Budapest’s Castle Hill District – Part Two

For the most part, we really enjoy organized walking tours. Occasionally they can linger too long in one spot, or one finds themselves in a slow-moving group, but for the most part, they are very informative, and provide a solid foundation for solo exploring…..and we really love to venture off on our own.

On this day, we headed back toward Disz Square where the bus had dropped us off.  I had one stop to make along the way, and that was the local post office we had passed earler. I am a life-long stamp collector, and just like some people can’t pass a book store without stepping inside, I am compelled to check out post offices.

I have a nice collection of Hungarian stamps, gleaned from multiple sources over the past 55-60 years, so it was a happy surprise for me to see a display case full of “Magyar Post” stamps from decades gone by. All the stamps on display were quite common and inexpensive as far as any collectible value is concerned, but I indicated to Mary that I was pretty sure I had a lot of them in one of my albums back home. In the pictures below, you’ll see that I was correct (the display case photo is in the middle, and corresponding pages from my album are on either side).

From Disz Square, we now entered the civil quarter of the Castle Hill District, and the first structure we came upon was the National Dance Theatre building (below) which nowadays is home to the Prime Minister’s office. It was built between 1725 and 1736 and its’ original purpose was a church for the Carmelite Order. In 1786, Joseph II, the emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, ordered it closed and re-opened as a theatre. It served in that role for more than 200 years before being re-purposed for use by the Government in the 1990’s. Of note, in 1800, Ludwig von Beethoven gave a concert to Buda’s high society in this building.

Prime Minister’s Office – formerly the National Dance Theatre

Adjacent to the National Dance Theatre building is Sandor Palace (below), built in 1806. Only two generations of Sandor Counts inhabited the once private palace. From 1867 to 1945 it served as the Office of the Hungarian Prime Minister. In modern times, it has become the residence of the President of Hungary and there is a changing of the guards ceremony every day which we unfortunately missed.

Sandor Place

One of the sad things about being on an organized tour is the realization that you just can’t see or do everything. In this case, a ticking clock meant we were not going to have time to visit the magnificent Buda Palace, seen below in a stock photo.

The first royal residence on Castle Hill was built by King Bela IV of Hungary between 1247 and 1265. Following the marriage of Matthias and Beatrice in 1476, the king rebuilt the palace in an early Renaissance style.

The palace survived the invasion and occupation by the Ottoman Turks in 1526, but was destroyed in 1686 when the city of Buda was captured by Allied Christian forces.

The Hungarians supported Queen Maria Theresa (the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsuburg) and in gratitude, she ordered a new royal palace be built as a symbol of peace and friendship between the dynasty and the nation of Hungary. She did not use it as a royal residence and in fact spent very little time in Buda.

In later years, the palace played an important part in the lavish coronation ceremonies of various kings of Hungary, but in 1944, it was left in ruins after a heavy military confrontation between the Nazi Germans and Hungarians occupying the building, and attacking Soviet forces.

Reconstruction started in 1948. but it took until 1966 for the exterior to be fully rebuilt. The interior spaces were not available for another 20 years.

Today it is the home of the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum, and tours of the courts and courtyards are available. If we ever get back to Budapest, a full day here is at the top of the must-do list.

Before making our way back to the bus, we paused for a moment to look out over the Danube and to check out the historic Chain Bridge, seen in the picture below.

It was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary, and when it opened in 1849, it was regarded as one of the engineering wonders of the modern world. Like so many other structures, the bridge was severely damaged during the Seige of Budapest near the end of World War II, and it reopened in 1949.

In the area in front of the National Gallery, and opposite Sandor Palace, an archaelogical dig is taking place. Roman ruins were discovered here in the late 1800’s and a fascinating aspect of Budapest’s past has been exposed over the last 120 years.

Romans first arrived at this stretch of the Danube in the first century A.D. and founded the town of Aquincum. It was a military hub providing defense against tribes from the surrounding areas. At its peak, the town of Aquincum had more than 50,000 inhabitants, making it one of the largest on the Roman frontier. By the end of the third century A.D., under constant attack from across the river, the civil town was abandoned and left behind.

The civil town that has been uncovered on Castle Hill, represents one of the largest preserved Roman towns in Central Europe. The eastern part of the dig is open to the public and includes the forum complex, a great bath with a well-preserved floor-heating system, a row of shops, and the market building. Sadly, this was another miss for us due to lack of time, but something we’d love to see in a future visit.

And that was it for our trip to the hill. One short bus ride later we were back on board the Viking Lif for lunch.

As you can see from the highlighted ares in the July 4th issue of the Viking Daily (below), there were a number of additional excursions available, each with an associated cost.

As I noted at the beginning of this particular post, we love going off on our own and following lunch that is exactly what we did. In one last blog about Budapest, I’ll share with you a few final pictures and thoughts on a city that totally exceeded my expectations, and in retrospect was one of my favorite spots we visited during our entire two week adventure.

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