was built in 1806. To the south of this - in the place of today's northern wing of the palace - was the huge building of the storehouse of weapons (Zeughaus). On the western edge of the square stood the army post of artillerymen and the cannon arsenal, the cannons of which - fortunately - had only been used for ceremonial salutations for 150 years.

Johann Vinzenz Reim: The Buda Arsenal - pencil drawing

The guards standing in front of military objects, the changing of the guards, the troops marching out and the performance of the army bands at celebrations and balls - in the 18th and 19th century - were all part of everyday life in the Castle. The officers, who were stationed here for longer periods of time, were welcome members of the high society, and many of them settled in Buda when they retired.

The war song of the National Guards of Buda, 30 March, 1848Sometimes, however, not only soldiers but also civilians could be seen in uniform with weapons in their hands. As it was usual in modern towns, the shooting society was one of the oldest organisations in Buda. In cases of emergency citizens had to take part personally in the defence of the town and target shooting prepared men for this. The Civil Shooting Society of Buda, which constituted the basis of the town's self defence, was formed in 1696, at the time of the reorganisation of the local government.

Being a member of the shooting society was a social position and the aristocrats living in the castle often visited the shooting field. Shooting competitions were considered as social events. Besides the army the shooters also marched out with their own band and stood in ceremonial lines on the occasions of big religious celebrations and visits of the ruler.

When in 1789, during the last Turkish war, the army stationed in Pest-Buda left for the battlefield in the south, the militia was reorganised from the members of the shooting society. The "guard troop" soon needed their own uniforms. In 1790 when the Holy Crown was brought to Buda nine uniformed companies marched in the celebration. In the years of the long French wars the task of this guard troop was not only to take part in parades but also to fulfil the public security duties of the garrison.

The march of the Crown Guards, 20 August, 1941Besides the regular army stationed in the castle and the armed bodies of civilians, special armed corporations also operated in the castle for some time. Out of these various bodies the Crown Guard existed for the longest period of time, from 1790 to 1944. It was formed on the occasion of the moving of the Holy Crown, the most important symbol of the state, to Buda. Their presence lasted till the autumn of 1944 - intermittently. One of their duties was to guard the emblems of the state in the grenadiers' uniform (in bearskin hats, white tailcoats and light blue, tight Hungarian trousers.)

Between the two world wars, in the time of the "kingless kingdom" the guards of the government, or in their official name the Royal Hungarian Guards, provided security and performed ceremonial functions in the residence of the head of the state Miklós Horthy, befitting the prestige of the building. Armed guards watched over the royal governor and his family and offices, while representation was the task of the halberdier troop. On holidays the military band accompanied the ceremonial changing of the guard and this was a spectacle for tourists.

The guarding of the palace and the governor became really important at the end of World War II, in 1944. On the 19th of March 1944, during the country's occupation, the reinforced guards prevented German troops from taking over the Palace. On the 15th of October, after Horthy's unsuccessful attempt to pull out of the war, the guards fought a small battle with the occupying armed German troops and Hungarian Nazi groups.

Craftsmen, Vine Growers and Tradesmen

The sign of the Buda Carpenter guildQuite a large number of craftsmen had settled in Buda, so many different trades were taken on in the years after the liberation. During the 18th century both the number of craftsmen and the diversity of trades increased. Most of the tradesmen were engaged in industries which satisfied everyday demands (producing clothing, food and the building industry), but there were goldsmiths, smiths, book binders, duvet makers, engravers, bell casters, comb makers, and even firework makers.

The cloth-makers (tailors, hat makers, shoemakers and cobblers), the bakers, the metal workers and fishermen formed their own organisations to protect their interests. At least four wealthy craftsmen - able to bear the high cost of the setting up of the organisations - had to enter into partnership in order to establish a guild. In the first decades the guilds played a rather positive role, which helped to strengthen industry. In the second half of the 18th century, however, they hindered further development.

The chart of a Buda guild, 1764The inflexibility and privileged separation of the guilds led to their increasing inability to satisfy the demands of a growing population. The state therefore tried to limit the monopolies of the guilds with measures taken between 1760 and 1780, which led to an increase in the numbers of guild masters in Pest and Buda at the end of the century. But this did not concern the population of the castle, since this enclosed area was not suitable for industrial development. As the character of the castle quarter started to change with the settlement of government offices, the craftsmen's workshops were gradually pushed out. The houses of masters were bought and rebuilt by noblemen, office holders and wealthy citizens, and on the sites they built their own palaces in baroque or neoclassical style.

