budapest

Retro Railways: ride the Continent’s oldest metro in Budapest

Writers

8/17/2015 2:00 AM

Embark on a timeless journey along the line of Continental Europe’s very first underground, running under many of Budapest’s most imposing monuments to play a vital part in the city’s history and present-day life. The fabled yellow Metro 1 cars glide and screech from downtown Vörösmarty Square through low-ceilinged tunnels beneath the length of grand Andrássy Avenue – stopping at classically decorated stations with white-tiled walls and steel support beams lined with metal rivets – before concluding just past City Park. We present a moving overview of this charmingly antiquated conveyance.

As Budapest officials

were preparing for

the 1896 Millennial Jubilee



a huge celebration

to

commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Magyars’ arrival in Hungary

– they needed a way to transport festivalgoers from downtown

Pest to the main festivities in City Park. Following the example of London’s pioneering underground system, the Hungarian

National Assembly commissioned

Siemens and Halske AG to build

the first electrified underground line in Continental Europe beginning in

1894 – with

a

strict

construction deadline to ensure that the subway would be

functional

in time for the celebrations. The
millennium metro
started operating on May 2, 1896, with one of its very first passengers being

Austrian Emperor and King of Hungary
Franz Joseph I aboard

a specifically designed royal subway

car
, and

soon afterwards this then-innovative underground line was

transporting

high-spirited crowds to join

the grand jubilee

events.

Since then, this iconic and stately sight of Budapest

continually serves as

a remarkable moving monument

of downtown Budapest, as the “yellow line” still carries an increasing number of passengers from all

walks of life through its elegantly preserved

stations, and was a major factor in Budapest’s earning a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.At

the Underground Railway Museum
in the underpass of
Deák Ferenc Square
next to the BKK information counter, visitors are taken

back over a century in time. Set up within

one of the original Metro 1 platforms

– eliminated from service

in 1955

when Budapest began constructing

its second

subway

line

to intersect with

the first

underground

here –

spectators can experience something

similar to what

19th-century

passengers first laid their eyes on here, as

the intense smell of oil circulates in the air surrounding a trio of
historic

electric subway cars
. These

nostalgic wagons

are on display

in the museum (one of them equipped with manually-opening doors) along with building logs, blueprints, and

the original Zsolnay tiles that once marked the underground’s Gizella Square terminus (modern-day Vörösmarty Square). We can also admire old photos of the long-gone structures that once covered Metro 1 staircases at almost every stop, and admire

their stone arches built with an intricate design. The museum is open from

Tuesday to Sunday between 10am and 5pm.Today, riding on the Millennium Underground is an almost unmissable activity in the Hungarian capital, whether taking the Metro 1 for its historical value or just to get around the city – the subway

stops

at significant locations that are still actively buzzing along its urban route. Over time the yellow line was

extended and reconstructed with new stations added to its path, so now

the 4.4-kilometer underground

traverses

11 stations, providing access to many

major city

landmarks along the way. A ride aboard provides sensations of

the city’s

enduring

belle-époque

grace blended with the fascination of this modern metropolis.The historic voyage kicks off at the southern terminus in the middle of majestic Vörösmarty Square, at the end of Váci Street

across the legendary

Gerbeaud House

confectionery. From here travelers head towards Deák Ferenc Square, now

the

intersection and transport junction for

three of Budapest’s underground lines. The square is a popular meeting spot for locals and visitors, where life is buzzing all year round, boasting a good number of terrace bars and restaurants during the summer months.The subway continues

on to travel

below

Andrássy Avenue
beginning with the Bajcsy-Zsilinszkystation,

and runs on towards the Hungarian State Opera House, a splendid neo-Renaissance architectural masterpiece and high-class cultural hub hosting performances since 1884. Across the grand boulevard

we can admire the intriguing design of the Drechsler Palace

(formerly the

State Ballet Institute), a long-abandoned building that may

be transformed into a luxury hotel by 2017. To the

delight

of shopaholics, this section of Andrássy

is also home to a variety

of high-end designer boutiques.

Photo: Juhász Norbert - We Love Budapest

The underground journey then continues to
Oktogon,

another major intersection named after its octagonal shape. The subway moves on towards

Vörösmarty Street, and stops a stone’s throw away from the House of Terror Museum
– occupying

a significant building with

a dark

history, where

countless atrocities were committed by officers of Hungary’s occupying Nazis and Communists alike. The next station is

Kodály Körönd, a huge

traffic circle

surrounded by ornate mansions, small parklands, and statues depicting Hungarian heroes;

groundbreaking Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály lived here, and the
memorial museum in his former home
now welcomes the public.

Photo: Juhász Norbert - We Love Budapest

Continuing

on

the Millennium Metro below the surface of Andrássy, passing through the Bajza Street station

surrounded by an elegant neighborhood of old villas and embassies, we arrive at legendary Heroes’ Square, one of
Budapest’s major landmarks and a postcard superstar, showcasing an iconic colonnade of statues depicting major figures of Magyar history – the prime attraction of the 1896 jubilee



including

the seven Chieftains of the Magyars
and other important national leaders, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.From this breathtaking scene, the metro drops us right next to Széchenyi Bath, Budapest’s

renowned

thermal-spa complex,

in the heart of
City Park. This historic green space

is home to many notable sights, such as the imposing Vajdahunyad Castle, the Budapest Zoo

and Botanical Garden
, and the renowned

Gundel Restaurant. From this point the underground leaves the historical journey behind and proceeds

on its extended route towards the northern terminus at Mexikói Road.Looking ahead, while some development plans are being revealed, the future of the Millennium Metro is still unclear. There are proposals

to extend

the line

in both directions, with more transfer points, and the 40-year-old vehicles may

be replaced by avant-garde
subway cars: these

would be automated

open-air conveyances with spacious

interiors
, an increased passenger capacity,

and a

cutting-edge

exterior
.

Photo: Turizmus Online

While these final plans are yet to be confirmed, we hope that whatever

the outcome will be, our beloved yellow line will preserve its historic

characteristics that provide

a distinct feel of classic charm to every passenger embarking on a journey through time with each

ride aboard the Metro 1.

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