Buda Castle

Buda Castle (Hungarian: Budavári Palota, German: Burgpalast, Turkish: Budin Kalesi) is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest. It was established in the 14th century by the Angevin rulers of the Kingdom of Hungary, later it was destroyed and rebuilt many times. In the past, it was also called Royal Palace (Hungarian: Királyi-palota) and Royal Castle (Hungarian: Királyi Vár, German: Königliche Burg).

Buda Castle was built on the southern tip of Castle Hill, bounded on the north by what is known as the Castle District (Várnegyed), famous for its Medieval, Baroque and 19th century houses, churches and public buildings. It is linked to Clark Ádám Square and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge by the Castle Hill Funicular.

Buda Castle is part of the Budapest World Heritage Site, declared in 1987.


The first royal residence on the Castle Hill was built by King Béla IV between 1247 and 1265 but it was located on the northern spur of the hill.

The oldest part of the present-day palace was built in the 14th century by Prince Stephen, Duke of Slavonia, the younger brother of King Louis I of Hungary. The Gothic palace of King Louis I was arranged around a narrow courtyard next to Stephen's Tower.

King Sigismund Luxemburg greatly enlarged the palace. During his long reign it became probably the largest Gothic palace of the late Middle Ages. Buda was also an important artistic centre of the International Gothic style.

The last phase of grand-scale building activity happened under King Matthias Corvinus, when Italian humanists, artists and craftsmen arrived at Buda. The Hungarian capital became the first centre of Renaissance north of the Alps.

After the Battle of Mohács the medieval Kingdom of Hungary collapsed. On 29 August 1541 Buda was occupied by the Ottomans without any resistance. The Hungarian capital became part of the Ottoman Empire as the seat of Budin Eyalet.

The Ottoman government left the palace decaying. It was partially used as barracks, storage place and stables, but otherwise it stood empty.

The medieval palace was partially destroyed during the big siege of 1686 when Buda was captured by the allied Christian forces. In the heavy artillery bombardment many buildings collapsed and burned out.

In 1715 King Charles III ordered the demolition of the ruins. Luckily the southern fortifications, zwingers and rooms were only buried under tons of rubbish and earth. On the new terrace a small Baroque palace was built which is identical with the core of the present-day palace ("Building E").

In 1748 Count Antal Grassalkovich, President of the Hungarian Chamber appealed to the public to finish the derelict palace by means of public subscription. The new Royal Palace became the symbol of the friendship between the Habsburg dynasty and the nation.

The plans of the splendid, U-shaped Baroque palace with a cour d'honneur were drawn by Jean Nicolas Jadot, chief architect of the Viennese court. They were later modified by his successor, Nicolaus Pacassi. The foundation stone of the palace was laid on 13 May 1749. In 1769 the palace was finished but in the next decades it was used as the seat of the Hungarian university.

In 1791 the palace became the residence of the Habsburg Palatines of the Kingdom of Hungary. The palatinal court in Buda Castle was the centre of social life in the Hungarian capital.

On 4 May 1849 the Hungarian revolutionary army of Artúr Görgey laid siege on Buda Castle. The Hungarians captured Buda with a great assault, during which the palace completely burned out.

The palace was soon rebuilt between 1850 and 1856. Later in 1867 after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 Franz Joseph was crowned to the king of Hungary. The palace played an important part in the lavish ceremony, symbolizing peace between the dynasty and the nation.

In the last decades of the 19th century the autonomous Hungarian government intended to create a royal palace that matches the famous royal residences of Europe. The process of rebuilding went on about forty years between 1875 and 1912, and caused sweeping changes in the topography of the whole area.

The new Royal Palace, designed by Alajos Hauszmann, was officially inaugurated in 1912. Contemporary critics praised it as the most outstanding Hungarian building of the turn of the century. Indeed it was a magnificent Gesamtkunstwerk of Baroque Revival architecture, sculpture, applied arts and gardening.

After the 1918 revolution and the dethronization of the Habsburg dynasty the Royal Palace became the seat of the new regent of the Kingdom of Hungary, Miklós Horthy.

Buda Castle was the last major strongpoint of Budapest held by Axis forces during the siege of Budapest between 29 December 1944 and 13 February 1945. Heavy fights and artillery fire rendered the palace once again into a heap of ruins.