The box of the guild of locksmiths of BudaBoth the old and new dwellers wanted to own a vineyard in the neighbouring hills since wine production was the most important activity in the area near Buda - although there were some plough-lands, fields and grazing grounds as well. All the craftsmen and traders of the town tried to acquire a vineyard, as did the state officials, officers and churchmen and church organizations. For most of them the vineyard was not the basis of their income. It was rather an extra income, which increased the social prestige of the owner. During the 18th century wealthy citizens obtained bigger vineyards. They usually had the vineyards cultivated by the Serb day labours and hoers, who lived in the suburbs, in the Tabán.

The red wines of Buda were famous throughout the country in the 18th-19th centuries. Sometimes they were exported to far away countries, such as Holland and England, thanks to some enterprising merchants. The Buda wine culture, which had spanned many centuries, was very quickly wiped out in the second half of the 1880's. The cause of its destruction, a phylloxera originating in America, almost totally destroyed the traditional Hungarian wine-districts during these years. Though a fraction of the vineyards was replanted in the following centuries, these also disappeared after World War I, and new affluent suburbs were built in their places.

Crowd in the fair, 1859

Until the middle of the 19th century goods were not sold in permanently set up shops, but rather at the weekly markets and national fairs. The weekly fairs - which in the first place provided food - began when people first settled in Buda. The town was granted permission to hold national fairs 10 years after the liberation: four such fairs were held - one at Epiphany (January 6), one on St Adalbert's day (April 23), one on St Margaret's day (July 13) and one on St Michael's day (September 29). To develop trade in 1698 the town obtained permission for its citizens to transport their goods duty free.

In the 18th century most of the trade of Pest-Buda was in the hands of Balkan tradesmen, who made Pest the commercial centre of the country. In Buda the orthodox tradesmen were only allowed to settle in the suburb below the castle, in the Tabán. They and the Jewish merchants of Óbuda were the great competitors of the corporate tradesmen, but the decrease in the importance of trade in Buda can be attributed to Pest becoming a commercial centre. In the second half of the 18th century the trade of the Buda fairs became quite insignificant.

Trampling of grapes in the side of Gellért hill - coloured lithography

The Castle for Visitors

The yard of the former Red Hedgehog RestaurantAlthough strangers did not go shopping to the castle, they often went there as visitors, since the headquarters of the army, the town and government offices, county council, churches and schools were situated there. The entertainment of guests has old and rich traditions here.

The oldest place for accommodation was the Vörös Sün Inn (Inn of the Red Hedgehog), which is cited in sources from 1696. Even balls were held in the banqueting hall of the inn, and actors on the move, who were visiting Buda from the 1760s, put on their performances here. When Joseph II moved the government offices from Pozsony to Buda the Vörös Sün proved to be insufficient for the larger number of guests. So the town bought the Fortuna House in 1784, which became the best, and most famous inn of Buda. Dignitaries also stayed here. One of its attractions was a beautiful view: its garden was called the Panorama. The inn had comfortably furnished rooms and a cafeteria, which already had a billiards table as early as 1792, also attracted the visitors.

The Red Hedgehog signboard on the wall of No. 3 Hess András (Ince pápa) square, 1938In the middle of the 18th century it was not primarily inns that were conspicuous to visitors, but rather the large number of pubs. As can be read in a description of the town: "every house owner and every vineyard owner had the right to open a wine bar. If somebody was not able to sell their wine in barrels, they rarely missed the chance to open a tavern and hang the green branch in front of the door."

"More sober" catering establishments also soon appeared. The first confectioner's opened at Szentháromság tér around 1740. The most successful enterprise proved to be the one that opened in Szentháromság utca in 1827. After several changes of ownership it came into the possession of Vilmos Ruszwurm in 1884, and under his name became the oldest permanently working confectioner's in Hungary.

No. 4 Fortuna street, around 1940The catering trade of the castle boomed in the 19th century. The employees and clients of government offices and the citizens of Budapest, who came here to enjoy the relaxed and archaic atmosphere, were able to enjoy numerous restaurants of a high standard. The White Dove, which opened in 1856, was famous for its excellent kitchen. The Baumann restaurant in Fortuna utca, the Black Raven restaurant in Országház utca and the Tárnok Cafeteria in Tárnok utca were also quite popular. The memory of the Hackle Brasserie, which opened in the 1860s, is preserved in a street name: the name of its owner was translated, and became the eponym of Balta Lane.

