The Petőfi Literary Museum, an important institution in the cultural life of Budapest, is closing for renovation. It is housed in the elegant Károlyi Palace, and part of the revamp will include connecting its courtyard to the nearby Károlyi-kert gardens, a popular retreat in summer. The museum is expected to reopen this autumn.
The Károlyi Palace, home to the Petőfi Literary Museum, was an important centre in the city’s cultural life in the 1800s. Combining the atmosphere and architecture of rural castles and city palaces, it welcomed the likes of poets Mihály Vörösmarty and Ferenc Kölcsey, and statesman Miklós Wesselényi. Franz Liszt could be found at the piano in the evenings.
After the War of Independence of 1848-49, the situation changed. The Károlyi family could only use a few rooms, because the brutal Habsburg commander who helped put down the Hungarian uprising, Haynau, had set up his headquarters in the palace.
In the early 1900s, due to their poor financial situation, the Károlyi family sold the palace and planned for apartment buildings to be set up on the plot. Mihály Károlyi vetoed this idea and modernised the palace, having a garage built in place of the stables.
Károlyi later became Hungary’s first prime minister at the end of World War I, but was soon deposed and fled to Paris. During his long exile, the palace stood empty.
It was suggested that the National Theatre be built in its garden, but eventually the City took over the property and the Budapest Gallery was opened here. In 1957, the Petőfi Literary Museum was established.
The renovation of the museum interiors is linked to the Petőfi memorial celebrations of 2022-23, 200 years after the birth of Hungary’s national poet. Exhibition spaces will be wheelchair-accessible, the courtyard of the Károlyi Palace will link with Károlyi-kert, the former palace gardens opened in 1932 as a public park.
A permanent exhibition will be dedicated to Petőfi himself. The museum and its exhibitions are expected to reopen in the autumn.