Immediately after the war archeological research was begun to unearth the remains of the medieval castle. Important parts of the Sigismund and Matthias palace were discovered under the thick level of earth fill.

The reconstruction of the medieval fortifications substantially changed the cityscape of Budapest. That time it was considered a highly successful project which managed to reconcile historical authenticity with urban planning demands.

The fate of the ruined Neo-Baroque palace was different. The new Communist government of Hungary considered the Royal Palace a symbol of the former regime. During the 1950s the palace was gutted and the interiors were destroyed. Important exterior details were also demolished.

The modernist dome was designed by Lajos Hidasi in 1961. The palace was rebuilt by 1966 but the interior spaces were completed only in the 1980s. Buda Castle became a cultural centre with three museums and the National Széchényi Library.

In March 2006 the National Office of Cultural Heritage finalized the long term development plan of Buda Castle. Asserting that the modernization in 1952-66 caused irreversible damage they proposed the partial reconstruction of the outer façades including the dome and the Habsburg Steps. There is no decision about the realization of the management plan.

In 2008 the building of an underground garage for 700 cars was begun by an international consortium under the former Csikós Court. The developer was granted permission to demolish a 4,5 m long section of the 15th century castle wall. The agreement was criticized by archeologists and the public alike but the demolition was carried out. Previously the whole area was excavated by archeologists. The garage project was suspended at the end of 2008 due to financial difficulties leaving a big hole on the side of Castle Hill.

Inside the castle
Former interiors

The lavishly decorated interiors of the palace were all destroyed during WW2 and the post-war reconstruction (except the Palatinal Crypt). There is very little data about the interiors of the medieval and Baroque era. The Hauszmann palace was meticulously recorded with detailed descriptions, photographic documentation and groundplans. Hauszmann himself said about the royal apartments: "I created a 200 m long series of rooms, longer than any similar royal apartments in continental Europe except Versailles." The most important rooms were as follows:

  • Ballroom (Nagyterem): The Ballroom on the first floor of the Baroque wing had several layers of Baroque decoration from the second half of the 18th and the 19th century. In Hauszmann's time the room had a Rococo white-golden stucco decoration with three huge chandeliers. During the post-war reconstruction Vinzenz Fischer's original Baroque frescoes were re-discovered in 1953. In spite of this all the decoration layers were destroyed. Today it houses the Gothic altar collection of the Hungarian National Gallery.
  • St. Sigismund Chapel or Castle Church (Szent Zsigmond-kápolna, Vártemplom): The palace chapel in the western end of this wing had no façades, only a door opening onto Lions Court. The church was consecrated in 1769. The ground plan was drawn by Nicolaus Pacassi but the interior was designed by his follower, Franz Anton Hillebrandt. The groundplan followed a typical "violin" form, favoured in the Baroque church architecture of Central Europe that time. In 1957 the ruined church was totally destroyed and converted to exhibition spaces.
  • Palatinal Crypt (Nádori kripta): The Palatinal Crypt under the former palace chapel is now the only surviving room of the whole Royal Castle. The crypt was continuously used by the Hungarian branch of the Habsburg family from 1820 until 1927. It was repeatedly restored and enriched with new works of art, frescoes, statues and ornate stone sarcophagi, made by the best artists of the 19th century.
  • Great Ballroom (Nagy bálterem): The Great Ballroom in the middle part of the Northern Wing took over the function of the smaller old Ballroom. It was the most splendid room of the palace, designed by Hauszmann. The two-storeys high, airy room was lavishly decorated with stuccoes, half columns, trabeation, balconies and six huge crystal chandeliers in Neo-Baroque style. Photos made after the war show the room with its vaulted ceiling collapsed. In the course of the reconstruction the ballroom was totally destroyed.
  • Main staircase (Főlépcsőház): The monumental main staircase of the Krisztinaváros Wing with three flights was leading up from to the first floor in an airy, glass-roofed hall. The side walls of the hall were decorated in Italian Renaissance style. At the ground-floor colossal Atlas statues stood beside the side pillars. The marble statues were the works of János Fadrusz from 1897. During the post-war reconstruction the main staircase was radically modernized. Only the two colossal Atlas statues survived.
  • Habsburg Room (Habsburg terem): The Habsburg Room was situated right in the middle of the long Danube wing, under Hauszmann's (false) dome. The room had a lavish Baroque Revival decoration with half-pillars and gilded stuccoes. The vaulted ceiling was decorated with Károly Lotz's huge fresco: Apotheosis of the Habsburg Dynasty. Károly Senyei's four Carrara marble busts stood in front of the sidewalls representing Habsburg kings and queens. The Habsburg Room survived WW2 unscathed but in the 1950s it was deliberately destroyed for political reasons.
Medieval palace