The inside of the Ruszwurm confectioner'sThe most elegant places of Buda's social life were the casinos. There were two casinos in operation in the castle. The old casinos - in contrast with their names - were not gambling institutions, but the clubs of high society. The first one opened at the end of 1787 in the former Carmelite Convent next to the Várszínház. A big gaming room with card tables, chess sets, board games, two billiard rooms and a restaurant - with a terrace in the summer - received illustrious guests, who were entertained by musicians, while on Sundays there were dances.

The casino, which was closed down a few years later, revived after half a century, in 1841. From 1827 Count István Széchenyi had brought the institution into vogue, to encourage rapprochement between intellectuals and the elite by virtue of their birth and wealth. The Buda casino rented the Marczibányi house on the northern edge of Dísz tér. The casino subscribed to all the Hungarian political newspapers and housed a small library. Its halls were open all day and the restaurateur was at the members' disposal from breakfast to dinner. Naturally it also had some game rooms. The casino was exclusively for men at night, although as recompense concerts and balls were sometimes held for the families (wives and children).

Porcelain saucer with the view of Pest-Buda

The Revolution of 1848 and the Siege of 1849

Windischgrätz marches from Buda to Pest, 1849The castle was one of the most important scenes of the Hungarian War of Independence on the 15th of March 1848, although this was not thanks to its own citizens. The crowd demanding civil rights and national autonomy marched from Pest - where the demonstration began - to the government offices. They wanted the Council of the Royal Governor to immediately satisfy their two demands: to abolish censorship of the press and to release the political prisoners. As the frightened government agreed to fulfil the demands, the unarmed crowd left the castle in a triumphal march, taking with them the only prisoner of the József barracks, Mihály Táncsics - who had been imprisoned because of his seditious books.

The revolution was a bloodless success, and the demands for social reform and for national autonomy were satisfied. Modern parliamentary system was established in Hungary. The castle retained its role as the centre of government in the new system. Ministries led by the most important Hungarian politicians of the 19th century were moved to sites previously occupied by the Council of the Royal Governor and the Royal Chamber. Lajos Kossuth's Ministry of Finance, Ferenc Deák's Ministry of Justice and József Eötvös's Ministries of Religion and Education operated in the castle.

Rohn Alajos: The bombing of Pest from the Castle - coloured lithpgraphy, 1849However, from the autumn of 1848 the fruits of the revolution had to be protected by force of arms from the Viennese court, which sought to undermine them. The war went on with alternating success. Initially the imperial forces gained the upper hand: in the first days of 1849 the Hungarian government and parliament were forced to leave the capital. Imperial forces marched into Buda.

When a turn for the better came, in May 1849, a successful Hungarian offensive made the recapture of Buda possible. When the Hungarian army approached from the east, the imperial forces, fearing encirclement, evacuated Pest at the end of April. But in Buda, the guards of the castle, under the command of General Heinrich Hentzi, decided to defend the castle to the very last.

Political reasons, rather than military ones led to the recapture of the fortress, which in itself was not significant from a military point of view. The government believed that the recapture of the capital was the precondition of the acceptance of the sovereign Hungarian state in Europe.

Károly Jakobey: The capture of the Buda Castle, 21 May, 1849 - oil painting 1875When the troops arrived it turned out that the castle had been fortified in every possible place during the previous months, and it had been stocked with strategic arms and food, while its commander, Major General Hentzi planned to defend it with his army of 4,700 Italian, Croatian and Polish soldiers. Laying siege to the undamaged castle would have been a pointless task, so plans were made to continually fire on the Castle from the neighbouring hills. Until the 16th of May, when their heavy cannons were due to arrive, the besiegers planned to wear down the defenders' resistance with continuous cannon fire, diversionary night attacks and the burning of some buildings in the castle (the majority of the royal palace was destroyed by fire).

Mór Than: The Capture of Buda, the taking of the first rondellaOn the 16th of May the heavy cannons positioned on Naphegy (Sun Hill) started to create a gap in the castle wall, south of the Fehérvári Gate. When the gap was wide enough to pass through, on the 21st of May at 3 a.m. a general attack was launched from every direction. Despite the desperate efforts of the defenders, the Hungarian army was unstoppable and by 7 o'clock Hungarian flags were flying on every bastion. Some 4,000 defenders were taken prisoner. Among the dead were Major General Hentzi, who had been shot, and Colonel Allnoch, who blew himself up with the mines placed on the Chain Bridge (this only inflicted minor damage to the bridge).

