Sunday, August 12, 2012

BUDAPEST PART 4: Heroes, Terror, Music, and Romance

As the title indicates, I am going to try to cover a lot of ground in this post, which is what we did when we were in Budapest (covered a lot of ground).

I'll start with Heroes.  Many capital cities have a large, relatively open area historically used for parades, show of force, and to honor the men who played a key role in the establishment of the country.  In Budapest, I think Heroes' Square fills that function. It joins other great squares that we have visited, such as the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Tienamen Square in Beijing, Wenceslas Square in Prague, and Red Square in Moscow. I also remember visiting the huge Plaza de la Constitucion in Mexico City when I was there during a study abroad in college. While not as large as those squares, Budapest's Heroes' Square has a similar feeling of historical grandiosity.

It's hard to get a good idea of the size of Heroes' Square from my pictures, so I borrowed this one from the Internet:
The first metro station EVER in continental Europe leads to this spot.   (In all the world, only London has an older subway system than Budapest's.) The first subway line was built in 1896 to bring citizens out to this park to see this memorial, started in 1896 on the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary, and completed in 1900.  By the way, guess who was there in 1896 to inaugurate the metro and see the beginning of the construction project?  Emperor Franz Joseph, husband of Sisi.  Yeah, they really got around.

The large column in the center is topped by the Angel Gabriel, who is holding the crown of the Hungary's first King, St. Stephen, and the Hungarian double cross, which was awarded to Stephen by the Pope for his efforts to convert Hungary to Christianity.

At the bottom of the column are the seven Magyar chieftains who, according to legend, led various peoples to this region to settle:

On each side of the column are massive colonnades, each with seven statues of important historical figures:

On the top outside end of each colonnade is a statue of a naked man and a clothed woman.   Hungarians apparently like to switch things up. Anyway, on the left are figures representing Labor (the man) and Wealth (the woman), and on the right are Knowledge (the woman) and Glory (the man).  I like that the women are Wealth and Knowledge.  I think that is better than Labor and Glory, don't you?  Maybe the women are rich enough and smart enough to wear clothes.

There are two more statues on the inside end of the colonnades. This guy, whose whip is actually a snake, represents War.
And this one, appropriately a woman, represents Peace:

This large stone in front is dedicated "to the memory of the heroes who lost their lives for the freedom of our people and of our national independence."
Alex and Julie, tour guides extraordinaire:

Happy tourists: Chris, Stan, Bob (hiding behind his camera and bag), Julie, and Alex:

Behind Heroes' Square is Vajdahunyad Castle, a replica of a Transylvanian Castle that was also built for the 1,000 anniversary of the country, kind of like a World's Fair exhibit:

The Castle complex includes several buildings representing various periods of Hungarian history:

Not far from Heroes' Square is what might be considered the ANTI-Hero place, the House of Terror.  This building was the headquarters for the secret police for the Nazis and then, for the forty years after the war, the Communists.  The transformation of the building into a museum was completed in 2002 and uses every means possible to convey the fear that pervaded the country during these two occupations.  For example, when the sun shines through the frame added to the building, the shadow of the word "Terror" is cast on those walking below, symbolic of the shadow of fear Hungarians lived under for so many years.
The inside was an interesting combination of actual offices and altered, museum-like space.  Many of the displays did not have English translations, so sometimes it was difficult to understand what was going on.  The interior was generally dark and eerie, almost like a haunted house.  For me, it was a bit over the top. I was much more affected by the understatement of the Shoes on the Danube Memorial.
Still, this is worth visiting because of the focus on the communist regime.  There are plenty of World War II memorials, but not much focus on the dark years of the 1950s through 1980s.

Switching gears and centuries again, we visited Budapest's beautiful Neo-Renaissance State Opera House.  Construction in the late 19th century was funded by (surprise!) Emperor Franz Joseph and Sisi. Although not the largest opera house in the world, it is considered to have some of the finest acoustics in the world.

I think this is supposed to represent an opera singer, but he looks more like a cannibal when he comes into contact with Alex:

Statue of Franz Liszt, the 19th century Hungarian composer, pianist, and conductor:
We'll have to go back to Budapest and get tickets for an opera here, right, Bob?

After a long day of trekking all over the city, our final stop was to see the Danube Folk Ensemble at the Neo-Baroque Duna Palota (or Danube Palace) Theater.

Bela Bartok and Antonin Dvorak played in this sumptuous concert hall.  If only walls could talk (or play music) . . .
(I confess. I stole these last three pictures from the Internet.)
I remember learning square dancing and the Virginia Reel in elementary school.  I guess those could be considered American folk dances, and I'm glad there is, or at least used to be, an effort to preserve them.  However, Hungary is much more serious about their folk dances, folk music, and traditional clothing.  They even have a college dedicated to teaching folk dances.  This particular group had twenty-four professional dances and ten extraordinary musicians:
The ol' Bottle-on-the-Head Dance.

There must have been about ten costume changes. 

It was exhilarating dancing, enough to make us want to dance our way back to the hotel.  We restrained ourselves, however, since we didn't want to end up in a Hungarian prison.

Besides, the nightscape was taking our breath away. I think walking along the Danube at night in Budapest has to be the world's most romantic evening stroll.

Next: Food, food, and more food, with a little bit of shopping thrown in.


The Ancsas, a childless couple living on the outskirts of Budapest in a country struggling to recover from World War II, adopt a neighbor's young terrier, or rather, she adopts them.  Then Mr. Ancsa, an idealistic engineer who wants to help rebuild his country, is demoted for unknown reasons and the couple and Niki have to move into Budapest. Eventually Mr. Ancsa is taken away to prison, though he and his wife are not told why, and kept there for five years. His imprisonment takes a physical and psychological toll on both his wife and his little dog and reflects the devastating politics in Stalinist Hungary. Dery, a Hungarian political activist, wrote this book in 1956 as a commentary on the senselessness and arbitrary nature of the new regime.


  1. Interesting stuff about Heroes' Square--I didn't know about the subway line or the Sisi connection.

    I'm glad you took and posted the video--it brought back memories listening to their shouted "yea-haw"s.

  2. I really loved Budapest at night. As you say, a very romantic place.

  3. So lovely. We spent one night near the Danube (dipped my foot into it--cold!) but it was bereft of the lovely architecture and lights. I really enjoyed reading this post about that huge square (was that a horse race in the overview picture?) and all the statuary. Making lists of Things To See.