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Buda Castle

The Buda Castle at night BudapestGreater Budapest

Part of the Castle District and a medieval royal residence, Buda Castle also served as an important cultural and scientific hub. Today it houses the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Széchényi Library.

The first fort was erected on today’s Buda Castle Hill by the king of Hungary in the 13th century, in the wake of the Mongol invasion. A spectacular Gothic-style palace would be erected by the subsequent Anjou kings to serve as a permanent home for the royal court, making Buda the quasi-capital of medieval Hungary. King Matthias turned the place into what might have been the first Italian Renaissance-style royal palace in Europe, bringing about a true Golden Age for Buda Castle. The palace was a bustling intellectual centre, hosting the finest European scientists and artists, as well as the Bibliotheca Corvina, the renowned library of King Matthias I. The architectural inspiration probably came from the concurrent reconstruction of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

The Ottoman invasion of the 16th century brought about the slow decay of the palace. The siege and eventual recapture of Buda Castle in 1686 left almost the entire Gothic and Renaissance complex destroyed. Strangely, it was not as much the siege itself that caused most of the destruction, but the eventual fires that swept through the buildings. The Habsburg kings that followed would never use the palace as a royal residence or office: although Maria Theresa had the new palace built, to house the University of Nagyszombat for a time. Period etchings and paintings feature a unique rectangular tower in the axis of the building, an observatory that would eventually be torn down.

The beautiful Neo-Baroque palace

Today’s Buda Castle complex was completed in 1904, under the rule of Franz Joseph I. Although he himself never considered residing here with his wife Empress Elisabeth (or Sissi as the Hungarians liked to call her), they used to visit the place much more frequently than any of their Habsburg predecessors. Offering a breathtaking panorama of the Danube, the lavishly decorated, 304-metre hall was amongst Europe’s largest. The beautiful Neo-Baroque palace sustained substantial damage in World War II. The renovations would drag on in the post-war communist era, and would only be finished in the 1980s, giving the palace much plainer exteriors and interiors. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987, the Buda Castle District now houses the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Széchényi Library, and hosts various cultural and gastronomy events. The dome of the palace, which is accessible to visitors for a fee, offers a beautiful panorama of the sprawling city below. The ground below the Castle Hill is home to an intricate web of tunnels and caves, certain sections of which are open to the public. A comprehensive restoration of Buda Castle and its historical surroundings and treasures destroyed in and after World War II is currently ongoing as part of a large-scale restoration project called the National Hauszmann Programme.

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