The parade held on the second day after the victory was performed in front of the ruins. The whole roof of the palace had burnt down, the palatine's residences in the southern wing were burnt out, and the outhouses (stables, coach-houses, and the guards' building) on the western side of Szent György tér lay in ruins. But the greatest loss was the 17 officers and 351 common soldiers, who were buried on the same day in the cemetery of the Tabán.

Fischer: The death of Hentzi, 1849

Happy Peaceful Times

Jakab Warschág: The Ferdinánd (Tabáni) Gates in BudaFrom the end of the 18th century until the middle of the 20th century - except for the one and a half years of the 1848-1849 Hungarian War of Independence - the castle quarter was an island of invariability and tranquillity, at least in the quickly developing, growing and modern Budapest. Pest, which became a commercial and industrial centre, was quickly beginning to outshine the old capital, both in the number of burghers and intellectuals.

The two towns were united in 1873, although Buda was considered more distinguished, and has kept its old-fashioned prestige until even today. After the Compromise of 1867 the castle housed the Prime Minister instead of the palatine, and the important ministries instead of the Council of the Royal Governor. The headquarters of the army remained here, and the head of the Catholic Church also had his palace here. Others, who converted the modest houses into palaces, followed the aristocratic families who moved here in the 18th century.

The Matthias Church in the second half of the 19th centuryThe castle was still surrounded by walls, which had four gates in them. Before the Chain Bridge was built the people of Pest generally used the southern New or Ferdinand Kapu, because these gates were closest to the floating bridge, which connected the two banks. In the 1850s the Albrecht (today Hunyadi János) Road, which started from the Chain Bridge, and the Vízikapu (Watergate) became the busiest gate. From 1874 the gates have had only architectural value since the castle officially ceased to be a military fortress. After the Újkapu (New Gates) had been walled up in the 1850s the gates were demolished in turn by the end of the century (the Bécsi kapu was rebuilt for tourists in 1936).

Országház street and its dwellers in the Buda Castle, around 1890At the beginning of the 19th century the castle had about 5,000 inhabitants. This number did not change much because space was limited, and so expansion was impossible. The quarter, which was surrounded by walls and difficult to reach and quite withdrawn in winter, lived its own, self-sufficient life. There were several shops and it needed a bigger market before it joined the circulation of the town through the modern means of transport (the Budavár Funicular, later also buses). Isolation was rather strong before the Chain Bridge was built: the floating bridge was dismantled for the winter and the ice drift cut Buda from the noisier and more cheerful Pest for months.

The Fishermen's bastion of Frigyes SchulekOf course, things did not come to a total standstill. As in all the previous ages, this one also left its architectural mark on the quarter. In the first half of the century houses were built or rebuilt in the neoclassic style, and at the end of the century in the eclectic style. The big size of newly constructed public buildings, such as the National Archives and the Ministry of Finance deteriorated the provincial atmosphere of the town. Sometimes eight or even ten old, valuable houses were destroyed on the construction sites. Luckily this process stopped between the two World Wars.

The reconstruction undertaken in the 19th century concerned only Matthias Church and its environs. The dilapidated building was reconstructed by the architect Frigyes Schulek, according to purist conservation methods of his age, in neo-gothic style. The surrounding buildings were also similarly adjusted. The church, the eclectic Halászbástya (Fishermen's Bastion) and St Stephen's Statue soon became symbols of the whole town.

Francis Joseph I in the Castle Garden, beginning of the 20th century

Between the two World Wars

The reception of Italian King Victor Emanuel III in the Castle Garden, 21 May, 1937After the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy in 1918 Buda castle became the centre of Hungarian government administration.

Between the two World Wars the government offices primarily determined the character of the castle quarter. The apartments and offices of the head of the state, the governor of the "kingless kingdom" and the eponym of the era, Miklós Horthy, were located in the castle from the 1st of April 1920. When Horthy moved in, the palace became the permanent centre of symbolic and actual state life.

The Crown Jewels displayed, 13-17 August, 1938The governor did not reside in the former royal apartments, which looked onto the Danube, but he had the guestrooms in the wing towards Krisztinaváros (in the place of today's Széchenyi Library) furnished. He occupied only nine out of the 814 rooms. In 1940 when his elder son - who was elected vice-governor - was married, another four-room apartment was furnished for his family. His life was that of a simple bourgeois and of a pedant officer. The only times he made an exception to this were during events of protocol, where - as the embodiment of the state - he was surrounded by neo-baroque pageantry.