A series of rooms from the medieval palace of the Hungarian kings were unearthed and reconstructed during the postwar rebuilding of Buda Castle in 1958-62. They are now part of the permanent exhibition of the Budapest History Museum in "Building E" of Buda Castle.

Only a fragment of the medieval palace survived the destruction of 1686-1715 and the surviving rooms were not the most important ones of the original building. They were only saved by the chances of destruction and their geographical position, situated on a lower level then the newly created Baroque terrace.

The rib vaulted Gothic Hall is one of the most important surviving example of secular Gothic architecture in Central Europe. It was built by King Sigismund Luxemburg of Hungary in the early 15th century. The three interconnected, barrel-vaulted rooms belong to the oldest part of the palace, the Stephen's Castle. A great underground cistern under the - now disappeared - northern zwinger (giardino segreto), the Cisterna Regia, survived the centuries of destruction as a cellar. The 7m high basement section of the eastern façade with the lower part of a fine Gothic balcony survived inside the later King's Cellar.

Works of art

The Royal Palace and its gardens were decorated with statues, many of which survived:

  • Matthias Fountain (Mátyás kútja): The spectacular fountain is the decoration of the western forecourt of the palace. It shows a group of hunters led by King Matthias Corvinus together with hounds, a killed deer, Galeotto Marzio with a hawk and Szép Ilonka with a doe. The fountain was made by sculptor Alajos Stróbl. Nowadays it is probably the most photographed object in the palace.
  • Monument of Prince Eugene of Savoy (Savoyai Jenő herceg emlékműve): The equestrian statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy is standing on the Danube terrace, in a prominent position, high above Budapest. The Neo-Baroque statue was made by sculptor József Róna for the town of Zenta. The monument was bought in 1900 as a temporary solution until the planned equestrian statue of King Franz Joseph will be completed. This never happened and Prince Eugene remained on his plinth.
  • Horseherd (Csikós szobor): The statue of the Hortobágy horseherd taming a wild horse originally stood in front of the Riding School in the former Újvilág terrace. It is the work of György Vastagh from 1901. The damaged statue was removed during the 1960s but it was later re-erected in the western forecourt of the palace in 1983.
  • Turulbird (Turulmadár): The mythological Turul, high above the Danube, was made by Gyula Donáth in 1905. The plinth and the ornate Neo-Baroque rail (Gyula Jungfer's work) were damaged during the siege of Buda but they were restored in 1981.
Museums and institutions

The Budapest History Museum is located in the southern wing of Buda Castle, in "Building E", over 4 floors. It presents the history of Budapest from the beginnings until the modern era. The restored part of the Medieval Royal Palace including the Royal Chapel and the rib vaulted Gothic Hall belongs to the exhibition. The highlights of the exhibition are the Gothic statues of Buda Castle and a 14th century silk tapestry decorated with Angevin coats-of-arms. Small gardens were recreated in the medieval "zwingers" (walled enclosures) around the oldest parts of the building.

The Hungarian National Gallery is located in Building A, B, C and D. The museum presents the history of Hungarian art from the 11th century until the present with a special exhibition concentrating on Gothic altarpieces (housed in the former Baroque Ballroom). The only surviving interieur from the pre-war Royal Palace, the Palatinal Crypt belongs to the museum.

"Building F" is occupied by the National Széchényi Library, the national library of Hungary. Its collection of rare and antique books, codices and manuscripts contains 35 Corvina pieces from the famous library of King Matthias Corvinus. The original Bibliotheca Corviniana was housed in the medieval Royal Castle of Buda.

Popular Culture

Katy Perry filmed her second single "Firework" (from the album Teenage Dream) at Buda Castle. The video of the song has over 200 million views on YouTube.


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