City guide

Discover the secret Károly Lotz fresco at Budapest’s Blaha Square

Photo : Hartyányi Norbert - We Love Budapest
Discover the secret Károly Lotz fresco at Budapest’s Blaha Square

Blaha Lujza Square isn’t exactly a place where we would go to admire the scenery. This is the main gateway to Budapest’s District VIII, which was one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods during the belle époque era, but after many decades of neglect it is largely run-down these days, and is only now beginning to be improved. With the recent establishment of two modern hotels here, Blaha Square is slowly becoming appealing again, yet its former glory remains evident mostly in historic photographs, with one exception – the magnificent fresco of Károly Lotz, hidden in a nondescript alcove.

Blaha Lujza Square
  • 1085 Budapest, Blaha Lujza tér
It’s hard to imagine it today, but if we could go back to 1865, we would see a one-storey residential building and a steam-powered sawmill at this busy junction. A three-story tenement house was built in its place in 1870, but later it was demolished. As the neighborhood grew in esteem, it is reported that ministry counselor Zsigmond László bought the lot around 1890 to build a grand urban palace there, hiring István Kiss to design the building which still stands today at József Boulevard 2 – this edifice became a key figure of one of the busiest intersections in downtown. Some sources claim that the plan of the counselor almost failed, as local officials wanted to establish a firehouse here, but the private residential building was eventually built instead, which was finished by 1895, during the second construction phase of the Grand Boulevard. The enclosed balcony loggias are still the most striking elements of this domed corner house, and in recent times they came back to life again and are flourishing.
Sitting on bus number 7, one might wonder what beautiful apartments hide behind the elegant arched balconies and statues of the façade. The second floor originally housed two residences, one of which was probably occupied by Zsigmond László himself with his family. Although we didn’t get through the gate as we visited the house for a different purpose, there’s an ivy-covered fountain in the courtyard, and the emphasized pillars of the gangway are also nicely maintained.
If we are coming from the direction of József Boulevard, hurrying down toward the underpass, we pass under a rather ornate gate; unfortunately the unpleasant electric signs, advertisements, and other ugly elements distract us from recognizing it. There’s a pharmacy under the arcade (which was once owned by pharmacist Hugó Örkény, the father of notable absurdist writer István Örkény). When we are in a hurry to get to the metro station or the pharmacy, we usually don’t look up to the ceiling – and yet, one of the most exciting parts of the László building, which can be seen even by passersby, is there: the fresco of renowned Magyar painter Károly Lotz – the artist who embellished the Opera House ceiling, his namesake Lotz Hall, and several other significant interiors – restored by István Tiszai Tüske in 1978.
So, the next time that you are passing by there, it’s worth taking a few moments to stop into this alcove and tilting your necks upwards to admire this hidden masterpiece.