TRAVEL THERE: THE BUDA PART OF THE BUDAPEST CITY TOUR
With Heroes Square and Andrassy Boulevard under our travel belt, next on the must-see list was Castle Hill. A couple hours before lunch is not enough time to see it, but that’s what we had, so we went with it. Castle Hill is every much as touristy as Heroes Square, but the visitors seem a lot more European and there were no sweater ladies.
The bus parked and we were led to the top of the hill by our apologetic guide. We waited a few minutes outside Matthias Church while tickets were procured by our underdog tour leader and then made our way into the church.
WOW, just WOW!
The outside of the church was glorious and the deep blue sky didn’t hurt one iota, but once we walked inside the church, we were awestruck.
While the actual church building has only been around for about 800 years, a lot of history has happened up there. Last week I mentioned the Magyars. Well, they were basically marauding barbarians who made Budapest their winter camp around around 867. Somewhere in the late 900’s the old Magyar king, Geza, noticed Christian forces were taking over Europe. Never one to miss a trick, he decided his son, Vajk, should join the up-and-coming religion.
And here’s where the legends start. At about the same time Geza was planning the strategic step of turning Vajk into St. Stephen, Hungary’s first Christian king, the pope dreamed the Magyars were about to convert and had a gold and silver crown tricked out with the popular gemstones of the day and sent it to Budapest with his blessings. However, reliefs on the statue outside the church illustrate the pope showing up with the crown himself for the coronation, so you get to choose what you think happened.
And speaking of the Hapsburgs, there are some very dingy banners hanging from the columns of the church. I was all for replacing them, until I heard they’d been up there since old Konig und Kaiser Franz Joseph’s coronation in 1867. So much for my idea of improvement!
Perhaps the banners wouldn’t look quite so dingy if they weren’t surrounded by blazing color in every direction. Every inch (and I mean every inch) of this beautiful interior is either gold or painted in intricate patterns. It’s like a sampler of bargello needlepoint on steroids.
Life in the Matthias Church has not been all crowns and banners. For awhile some of the various armies passing through used it as a barracks and stable. I’m sure that endeared them to the population. Then the Communists found out they could make some coin by opening it up as a tourist attraction, so they allowed the Hungarians to return it to its former and current glory – and it is glorious.
After the official tour was over we wandered around the church. Even at the risk of sounding redundant, I’d like to repeat that this church is spectacular and you should check out every nook and cranny they will allow you into.
St. Istvan and Fisherman’s Bastion
1896 is an important year in Hungary. Budapest was in its glory days and someone noticed it was the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar’s arrival, so the city went on a campaign of “Magyarization” and self-aggrandizement. Not only did they virtually rebuild the city in grand style, but Hungarian became the official language and many other Magyar-honoring endeavors were undertaken. Part of this was a fluffing up of St. Matthias Church, but they also built Heroes Square, the Fisherman’s Bastion and they erected the St. Istvan (Stephen) monument.
Since Istvan was the first Christian King of Hungary, the whole St. Stephen thing is easy to understand. The Fisherman’s Bastion requires a little more explanation. In Magyar times, when someone decided to attack Buda and/or Pest, the people of the area were pressed into military service. It so happens that what eventually became Castle Hill was in the district where the local fishermen docked their boats. So while the people of Budapest were honoring their Magyar ancestors, they built a double-decker rampart with seven pointy towers (one tower for each of the Magyar tribes) and dubbed it in honor of those fisherman of the past.
Fisherman’s Bastion is, by far, the best vantage point from which to admire the spectacular Parliament Building, along with the rest of the Pest portion of the two-part city. We took lots of pictures, so please enjoy them and come back next week for a dip in the Szechenyi Baths.