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Budapest’s 5 best station buildings

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  • We Love Budapest

27/10/2021 9.04am

With the recent news that Nyugati station is line for another overhaul to interlink each main rail terminus in Budapest, it’s time to look at the city’s great train hubs. From mighty Keleti in Pest to that hangover of 1970s’ Socialist-Realism in Buda, Déli, here are Budapest’s four key rail palaces – plus the classic bus station now dedicated to serving wine spritzers.

Photo: Kőrösi Tamás - We Love Budapest

Déli station

1/5

The first station built on this site, on the far side of Castle Hill in Krisztinaváros, was as long ago as 1861. Nearly 25 years before Keleti, trains were setting off from here, eventually bound for Rijeka and the Adriatic coast, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. We have, like for so many other things, István Széchenyi to thank for this rail line. While his rival statesman Lajos Kossuth argued for a link between Rijeka and Vukovar, now in Croatia, to transport domestic produce from the Great Hungarian Plain, the savvier Széchenyi envisaged an interconnected, affordable transport infrastructure for all. The subsequent train line also gave rise to the tourist industry along Lake Balaton. Even now, on any summer’s day, holidaymakers flock to Déli to ride out to resorts on the south and north shores, Siófok, Zamárdi and Balatonfüred.


The station, however, is radically different, the original having been seriously damaged in the war. In its place, Socialist-Realist architect György Kővári, still only in his twenties, built a complex in the same style as the Skála Metró shopping centre at Nyugati and the metro terminus at Kőbánya-Kispest, also his creations. A sweeping glass façade reflects the pretty houses around Vérmező, above which the words DÉLI PÁLYAUDVAR (‘SOUTHERN STATION’) spell out its name in stern 1970s’ typography. Within, the complex brims with monumental architecture and brown glass, the train terminus integrated with the metro station by the same architect.

Photo: Fortepan / UVATERV

Erzsébet tér

2/5

No, the city’s main bus station is no longer here, but the building in the heart of town, as designed by István Nyiri in 1949, remains, thanks to its status as a protected monument. Nyiri was also responsible for planning a couple of other institutional buildings, including a post office on Csepel island, before his death in 1955. This is his masterwork, and his first major under the incoming Communist authorities. Perhaps because it was such early days that Nyiri got away with introducing graceful elements into the design – although this seems hard to believe, given that the building stood on what was then called Sztálin tér, ‘Stalin Square’. More than anything, the city’s main bus terminal was user-friendly, with built-in clocks, a huge schedule display, plentiful marble and natural light in abundance. Above the ticket office and elegant waiting room was an upstairs floor given over to culture.


As city traffic increased, so large trundling coaches negotiating the centre of town became less desirable. The bus station was usurped by more accessible ones at Népstadion, Árpád Bridge and, now the main terminus, Népliget. The now renamed Erzsébet tér was then earmarked as the site for the new National Theatre, later moved to south Pest. In 2001, the station building lost its original function but it was ten years before the short-lived Design Terminál was set up here. Today it houses the Fröccsterasz, the ‘Spritzer Terrace’, overlooking a mainly grassy area with water features where the bus forecourt used to be.  

Photo: Bódis Krisztián - We Love Budapest

Kelenföld station

3/5

Although closed, this beautifully dilapidated station building can still be admired for a while yet before it’s converted into a branch of the Transport Museum. Built in 1884, Kelenföld station served the Southern Railway, as did Déli (see above). From here, though, until relatively recently, trains ran to Vienna and Munich as well as south towards Balaton and Croatia. Slowly, though, it lost its functions and its focus as the new Metro 4 station was built below. Meanwhile, Etele tér alongside was being developed, and the increasingly shabby station building became detrimental to the overall image of the area.


A branch of the huge Transport Museum, earmarked for the former MÁV train repair workshops in Kőbánya, is being built within this former station building. The exhibition space will display the past, present and future of Hungarian railways, as well as stories and memories related to Kelenföld, the name of the surrounding district of south Buda. Until then, the station’s peeling façade will be visible for all to see, a fading memory of holidays past.

