On our first full day in Budapest we went on a free walking tour to get a feel for everything.
We enjoyed the architecture and we walked from Pest across the chain bridge to Buda.
The Hungarians call the river Duna in their language, Magyar.
Overlooking the famous chain bridge and the river is hilly Buda. Atop Buda Castle Hill is the castle, St. Matthias church, and more. Perching at the forefront is the turul, a mythical Magyar/Hungarian bird of pray.
Modern-day Hungary was populated by Germanic and/or Celtic peoples. The Romans conquered and invaded, leaving behind ruins of bath houses. Attila the Hun swept through, all the way from Mongolia. Various Germanic and Slavic tribes conquered and intermingled afterward, and it wasn’t until the Magyars showed up from the Ural mountains around 830 that the land had is present-day dwellers. The Hungarians (called Magyar in their own language) are possibly Finno-Ugric, possibly Kazakh, possibly Turkic in origin. Whatever they are, it wasn’t Slav, Germanic, or Bulgar. That much we know.
Anyway, the Magyar traditional story is that the turul once swooped down and picked up their tribal leader’s sword and flew away with it. The Hungarians gave chase, all the way from Asia into Europe. The turul dropped the sword on the Hungarian plains, and that is why the Magyars decided to stay there.
This church, named after St. Matthias, was originally founded by St. King Stephen sometime around 1030. Destroyed by the Mongol/Tatar invasion of 1241, it was rebuilt several times over the next few hundred years. It was only named after King Matthias in the 19th century. Matthias was one of the last great Hungarian kings, ruling in the 14th century.
Near the church is a famous statue of King Stephen. Just behind the statue and the church is the Fishermen’s Bastion, so named because the fisherman guild probably defended this part of the city wall.
Almost directly opposite the Duna (or Danube) is the Hungarian parliament building. It is exactly the same height as St. Stephen’s Basilica, to show that neither church nor state controls the other, but that they live in harmony together. During the Soviet occupation they built a 4-meter star and put it atop the parliament spire, just to prove a point. It’s gone now, as soon as the Iron Curtain fell, it was taken off their building forever.
Our last stop of the day was Hospital in the Rock. We weren’t allowed to take photos, but we enjoyed the museum. Cave systems abound underneath the hills of Buda, and there’s an extensive system beneath Castle Hill. Although caves had been used in prehistoric and even medieval times, by modern times no one knew much about it. The caves were mapped in the 1930s, and an emergency hospital was prepared in the caves for WWII. Designed for civilians with a 60-person occupancy, by the Siege of Budapest in December 1944 the hospital was grossly over-taxed with Hungarian and Nazi soldiers as well as civilians. The Arrow Cross, Hungary’s fascist, Nazi-collaborating government, continued to support the hospital until the Soviets took the city. The Soviets kept the hospital running, more or less, classifying it as Top Secret and adding a nuclear bunker (which probably wouldn’t have worked–they only stored enough supplies for 3 weeks of a nuclear fallout). On October 31, 1956, when student protests erupted into a full-blown Uprising. The hospital reopened, taking wounded revolutionaries and civilians alike. The USSR brought a hammer down on the revolution, killing as many as 30,000 people, even dragging dead bodies behind tanks in the streets to make a point.
It was a really interesting way to learn about Hungary’s modern history, and even though I hate mannequins (and the place was full of them), I had a good time tromping through the tunnels and looking at WWII medical equipment and Cold War-era machinery and communications. By then, the sun had set (Even though it was just 4 pm) so we bundled up in our coats and hats and decided to see the rest of Budapest the following day.