The Sándor palace, the building of the former Prime Minister in the Buda Castle

Life in the castle was ensured by various charity garden parties, the respectful marches of various social and political organisations, name-day ceremonies, and New Year's receptions for the diplomatic body - which were the social duties of the head of the state. The complimentary or memorial marches were usually held in the huge, inner, Lion courtyard: these marches often arrived here in the evening, illuminated by torches and lanterns, accompanied by an army orchestra, while the participants were greeted by the governor from the balcony of the palace.

The buliding of the Ministry of Finance on Szentháromság square

Besides that of the head of the state there were other offices in the castle quarter. The Prime Minister's office was in the Sándor Palace; opposite the palace there was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Finance was in Szentháromság tér, and the Home Office operated in Országház utca - as a heritage from the age of Dualism. The residences of some foreign representations could also be found in the castle (Polish, German, Portuguese and the Vatican).

The majority of the private houses remained in the hands of aristocratic families, and the castle was still considered the gathering point of old and wealthy families. Some of the richest families of the bourgeoisie bought their palaces in the castle.

The building of the Ministry of Defence in the Buda Castle

World War II

Prime Minister, Miklós KállayThe peaceful days of the castle ended in 1944. On the 19th of March 1944 German troops occupied Hungary as far as the river Tisza - facing almost no resistance. They took over the castle with the important government offices together with other strategic points of the capital at dawn. With the occupation another power centre settled in the castle: the representative of the Third Reich, Edmund Veesenmayer moved into the German Embassy in Úri utca. In the following months events were directed from here: the Germans exploited the country to further their war interests, persecuted the Jews, and finally helped the extreme right to take power.

German Motorcycle Corp in the Buda Castle, March 1944With the approach of obvious defeat in the war Miklós Horthy tried to pull the country out of the war and conclude an armistice with the allies. The most important events of the unsuccessful attempt to pull out took place in the castle on the 15th of October. The Hungarian troops, which were expected to change sides, were concentrated here and the "crown council" (the meeting of the leaders of the army and the government) was also held here, during which Horthy announced his intention to conclude an armistice. The weakly organised and hesitantly initiated attempt was prevented by the Germans and the members of the Hungarian Arrow Cross (Nazi) party, whom they had helped. After they had taken power the Hungarian fascists occupied the government offices in the castle, the first one of these being the Home Office.

The Nazi takeover with the lead of Ferenc Szálasi. 16 October, 1944

The head of the Nazi puppet state, Ferenc Szálasi took the oath of the Holy Crown on the 4th of November 1944. Not long after the fascist leaders left the capital, which was threatened by a blockade, and took the Holy Crown with them.

100 pengő note, with the Royal Palace of Buda in the back

The Siege

The ruined capital with the blown-up Chain BridgeAs a result of the development of military technology Buda castle did not play an important role as a military fortress in the 20th century. Nevertheless its location and natural features of a fortress, and the closeness of the best crossing places of the Danube made it the main scene of action during World War II.

On the 3rd of April 1944 the British-American, then the Soviet air force started to bomb Hungary and Budapest, designating it as the centre of Hungary's military industry. The castle was spared from the 25 bombing raids carried out up to the end of October, since the main targets were the industrial districts and traffic junctions (primarily railway stations).

As a result of the air raids the capital started to build air raid shelters. The castle - due to its natural features, and the system of caves and cellars underneath it - was suitable for this purpose. The shelter for 2000 people, which opened from Lovas road, was finished by July. It could also be reached from Szentháromság utca through the Big Labyrinth (Nagy labirintus). During the summer air raids some 10,000 people would spend the night in the Tunnel, which was considered a public shelter.

Kapisztrán square in ruins with the Magdolna tower in spring 1945Although the Hungarians constantly called for Budapest to be declared an "open city" Hitler stubbornly wanted to defend the city - even if it meant its destruction - to the last, in order to hold back the Soviet troops advancing on Vienna for as long as possible. In fact the German commander had the Hungarian army, which was comparable to the German force, ensconced in the town. Both the German and the Hungarian High Command worked under the Várhegy in a bunker that could be reached from the centre of the Tunnel.

The blockade of the Soviet troops closed around the capital at Christmas 1944. Attacks were launched from the second Ukrainian front from the east, and from the third Ukrainian front from the west. In the following weeks heavy street fighting, which resulted in major losses both in lives and material, closed the ring. By the 18th of January the German and Hungarian troops had been completely driven out of Pest. While retreating they blew up the two remaining bridges across the Danube: the Elisabeth Bridge and the Chain Bridge.

