A (rainy) weekend spent exploring Budapest and its historic constituent cities of Pest and Buda and the wonderful Buda castle, Dohány Synagoge and the Inner City.
Budapest is made up of two old cities, the old capital and royal castle of Buda and the ancient trading city of Pest. Both cities were settled by Celts, Romans, Hungarians, Germans and Turkish, Christians, Jews and Muslims, speaking many different languages and forming the cultural fabric of the modern city. Modern Budapest was founded by uniting the formerly independent cities od Buda, Óbuda and Pest in 1873. Before this, the towns together had sometimes been referred to colloquially as “Pest-Buda”.
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Before Budapest was formed as a unified city, Buda on the hills above the Danube was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, with its impressive castle as the royal seat. It is the location of the impressive former imperial palaces and still houses the presidential palace of Hungary nowadays. You can ride up to Buda hill either by city bus or by using the cute 19th century funicular (Budavári Sikló).
The parliament at night
The Parliament Building (Országház) is arguably the most impressive building dominating the view over Budapest. It was built in the late 19th century and inspired by the British Parliament at Westminster. It was supposed to symbolize Hungarian independence at a time when Hungary was still part of the Habsburg Empire. It can be photographed perfectly from the area around Batthyány tér – in my example, I used a 50mm lens and a exposure time of 10 seconds on a tripod.
Nowadays, the former city of Pest on the east bank of the Danube is often also called the Inner City of Budapest and is home to the Parliament, ministries and central business district as well as the St. Stephen’s Basilica and Dohány Street Synagogue and many other sights. Obviously, we also had to take a ride on Metro line M1, the oldest underground railway in continental Europe!
Dohány Street Synagogue
The largest synagogue in europe was built in the 1850ies for the once big jewish community in Budapest and can seat up to 3000 people. It is an active synagogue, even though the Jewish community is sadly much smaller nowadays than it used to be before World War II and the Shoa. Interestingly, the synagogue also has a pipe organ and borrows many architectural elements often seen in churches (and even the Budapest cathedral specifically), showing that is was built for the assimilationist Neolog community. The synagogue complex also hosts a small but very well curated Jewish museum, at the location of the house of Theodor Herzl, often called the “the spiritual father of the Jewish State” who championed the revival of the idea of a state of Israel.
The St. Stephen’s Basilica is the main Catholic church of Budapest but officially ranks second to the Cathedral in nearby Esztergom, one of the oldest cities in Hungary and the first capital of the country. It is named after St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. When visiting the church on Sunday afternoon around 5pm, we happened to end up in a beautiful English-language mass with songs in English and Suaheli.
More photos of Budapest (from a visit in 2015)