All cities have a multitude of secrets. Memorials, ruins, forgotten parts of old buildings, trees, bullet-holes, balconies from where celebrities once gave fiery speeches... Below, we share seven of Budapest’s most-well-known secrets, which would surely take most locals by surprise. At the sunset of our article, we will make an attempt at measuring them: how few people know about them (“secrecy”), how old they are (“age”), and how easy it is to spot them (“access”). The scale ranges from 1 to 10.
Liberty Bridge was opened during the 1896 Millennium celebrations. The king himself hammered in the last silver rivet. Not by hand, naturally: he pushed a button in a tent on the Pest side to operate the 45-ton hammer. The famous silver rivet with the initials F. J. was stolen during World War I, but was soon replaced. Nowadays, the aluminium replacement is kept under a glass cover, so it’s not that easy to spot it. Don’t worry, we’ll help you out: it can be found at the southern part of the bridge, on the Pest side.
There are dozens of statues and memorials in the garden surrounding the National Museum. The most mysterious is to be found to the left of the museum, not very far from the stairs, which became an iconic venue of the 15 March 1848 revolution. It is a column, but not an ordinary one. It used to stand in the Forum Romanum, in Rome. The laconic sign dating back to Communist times says it was the “gift of the Italian people”. It was, as a matter of fact, a gift of Benito Mussolini. A crazy idea only a dictator and his staff could come up with.
There are over a dozen trolley bus lines in Budapest; their numbers range from 70 to 83, so there’s seemingly no secret here. But let us dig a little deeper. After World War II, the first trolley bus was launched on 21 December 1949, the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s birth, and incredible as it seems today, the number was given “as a token of our admiration”. This tragically comical fact promptly faded into the fog of the past, though not much before the 50th anniversary of the 1956 revolution, a tiny pressure group pushed for the number to be changed, but they came up short.
When it comes to buildings, Budapest has always been a beautiful copycat – that is why tourists tend to find it so charming. Few Budapesters know that the building located just off of Oktogon, at 13 Teréz körút, with a wedding parlour on the ground floor, is a smaller, but almost exact copy of Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi, which happened to be the favourite building of Count Géza Batthyány, who owned the site, and who commissioned the eminent architect Alajos Hauszmann (also famous for the New York Palace, today’s Boscolo Hotel). Hauszmann was used to peculiar requests, so he did not object.
Everybody loves Erzsébet Square’s complicated fountain. This water-squirting spectacle consists of three basins and a male figure on the top that symbolizes the Danube. The women sitting on the rim of the lower basin stand for three of the Danube tributaries, namely Tisza, Dráva and Száva. The current fountain is the copy of the original, which used to stand in the middle of Kálvin Square, and was destroyed in the war. One of the surviving figures is a female figure that was moved to the courtyard of Kálvin Square’s oldest building. You can take a glance at her stony beauty from the Ráday Street-side entrance. (Leó Feszler, 1893) The other survivor is to be found in the Museum of Military History.
Why to sell pipes and pearls together? Especially if you are forced to retire to an apartment in Haris köz during the communist times. It may have, however, caught fewer eyes when the shop moved to Régiposta utca. It is now run by the founder’s great-great-grandson. Not only pipes can be ordered online (who would do such a thing?), even a commercial from 1945 can be viewed on the website, These days, there are two brand new business directions: mah-jong and walking sticks…(V. Régiposta utca 7-9., www.gallwitz.hu — unfortunately, the website is only available in Hungarian.)
During the interwar period, Baroque Revival and Bauhaus modernism wrestled with each other for Budapest’s leading architectural style. The modernist “Heart of Jesus” church was completed in 1937 and was designed by Bertalan Árkay. The campanile is somewhat apart. The reason: there is a covered little river called Ördögárok (The Devil’s Ditch) underneath. Critics loved the form and the interior of the holy building, but the least bit surprisingly, the Hungarian Catholic Church found it way too modern. In a fiery attack, it was ridiculed as “God’s Garage”.(XII. Csaba utca and Maros utca corner)