The siege of the inner part of Buda was started by the Soviet troops at the end of January after they had repulsed the third and last German relief attempt. At that time the Soviet bombers attacked the castle, which had almost no air defence, for the whole day. There was heavy bombing on the 30th of January, when the Várkert (Castle Garden) was destroyed beyond recognition.

The bombed Buda Castle, spring 1945On the 11th of February only the Várhegy (Castle Hill) and Naphegy (Sun Hill) behind it remained in the hands of the defenders. The exhausted army of 40,000 defenders, which had no lines of supply and had run out of food and ammunition, tried to break out of its hopeless position through the Bécsi kapu and Vármezo that evening. The majority of them died in the horrific fire of the artillery and infantry on the slopes of Várhegy. Some of them reached the forests near Buda, but the majority of them were captured or killed by the pursuers. Out of the 40,000 (half were Hungarian and half were German) soldiers only some 600 to 700 managed to reach their own lines. About 20,000 of them died in this attempt, and as many were taken prisoner.

The Habsburg room in ruins in the Buda Castle, 1945After the failure of the attempt to break out the Soviet troops quashed all resistance in the castle by the 13th of February. The Buda Volunteer Regiment - who changed sides - also took part in this fighting. As a sign for the Soviet command to acknowledge them, they hoisted the Hungarian flag on the castle next to the Soviet one. The liberation of Budapest ended with the occupation of the castle after a 48-day siege.

The destruction wrought by the siege was the worst the castle quarter had ever seen. Out of some 200 houses only one survived the fighting intact. One fifth of the buildings were totally destroyed, and the others suffered various degrees of damage. The heaviest damage was to the Palace. The whole building was burnt out, its dome had collapsed, its roofs and staircases had come down, and the walls of the southern wing had also collapsed.


Clearing the rubble in the Buda Castle, 1945Reconstruction work started immediately after the fighting. The first task was the removal of the rubble. It was carried to the Vérmezo at the foot of the hill. First the housing blocks had to be rebuilt. During the reconstruction of the buildings the architects - together with art historians and archaeologists - tried to take advantage of the destruction. Based on building surveys several medieval architectural elements were displayed, thus many baroque and classicist buildings which had been built after 1686 were given back their medieval façades - partly or entirely.

At first 'neutral' buildings were built in place of the destroyed houses in order not to disturb the arcitectural environment. From the 1960s buildings reflecting trends in contemporary architecture appeared, thus enriching the complexity of styles aleady present in the castle district. A typical example of this is Hilton Hotel. The modern building was built near the neo-gothic Matthias Church, saving the baroque façade of the burnt out Jesuit college and integrating the remains of the medieval Dominican church as well.

Two-storey house at 31 Úri streetThe most important archaeological investigation took place in the palace quarter. The first excavations looking for the remains of medieval palaces were quite successful. The fate of the huge building complex was undecided for a long time. By 1948 it was decided that the royal palace would be rebuilt keeping the characteristic features of its outlines. Its façade would be simplified, but its rooms would be completely rebuilt. In 1957 the government decided to place cultural institutions in the palace: museums, the national gallery and the national library. The reconstruction of the huge building was finished by 1985. The National Széchenyi Library was the last to move in the wing looking to Krisztinaváros. Besides these public collections, the Várszínház (Castle Theatre), small museums in the houses of the bourgeois city, and several research institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences can also be found here. However, the castle quarter did not turn into a lifeless museum city: the majority of the houses kept their original function.

Bécsi Gates square in the Buda Castle

Szentháromság square in the Buda Castle, the Matthias Church and the Hilton HotelThe reconstruction of the buildings of Szent György tér, between the palace and the bourgeois city, took the longest. On the western side all the buildings - amidts the restorable palace of the archduke with its stables - were pulled down in the 1960's in order to display in a park the medieval ruins excavated. The facade of the Sándor Palace standing on the other side of the square was reconstructed in 1989-1990, and after reconstruction finished in 2002 it became the office of the Head of State. The ruins of the headquarters of the army and the group of buildings of the Home Office in the middle of the square remain as a reminder of the destruction wrought by war.

The castle district is a conservation area with a great number of listed monuments. The number of tourists it attracts and the fact that in December 1987 UNESCO declared the castle and its environs to be part of the World Heritage shows its outstanding importance in our cultural heritage.

The Royal Palace of Buda from the Elisabeth Bridge