Vajdahunyad Castle is in Budapest’s City Park. Like many great cities at the turn of the century, architects from all over the country were buzzing around trying to erect structures for the turning century celebrations. From Machinery Hall in Chicago’s Colombian Exhibition, to Eiffel’s tower in Paris, it was an era of structure, opulence, and architectural and engineering ingenuity and flare.
I’m particularly interested in these years, the last decade before the beginning of the 20th century, because it was around this time that Sándor Petje and Viktoria Kovacs, my great-grandparents, were wandering around this city, in the heyday of youth, just before Sándor would leave for America. I imagine them on the streetcar or in a café reading a paper, a story about the millennium celebrations in Hungary, as 1896 would mark one thousand years since the arrival of the early Magyars to the Carpathian Basin.
It seemed like a hopeful time. A time of art and culture. Literature. Sciences. Well before communism. Before failed revolution. Before WWI and the cruel Treaty of Trianon was signed, re-establishing Hungary’s boarders, cutting out nearly 75% of it’s territory, 65% of it’s inhabitants (almost 1/3 ethnic Hungarians). This is a very interesting and tragic tidbit of Hungarian history and I will write more about it soon. But until then, you can get a visual reference from this map:
The center chunk is Hungary now. Everything else was Hungary before June 4th, 1920.
But back to the millennial celebrations. It was a good time in Budapest. And with these celebrations approaching, Hungarians were in the mood for something artful. And that’s exactly what Ignác Alpár gave them with his design for Vajdahunyad Castle.
Alpár, who began his career as a stonemason and studied under the prolific Imre Steindl (architect of the Hungarian Parliament building), modeled the castle after another similar structure in Transylvania. But the structure itself really showcases styles ranging from Middle Ages to Baroque. The castle isn’t really a castle at all, but rather a series of buildings within one complex.
This past weekend we took a walk around the castle to get a view of it without the craze of the Mangalica festival. Even though I have been to Budapest City Park several times, especially because it is right behind Hero’s Square, I had never been to the castle. There are some other interesting features at the complex.
For example, right now you can ice skate in the front of the castle. If ice skating isn’t your thing, there are so many nice paths, structures, and sculptures to see. Like this one, of George Washington:
The engraving reads, “To the Memory of Washington. The Hungarians of America, 1906.” It’s nice, but I have absolutely no idea whatsoever why there is a statue of George Washington in city park. George and the turul. Go figure.
My favorite sculpture here so far, except maybe that of the Little Prince and several in Szeged is the incredibly eerie and creepy statue of Anonymous:
The statue was built by Miklós Ligeti and is meant to represent the chronicler to King Béla (though there were a few Bélas in a few different centuries and to my knowledge no one knows which one he meant). Regardless, he was said to chronicle the history of the early Magyars. Despite the spookiness of the statue (believe me, I would run like I was on fire if I came across it alone, at night), I still feel akin to the symbol. You work, you write, to figure out the past of your people and your culture. Some things get recorded and understood. And some remain behind the hood. Still, I like to imagine Sándor and Viktoria in places like this. It’s a charming part of the city, and I like to think they thought so too.