There is something eerily exciting about descending deep into the Earth to venture along strange passages. Caves weave through Buda, from the Castle Hill to distant Pál-völgy. To mark the recent World Cavers’ Day, we explore the city’s three main underground attractions.
Topped many of the city’s most notable landmarks – Buda Castle, Matthias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion – below ground, Castle Hill looks something akin to Swiss cheese. Under the streets, three levels of cellars descend to a natural labyrinth. This joins a man-mad cave that houses the Hospital in the Rock, a museum of wax figures telling the history of this fascinating attraction, a bunker in the Cold War and filled with injured casualties during the Siege of Budapest and the Uprising of 1956. You can also take one of the regular two-hour tours offered by the Duna Ipoly National Park, exploring the tangled natural and political history of the cave system. These are Hungarian-only but you gain access to dark corners you would never find otherwise.
Tucked into the hillside above Kolosy tér in Óbuda, Szemlő-hegyi Cave features stone roses, pisolite and gypsum crystals, supporting the thermal water origin of the cave. Thanks to the air’s nearly 100% humidity and 12- degree temperatures, speleotherapy sessions have been held here since 1990. The entrance area is now surrounded by a buffer zone, where hikers can enjoy slides, a jungle gym, benches and a geological study trail. All kinds of obstacle courses can be tried, such as rope technology or ‘Climbing the Needle’, but the less brave can also choose from a variety of interactive attractions. The cave, partly accessible for the physically challenged, can be visited only within the framework of an hourly tour. You may buy a combined ticket to continue your adventure at the nearby Pál-völgy Cave.
It was a clumsy sheep who discovered Pál-völgyi Cave in the summer of 1904, happily grazing away before disappearing into depths that extend for 30 kilometres. This opened up the system for explorers, citizens escaping war-time bombing, bats, elephants and crocodiles, the last two being stalagmite formations. There’s a shorter illuminated section for casual visitors, with cool temperatures and excellent acoustics, but those who want to don a jumpsuit and a headlamp can join a three-hour expedition – and be prepared for some serious crawling.