Buda is the latest of Hungarian royal residences of the Middle Ages. The fortress, set atop Castle Hill, and the settlement extending along the bank of the Danube, i.e. the town of Buda, were founded by King Béla II (1235-1270) following the Mongol onslaught of 1241-1242, which plundered and destroyed almost the entire country.
However, the natural environment, which provided excellent opportunities for settlements, had been known to man since prehistoric times. The earliest traces of habitation in the area can be found on the bank of the Danube in Víziváros (Watertown) dating back 150,000 years, to the Palaeolithic period. On Castle Hill the first fortified settlement was built in the Early Bronze Age. Later the Celtic Eraviscus tribe built its fortified town on the steep Gellért Hill, which served as their tribal centre. Celtic peoples lived on the bank around the ferry under Gellért Hill and on the eastern slopes of Castle Hill.
The Roman invaders, who pushed forward as far as the Danube in the beginning of the 1st century AD, recognised the importance of the site: on the one hand, they controlled the Celtic Oppidium, and on the other they built military camps for their troops to enable them to protect the border and the ferries. At the northern foot of Castle Hill, on the plains of today's Víziváros, a camp was built for the auxiliary troops, who controlled the ferry there and maintained watch over the Celtic settlements to the south of the ferry crossing. In the 2nd century a settlement of regular rectangular network of stone buildings (still in use until the 4th century) replaced the earlier wodden walls of the camp.
In the period of migration this area was deserted, not even the ruins of the Roman buildings attracted people to settle here. The situation didn't change after the Hungarian conquest. Only a bare, rocky hill witnessed the martyr's death of St Gerard (Gellért) in 1047, when the bishop of Csanád, who wanted to cross the river, fell into the hands of heathen rebels. The area around the ferries preserved its vital role, but the early royal residences and fledgling towns formed in the territory of Óbuda and across the river, in Pest. In the Buda part only small settlements were built due to the attraction of these centres. First of all, Smaller Pest opposite Pest, in the language of German settlers 'Kreinfeld' (later Alhévíz), at the foot of Gellért Hill and Castle Hill, and Hévíz (later Felhévíz), near the Roman ruins, next to the ferry on the northern side of Castle Hill.
In April 1241 the Mongol warriors who had invaded the Hungarian Kingdom occupied and burnt down the thriving German Hospes settlement, the town of Pest (in its German name: Ofen), and then in the following winter the same fate was meted out to the castle, chapter house and town of Buda (later Óbuda), which was the early royal and religious centre set amidst the Roman ruins. Although the next spring the Mongols left the country after the unexpected death of their Great Khan, the threat of their return at any time remained. This urged King Béla IV - who had a narrow escape at the hands of the Mongols - to have a fortress built on Castle Hill opposite Pest, and to relocate the German settlers with their royal privileges into it.
The Foundation and Development of Buda
Castrum Novi Montis Pestiensis - the Castle of the Hill of the New Pest. During the Middle Ages it was the official name of the settlement, originally a refuge built against the Mongols, which soon became a rapidly developing economic centre, free royal town and permanent royal residence. The rapid development of the new centre is also shown by the fact that it was given the name of the towns preceding it: in Hungarian Buda, in German Ofen. Since then it has been the name of the new town built on the hill.
The shadow of the Mongol threat defined the foundation of the town and its features for a long time. At first curtain-walls were built with towers placed at regular distances (medieval fortifications) to enclose the plateau, then the streets were marked, the building plots were measured and the parish church (Church of Our Lady) with a chapel (St Mary Magdalene Church), convents (Franciscan and Dominican) and public buildings (town hall, Kammerhof - the old royal mansion) were erected. The bank of the Danube at the foot of the hill was also populated, from Felhévíz to Alhévíz (i.e. from today's Margaret bridge to the Tabán), since trade was carried out on ferries and on the river itself.
At the time of its founding the majority of the town's population was German and leaders were chosen exclusively from among them. The judge (the rector who held also the office of the chatellain from the foundation of the town to 1347) and the council containing 12 members were elected from wealthy German citizens, who were mainly involved in the long-distance cloth trade. The number and economic importance of Hungarian citizens was quite insignificant. A small Jewish community also existed here from the outset.
After its foundation the growing town and the strong fortification soon accommodated the royal court as well. Several important national meetings were held here from the end of the 13th century, while Andrew III, the last king of the Árpád dynasty, chose the Franciscan convent of Buda as his burial seat. At that time the residence of the king in town was a block of buildings called the Kammerhof in German, which is still to be properly excavated. From its name it can be concluded that the royal minting of money was undertaken here - as it was in Visegrád and other foreign examples. The Kammerhof, or in another name, the old royal house stood in the north-eastern corner of the town, and it had its own gate tower on the town wall.
