Skip to main content

History of Hungary's Buda Castle and Its Rebirth

  • Author:
  • Updated date:
Buda Castle—an icon of both the city of Budapest and Hungarian national identity.

Buda Castle—an icon of both the city of Budapest and Hungarian national identity.

The Castle at the Heart of Buda

One of the oldest and perhaps the most beautiful parts of Budapest is the Castle District. The fascinating historical area includes Buda Castle with the Royal Palace and the surrounding sights perched on the top of Castle Hill.

Many sightseeing trips begin here with the iconic attractions of Budapest, like Matthias Church, Trinity Square, the Hungarian National Gallery (the former royal palace), Ruszwurm Confectionery, Hospital in the Rock or the ruins of the Church of St Mary Magdalene.

The hill is about 50–60 metres high, and it has been inhabited since the Bronze Age; it is a symbolic site of the Hungarian nation and a keystone of national identity. During the more than 700-year-long history of the castle, periods of construction and demolition, creation and destruction have alternated.

Brief History of Buda Castle and Castle Hill

Castle Hill was first settled and fortified in the 13th century by King Béla IV after the devastating Mongol invasion of 1241. This formed part of the king's decree that fortified towns be built across Hungary; it also ordered that people previously living at the foot of the hill move up onto Castle Hill itself.

Castle Hill is located on a rocky perch that rises above a spot that was frequently used to cross the Danube River flowing through the city. Over the centuries, Buda became both the residence of the kings and the capital of the country.

The Royal Court was established on the hill, and the long golden age of the district began. In the 14th century, the Anjou dynasty built a gothic palace that was then considerably enlarged by King Sigismund of Luxembourg. Despite not being a new city, Buda became increasingly important in Europe during the 15th century when its population was estimated to have been around 8,000.

King Matthias, who reigned from 1458 to 1490, reconstructed the Royal Palace in the Italian Renaissance style, becoming the first of its kind among European royal courts.

Starting with the Turkish occupation of Buda in 1541, the palace began to fall into ruin, and by the time the town was liberated in 1686, it was almost fully destroyed.

When the Turks were finally expelled, the Habsburg royal family of Austria took power over Hungary. As part of the Austrian Empire, Hungary, together with Buda and Pest flourished, entering a period of social, cultural and economic advance.

Restorations Begin

During the period of Austrian rule, the Royal Palace was rebuilt many times over. Later the Matthias Church was extended and then was extensively restored in the late 19th century in the Gothic style.

Fisherman's Bastion was then built around Matthias Church as part of the series of developments that were to celebrate the 1,000-year anniversary of the Hungarian state. The Bastion was inspired by the architectural style of early Mediaeval times known as Neo-Romanesque and based approximately on the year 1000 when the first Hungarian king began his rule.

A drawing of Buda Castle during medieval times.

A drawing of Buda Castle during medieval times.

Reconstruction During the 19th Century

In the last decades of the 19th century, Budapest experienced fast economic development. Ambitious planning projects were carried out to express the growing wealth and higher status of the Hungarian capital.

The iconicity of Buda Castle was brought to attention yet again through more modern architectural programs put into motion during this time. The aim of Hungary's government was to create a royal palace to match those of other iconic European royal residences.

Castle Garden Bazaar and Castle Garden Kiosk

First, the Castle Garden Bazaar and Castle Garden Kiosk (Várkert-bazár, Várkert-kioszk) were built on the embankment of the Danube river, at the foot of the Castle Hill, between 1875 and 1882. They were based on designs by Miklós Ybl, a famous Hungarian architect.

The spectacular building of Castle Garden Kiosk was once the pump room for Castle Hill's water system. At the end of the 19th century, it was transformed into a charming coffee house. The Bazaar stretches along the foot of Castle Hill; constructed in 1882, it was then fully renovated between 2011 and 2014.

Rebuilding the Royal Palace

In 1882, Prime Minister Kálmán Tisza charged Ybl with drawing up a master plan for rebuilding the Royal Palace of Buda. In his plan, Ybl preserved the old Baroque palace but mirrored it on the western side of the principal court, which effectively doubled the size of the building.

