Budapest, originally two separate cities, Buda being on the west bank of the Danube River, and Pest being on the east bank, were both united as one single city 150 years ago.
With that history lesson now out of the way, our first sight on our tour of Budapest was the Budapest Metro Station, built by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the civil engineer and architect most famously known for building the Eiffel Tower. Budapest’s metro system is the second oldest in the world, falling a few years short of London’s metro system. As we drove further into the city, we came across the Ministry of Defense, which you’ll notice on the left hand side of the picture has bullet holes in the walls. The bullet holes are from World War Two, which have been left as a reminder of the past, which the country does not wish to forget. When then passed a memorial plaque honoring Angelo Rotta, who was responsible for saving several thousand lives during the Holocaust. “Monsignor Rotta, along with his assistant, Father Gennaro Verolino, issued more than 15,000 safe conduct certificates to the Jews of Budapest, putting them under the direct protection of the Vatican neutrality. They also set up numerous safe houses throughout Budapest” (http://www.budapestvacationservice.com/holocaust_heroes_2.html).
We stopped at a scenic route, which allowed us to see the entire city from a raised walkway, and as you can see below, the view was incredible. In what seems like the beginning of history (around the time of the 13th century), the Tatars occupied Hungary and attacked the country. They left after two years, but the King was convinced they would so he built a fortress around his castle and spent his time waiting to counter the next attack, but it never happened. Budda then became the capital of Hungary and the castle was reformed into a beautiful gothic renaissance palace. The Ottomans eventually came and used it as ammunitions storage, but it later exploded. The Austrians later arrived and built a baroque palace on top of the original palace, thanks to Maria Theresa, the Queen of Hungary at the time. During World War Two, Nazi officers used the palace, and it was destroyed by the end of the war, but the outside was later restored, and the inside was modernized. The back half of the Vajdahunyad Castle is currently Hungary’s National Library, home to every single book published in the country.
Vajdahunyad Castle is located in the City Park, and is also known for its City Park Ice Rink, which was the first artificial skating rink in Europe, started in 1905. “The lake in front of Vajdahunyad Castle is used for boating in the summer and is transformed into Europe’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink in the winter” (http://visitbudapest.travel).
After driving through the city, we spotted the Chain Bridge, which is the oldest and most famous bridge in Budapest with two lions on each side guarding it. Supervised by Scottish architect Adam Clarke, rumor has it that the lions only spoke Hungarian so their tongues were cut off by those who built it. It is said that if a faithful husband walks on the bridge, the lions will talk again. Since the lions have yet to speak ever since the initial construction of the bridge, the running joke is that there are no faithful husbands around.
As we neared the end of the city tour, we stopped at Heroes’ Square, one of the most visited spots in all of Budapest. At the center of Heroes’ Square stands the Millennium Monument, which commemorates the 1000-year old history of the Magyars, or Hungarian tribes. “The column is topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel. Behind the column is a semicircular colonnade with statues of famous men who made their mark on Hungarian history. Statues atop the colonnades symbolize War, Peace, Work and Welfare, and Knowledge and Glory. Around the base of the monument are a number of equestrian statues honoring the seven chieftains of the Hungarian tribes who, led by Árpád, conquered the area now known as Hungary” (http://www.aviewoncities.com).
This concluded our morning tour of Budapest, but the afternoon tour was even more fascinating and will be posted separately since we saw so much in just one day!