One of Budapest’s most heavenly landmarks towers above its namesake square, bustling with locals and city visitors alike; a busy segment of the Grand Boulevard stretches from the gleaming Nyugati Railway Station to the majestic Margaret Bridge. These lively locations – along with many other public places and statues nationwide – all bear the name of St. Stephen, the Magyars’ most revered ruler, the founding king of the Hungarian state. In this first article of a new series, we provide background about this historic monarch and the local attractions that honor him a millennium after his era.
After defeating his pagan uncle Koppány in a decisive
battle over the religious fate of a future nation, St. Stephen (“Szent István”) was crowned on Christmas Day of the year 1000 to become the first King of the Magyar state. As the country’s
devout Christian leader, with
the support of Pope Sylvester II, St. Stephen followed the footsteps of his father, Géza – the Grand Prince of the Hungarians – and used his reign to unite the Hungarian people as a Christian citizenry, a commitment that often involved fierce punishment to those who refused to accept the king’s faith. Nonetheless, St.
Stephen was in power over a relatively peaceful and prosperous period of 40 years; he was beatified soon after his death in 1038.
To commemorate the establishment of the Hungarian state, every August 20th a spectacular national holiday honors the Magyars’ founding king with joyful festivities and sparkling fireworks
as the country celebrates
its annual St. Stephen’s Day blowout. But it’s not only the cheerful celebration that serves to remind the populace
of this esteemed sovereign – several
edifices, like the colossal St. Stephen’s Basilica, and a number of statues citywide, including the king’s graceful horseback depiction within
Fishermen’s Bastion, are also named in honor of the powerful monarch.
Additionally, Hungary’s 10,000-forint banknote
features an elegant graphic depiction of
Glorifying the city’s central landscape with its colossal dome and massive stone structure, this
hallowed monument is one of Budapest’s most frequently visited landmarks. The elaborately ornate church
houses the mummified Holy Right Hand of St. Stephen – the country’s most revered religious relic – alongside a rich collection of remarkable artworks and celestial stained-glass windows with
biblical motifs. When the sound waves
from the Basilica’s immense pipe organ hits visitors’
can feel the notes in their feet, in their chests, and in their souls.
St. Stephen’s Square
A man is standing with a rose in hand, expecting his long-awaited date; girlfriends chuckle over top-secret gossip; a hip skateboarder glides across the open space. These are all everyday scenes amid
the city’s vibrant plaza, one of the most popular
meeting spots for urban dwellers, lined by numerous high-class restaurants and some of Budapest’s hippest bars. Besides shaping the city’s nightlife scene, the St. Stephen’s Square is home to numerous events throughout the year, including a magical Advent Fair, and other occasional
As part of the Grand Boulevard
– the city’s semicircular
thoroughfare spanning from the Petőfi Bridge
to the Margaret Bridge
– this section named after St. Stephen starts at the Nyugati Railway Station’s lively road
junction, passes by an alternate scenery of crumbling constructions and restored edifices, and leads past
the impressive building of the Vígszínház
(“Comedy Theater” in Hungarian), before running into panoramic views at the foot of the Margaret Bridge that marks the end of St. Stephen’s road segment at Jászai Mari Square.
St. Stephen’s Park
Flanked by the tree-shaded Pozsonyi Road on one side and the Danube on the other, this T-shaped park serves as
an out-of-sight communal recreation ground, with great views over
and the Buda Hills. When the first buds of spring arrive, the park becomes
filled with life, hosting dog-walking grandmas, roller-skating teens, and pram-pushing mothers.
St. Stephen's Park
is home to several historic statues and monuments, while the surrounding area boasts several Bauhaus-style buildings that hide some of Budapest’s first penthouse flats.
There are numerous
other public structures that bear the venerated king’s name, like the united Szent István and Szent László Hospital
in District IX on Nagyvárad Square, the Art Nouveau-style Szent István High School
on Ajtósi Dürer sor, the unusual
sculpture of an apparently youthful St. Stephen
beside his horse near the entrance of the Cave Church
on Gellért Hill, or his
graceful memorial on Heroes’ Square
that stands among many
other statues of
men whose lives had major impacts on Hungary’s history;
naturally, St. Stephen’s
a leading position among them.