He also planned a new carriageway on the western hillside, which required demolishing mediaeval walls and towers. The narrowness of the natural plateau of Castle Hill meant there was not enough space for the new wing, which Ybl solved by erecting a substructure that stretched down to the foot of the hill. The monumental western façade sits on this windowless, three-storey high substructure.

The whole block covered almost the entire hill, but the main façade of the principal court had the same modest height as the Baroque residence. The façade was clad with stone slabs, while the old parts were stuccoed. The formerly open principal court—Lion’s Court or Oroszlános udvar in Hungarian—became a closed court with an arched gateway guarded by four lion sculptures.

Alajos Hauszmann

Alajos Hauszmann

Alajos Hauszmann Takes the Reigns

Ybl finally began reconstruction began in 1890, but upon his death in 1891, his successor, Alajos Hauszmann, took control of the project. Hauszmann was another noted Hungarian architect himself and modified parts of the original plan slightly.

The Krisztinaváros wing was completed in the spirit of its predecessor, and the foundation stone for the extension of the Danube side was laid in 1896 by Franz Joseph I (the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary).

In 1893, the 25th anniversary of King Joseph's coronation was celebrated in the Royal Palace. However, the old banqueting hall proved to be too small, so Hauszmann decided to enlarge the room by knocking down and reconstructing a wall.

Plans Are Redrawn

He extended the northern wing to Szent György tér, thus creating a symmetrical ensemble that fit harmoniously into the cityscape and was larger than the parliament building. He erected a portico, an open decorative staircase, while the whole palace was topped with a dome and a copy of the Holy Crown of Hungary at its apex.

The dome, like other details of the north wing, displayed elements promoting liberty, as did the rear façade towards the western forecourt. This forecourt also includes the beautiful Matthias Fountain.

Above the main gate, towards Szent György tér, stood a statue of the Goddess Hungaria. This side of the building has the main façade of the complex, but it was much shorter and less characteristic than the long Danube façade. The old Chapel of the Holy Right was demolished to make room for a carriageway.

Hauszmann also designed a new riding school that is now named Horsehed Court (Csikós udvar). In front of the long Danube façade, an equestrian statue was erected in honour of Prince Eugene of Savoy, leader of the Habsburg army during the Battle of Zenta.

The eastern forecourt was closed off with a gorgeous fence, which ended in a pillar crowned by a statue of the legendary Turul, the sacred bird of the Hungarians, spreading its wings above the city. Two flights of stairs led up to the Szent György tér, which was on much higher ground.

In the western forecourt, Hauszmann designed a new Neo-Baroque guardhouse and rebuilt the old Royal Stables. The Royal Gardens on the southern hillside were noted for their precious plants, glass houses and picturesque terraces.

The interior of the palace was decorated and furnished exclusively with works of the leading Hungarian artists of the age.

When King Joseph commissioned the remodelling of Buda Castle to Hauszmann, the architect toured the most stunning castles in Europe to draw inspiration. He managed to convince the emperor who initially had been content with cheap furnishing of the St Stephen Hall, to create an imposing, decorative room.

Named after the founding king of the state, the hall was one of the most significant interiors of the Royal Palace of Buda. The architect asked the outstanding creators of contemporary Hungarian applied art to create interior decorations.

The Royal Palace was officially inaugurated in 1912.

Buildings of The Royal Palace in 1930

Buildings of The Royal Palace in 1930

Hungarian National Hauszmann Program

The Siege of Budapest, from December 1944 to February 1945, was one of the longest and bloodiest city battles of World War II. During this time, the retreating German troops blew up all the bridges crossing the Danube. And by the end of the Second World War, more than 80% of Budapest's buildings were destroyed or damaged.

The war caused enormous destruction in the Castle District, which continued with demolishing historic buildings in the second part of the 20th century.

Beginning in 2019...