Photo: Bódis Krisztián - We Love Budapest

Keleti station

4/5

1087 Budapest, Kerepesi út 2-4.

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Keleti (‘Eastern’) dates back to 1884, the same year that Kelenföld also opened. It had been back in December 1868 that the City government had decided that a new rail hub would be best located right on the Nagykörút, like Nyugati. The site would have been the intersection of today’s Rákóczi út, opposite the former National Theatre. After the location was moved to the customs house at Kerepesi út (today’s Baross tér), an economic downturn thwarted these plans, and delayed the entire project, which only started in 1881. Chief Engineer Gyula Rochlitz was the designer, while the steel structure was developed based on the ideas of bridge-building engineer János Feketeházy. Originally, trains would have arrived at the reception hall on the top floor, while the luggage would have been taken care of downstairs, alongside a post office and coffeehouses. To gain inspiration, Rochlitz visited many European cities, which is why the main building shows similarities to Berlin’s Lehrter Bahnhof, knocked down to make way for today’s Berlin Hauptbahnhof.


Besides its beauty, the main hall also impressed with its imposing dimensions. The whole station stretched across 16,800 square metres, about the size of the Hungarian Parliament opened 20 years later. The covered hall was 180 metres long and 31.4 metres tall. The lobby was decorated with Mór Than’s wall painting, and frescos from Károly Lotz, while the statues of James Watt and George Stephenson stood on the two sides of the façade. These remain in place today. Above them, nearly 32 metres above the ground, stands the towering figure of Steam, born from the deities of Water and Fire. Unlike Nyugati, Keleti didn’t have a grand opening when it was unveiled, on 16 August 1884 – the first train simply went to Miskolc. It also linked Budapest with Transylvania and the northern Balkans to the east. Post-war destruction took years to repair, during which today’s international ticket offices were installed. The 1960s brought further alterations: a new clock was placed into the façade, and an underpass was built, connecting the station to the new M2 metro station. Information desks and ticket offices were moved below ground, the platforms linked by a wide staircase designed by György Kővári, responsible for Déli station. Due to the construction of metro line M4, Baross tér was cordoned off, until the new metro station was opened in 2014. Further change is afoot, with a new passenger centre planned for the underpass.


Photo: Balkányi László - We Love Budapest

Nyugati station

5/5

1062 Budapest, Teréz körút 55

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Standing tall on the Nagykörút since 1877, one of the world’s most stunning stations was designed by the renowned Gustave Eiffel company. Hungary’s first railway line had been built in 1846 between Pest – then a city of 300,000 residents – and the nearby town of Vác. Hungarian national poet Sándor Petőfi was on that first train and duly wrote verse in its praise. The terminal of this railway, the Pesti Indóház, was more or less in the same place as today’s Nyugati. With a high increase in traffic, the city fathers only granted a new station if it would be aligned with the Nagykörút. The owner, Austrian State Railways, decided to demolish the Indóház but the original building was not pulled down until the new one was built so as not to interrupt traffic.


With a budget of eight million forints, the station was planned by Austrian architect August de Serres, later employed by Gustave Eiffel. Works began in 1874, its innovative outer iron structure attracting many people to visit Budapest specifically to admire it. The hall at Nyugati was 146 metres long so that all train carriages could be reached under cover, its glass façade adjusted to the curves of the boulevard. The side structures were enhanced with windows, and were decorated by – according to the trends of those times – two tall domed corner towers on each side, and a French-style dome in the middle. They installed a central ticket hall, waiting rooms, baggage storage, a station master’s office, police and guest rooms, and other offices, as well as a separate waiting room for Emperor Franz Joseph himself.


The official opening of what was Budapesti pályaudvar (‘Budapest Station’) was on 28 October 1877, the ceremony attended by ministers, MPs and the Hungarian commander-in-chief, who paid a visit with a huge military escort. The notables were welcomed and guided by de Serres himself, and the first train embarked on its first journey to Vienna from here two days later. In 1891, when the station became the property of Hungarian State Railways, it was renamed Nyugati (‘Western’). This name had actually nothing to do with the station’s location or with the points of the compass, but with the company who financed the construction. The main tram line stopped here, and it housed a luxury restaurant, a hairdressing salon and other commercial outlets. After World War I, when Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory, the idea was put forward to demolish Nyugati and install a new, smaller, station at Rákosrendező.


This never happened, but some unexpected restructuring still took place. On 2 October 1962, as a train was reversing at 40km/h, ten carriages became detached, and broke through the glass wall of the waiting room, the last carriage landing on the boulevard. As the unfolding disaster was quickly announced over the loudspeakers, only one person – an elderly lady – was severely injured. The next memorable milestone in the station’s history was in 1999, when a few tracks were closed for the construction of the WestEnd mall. The roof terrace covered former tracks, and the façade underwent a facelift. The next major renovation came in 2020-21, a complete overhaul, with more planned this decade to transform Nyugati into an international rail hub.


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