After the extinction of the Árpád dynasty the fortified town played an important role in the battle for the throne. At first it opposed Charles Robert, later to be king, and supported the son of the Czech king, Wenceslas, then the Bavarian Otto. As a result of the strong opposition in 1304 the clergy of the town excommunicated not only Charles Robert but also Pope Benedict XI, who supported him. In 1307, however, the followers of Charles Robert occupied the town. After this the king stayed mainly here for some years at a time, but in 1312 he moved with his court to Temesvár (now Timisoara, Rumania), then from 1323 to the town of Visegrád, which was famous for its strong fortress. Although in the forthcoming 100 years the economic importance of the town gradually grew, the royal court stayed in Buda only for a short period of time, between 1347-1355, during the campaigns of King Louis (the Great) I against Naples and Lithuania, reputedly in the old royal mansion, since in the second half of the 1340's he had a chapel built to the honour of St Martin.
At the end of the 14th century the benefits offered by a rich town attracted back the royal court with its offices, and in the beginning of the 15th century this move brought significant changes to the settlement. From the end of the 1370's King Louis (the Great) I started a huge palace construction, which was enlarged by his successor, King Sigismund (of Luxemburg) I at a faster pace. In 1381 King Louis gave away the Kammerhof and in 1408 King Sigismund finally moved his court and his offices to Buda. From then on, until the Turkish occupation, the country was ruled from the new royal palace. At the same time the economic power of the town was boosted by social and political advantages. More and more ecclesiastical and secular dignitaries bought a house here in order to pursue their functions at the court undisturbed. More and more merchants settled here, who could satisfy the luxurious demands and consumer power of the court. (For example, whole streets were named after Italian merchants.) The buildings were enlarged and became more beautiful. New churches and chapels were founded (e.g.: the St Sigismund Provostry, the Garai Chapel), while the old ones were extended and modernised. The suburbs also expanded.
Owing to the economic development and the establishment of the royal court the Hungarian bourgeoisie grew and acquired more power. The rivalry between the Germans and Hungarians led to constant legal debates, and in 1439 to uprisings. The tensions were resolved by a reform, which proved to be long lasting. According to the reform the Hungarian and German citizens chose six representatives each for the council, and the judge was chosen annually in turns: one year he was Hungarian, and the next German. At the same time the two communities isolated and separated their respective parishes. Under the symbolic control of the Germans' parish, i.e. the Church of Our Lady, the St Mary Magdalene Church and the church of St Peter the martyr at the foot of the hill became the autonomous parish of the Hungarian citizens.
According to estimates the population of Buda - including the royal court - at the end of the Middle Ages, was about 13,500. It was the biggest town of the Hungarian Kingdom. (Together with the neighbouring towns of Pest and Óbuda, and the boroughs Felhévíz and Szentfalva the total population exceeded 20,000.) The richest and most powerful strata of the bourgeoisie usually dealt with long-distance trade. The German merchants, who had solid links with the South-German towns such as Vienna, Regensburg and Nurnberg, played a significant role in the importing of clothes, but they also had shares in Hungarian precious metal mining. The members of the Italian colony, which was much smaller than the German one, satisfied the court's and nobles' demands for luxury goods. Besides delivery to the court both Germans and Italians used their expertise in the royal court and the financial control of the country. The wealthiest Hungarian merchants were involved in exporting cattle, which played an important role in the foreign trade of the country. Besides rich merchants the majority of the bourgeoisie consisted of craftsmen, who worked within guilds - representing different professions. In regard to the number of professions and guilds Buda was pre-eminent among Hungarian towns. According to surviving data there were 79 professions in 29 guilds. Apart from trade and craftsmanship almost every citizen had a significant income from their vineyards around the town. The wine made from the grapes growing around Buda was of good quality, which could be sold at a reasonable price. The majority of the poor people in the town worked in the vineyards as day-wage men, and as mainly hoers.
In the late Middle Ages one third to a half of the houses in the Castle quarter were the property of nobles and churchmen who played an essential role in the royal court or held offices there. Only the wealthiest citizens were able to live there with them, the majority of the craftsmen, day-wage men and wage labourers being pushed to the foot of the hill (today's Víziváros). In the Castle quarter the bourgeoisie segregated themselves from one another according to their nationality. The Germans lived in the middle of the hill, in the town centre, around their parish church and market place (from today's Szentháromság Street to Dísz Square), while the Hungarians occupied the northern part, their centre being the market place near their parish church (today's Kapisztrán Square). However, the Italians lived among the Germans and the Hungarians, mainly in the streets named after them (in the middle of today's Országház Street). The Jewish quarter of the town could be found in the north-eastern corner (today's Táncsics Mihály Street).
Trade was carried out in various places. The tradesmen (cloth tradesmen, merchants and pharmacists) sold their goods in their stores on the market place, while craftsmen offered their goods from their workshops on the ground floor of their houses. In the market places one could buy everyday foodstuffs at the butcher's, baker's, greengrocer's, poultry and cheese seller's stores and from cabbage selling market women. The weekly market played a more important role: they were held on Wednesdays at the German market place, and on Saturdays at the Hungarian market place. They attracted a wider range of customers and sellers. The National fairs were of greater importance. They were held twice a year: at Whitsunday and on Young Lady's Day (the celebration of the birth of the Virgin Mary, the 8th of September). They lasted for two weeks at the market places on the banks of the Danube.