The Hungarian National Hauszmann Program, which began in January 2019, is an all-encompassing redevelopment project that welcomes a new chapter in the rebirth of the district. This unique program is responsible for renewing the famous Castle District "to the realm of the everyday lives of Hungarians." The program is expected to take a decade to complete.

Karakas Pasha Tower and Turkish Court

Karakas Pasha Tower and Turkish Court

Hauszmann Plan to Revamp Historical Buildings of Buda Castle

There are 14 separate aspects to the planned revamp, tackling everything from the Palace of Buda Castle to the National Archives of Hungary. Here is some information regarding the renovations to the historic buildings around Buda Castle.

Karakash Pasha Tower and Turkish Court

Completed in 2022, the reconstructed Karakash Pasha Tower now provides visitors to Buda Castle with an information point, a café, a shop and restrooms. The Karakash Pasha Tower was a Turkish building demolished at the end of the 19th century. Photographic evidence enabled its reconstruction, and the new tower is nearly a copy of the original.

Hauszmann Ramp behind the Riding Hall

Hauszmann Ramp behind the Riding Hall

The Horseherd Court and the Riding Hall

Originally designed by Hauszmann and constructed between 1899 and 1902, the grandiose Riding Hall at Horseherd Court also featured works by the finest Hungarian artisans of the era. The wooden panelling was made in the workshop of Károly Neuschloss (1814–1878), while Miksa Róth (1865–1944) manufactured the glass windows.

Interior of the Riding Hall

Interior of the Riding Hall

The building could have been restored starting with the damaged remains the structure sustained in World War II, but it was demolished in 1950. Fortunately, the original designs have survived—hence the faithfully rebuilt façade, as well as original interior materials, colours and motives. The rebuilt Riding Hall was opened in 2021 as a multifunctional, 21st-century event venue. The statue was replaced in its original location in August 2019.

Hauszmann Ramp

This iconic ramp was used for easily transporting horses between the different levels of Buda Castle. It leads from the upper levels of the castle down to the Riding Hall. Although this particular element survived the Second World War with only minor damage, it was still demolished in the second half of the 1970s. With the help of plans and old photos, experts have managed to reconstruct the ramp.

Stöckl Stairs near Riding Hall, behind the Courhouse

Stöckl Stairs near Riding Hall, behind the Courhouse

Stöckl Stairs

The Guardhouse is connected with the Riding Hall by the recreated Neo-Renaissance Stöckl Stairway or Stöckl Staircase. The Neo-Renaissance Stöckl Staircase, demolished in 1971, has also been rebuilt through the efforts of the Hauszmann Program.

Guardhouse

Guardhouse

The Guardhouse

The former Guardhouse—demolished in 1950—once again stands proud on the west side of Hunyadi Court near Matthias Fountain. The reconstruction was completed in early 2020.

Matthias Fountain

Matthias Fountain

Matthias Fountain

Matthias Fountain is a monumental fountain group in the western forecourt of Buda Castle. The group depicts a hunting party led by King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. The bronze figures are standing on heaps of rocks while water runs down between the cracks of the boulders. King Matthias stands on the highest rock in hunting attire, holding a crossbow in his right.

The fountain was comprehensively rebuilt in 2020; the statues were cleaned and renovated, and the technology of the fountain was upgraded.

St. Stephen’s Hall

St. Stephen’s Hall was another structure completely destroyed during the Siege of Budapest. But as a result of the years of work of many experts of the Hauszmann Program, we can now admire the room in its old light.

Coming Soon…

The former Hungarian Red Cross Headquarters on the southeastern corner of Dísz tér had been an organic part of the Castle District until the end of World War II. It is another part of the National Hauszmann Program, and its reconstruction started in 2021.

The renovation of the South Wing, the reconstruction of the Royal Defence Headquarters building and Archduke Joseph’s Palace are in progress. There are still several more years left before the program is expected to be completed, but as time goes on and projects continue to be finished, the Castle District begins to look more and more like its famous, historical self.

Sources