Sprawling Kerepesi on Fiumei út is the final resting place of Hungary’s great and good – artists, statesmen, soldiers, craftsmen, inventors and illustrious dynasties. Officially an ornamental cemetery since 1885, the graveyard is now managed by the National Heritage Institute (NÖRI) and is constantly being renovated. The latest area for refurbishment at Budapest's Père-Lachaise is the northern arcade, brimming with beautiful mosaics.

The Gundel gastronomic dynasty, heroic Hungarian general Artúr Görgei and the Jungfer family of master craftsmen all had the wherewithal to have their ornate vaults and tombs designed to the highest standard and sited along the elegant northern arcade of Budapest’s Kerepesi Cemetery.

Created by Lajos Gerle, symmetrical to the main road alongside, the northern arcade features the stunning designs from the workshop of Miksa Róth, the most well-known mosaicist and stained-glass artist during Budapest’s Golden Age just over a century ago. Restoring it over the last 30 months has been equally painstaking, as we shall see.

Kerepesi’s northern arcade

The most valuable tombs in any graveyard – beyond the mausoleums – are those next to the cemetery wall. When these places began to run out along the main road beside Kerepesi around the last turn of the century, the Arcade Plan was born as a solution to provide similarly prestigious sites to the great family crypts of the day.

The symmetrical arcade was built between 1904 and 1908. It managed to transform the cemetery, as the path passing through it became a main thoroughfare, as opposed to the one leading to the mausoleum of the great statesman of the nation, Ferenc Deák. The arcade is almost 90 metres long and closed at each end by domes decorated with mosaics of 50 square metres each, works by Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch, Gábor János Stein and Andor Dudits.

Since these were now the most expensive graves in the cemetery, beneath the arcade lay buried Budapest’s wealthiest families. János Gundel, the founder of the gastronomic dynasty of the same name, and his son, Károly, rest here. Although the name of Gyula Jungfer is not familiar to everyone, most visitors to Budapest will have walked past his wrought-iron work, the gates of illustrious villas and around the façade of Nyugati station.

The Jungfer family crypt is also decorated with elements created by their workshop. Here is also the crypt of the Beliczay family: Imre Beliczay, founder of the Hungary’s gingerbread industry, whose traditions have been nurtured and passed on for five generations.

The challenges of restoration

While the arcade was renovated in 1970 and 2000, more extensive renovation has long been needed. The most notable example was the so-called Dudits cupola, named after Aladár Dudits, containing the painter’s mosaic composition, The Mourning of Christ, damaged during World War II.

The biggest professional challenge during the 2.5-year restoration was to save it. For the Dudits cupola, the mosaic surface glued to the inner brick structure was broken in several places. During the renovation, tree saplings growing between the joints of the stone structures had to be removed by taking away hundreds of kilos of limestone material in the corners, removing the roots and rebuilding the damaged areas.

Then came the static reinforcement of the dome and the restoration of the mosaics. The drying of the damp walls was also a critical point – heating cartridges were inserted into holes made in the wall structure, already successfully used in many monumental restorations, significantly speeding up the process. Renovation also included the copper-topped roof structure, hard limestone façades, domes, crypts, terraces and balustrades, gypsum ceilings and crypt handles.

If you are interested in learning more about Kerepesi, be sure to read our in-depth article on the many famous mausoleums and historic burials in the cemetery, or watch the video below.