City guide
Celebrate the stunning architectural legacy of Miklós Ybl
Photo : Bódis Krisztián
Celebrate the stunning architectural legacy of Miklós Ybl

One of the greatest masters of Hungarian architecture, Miklós Ybl was born 200 years ago. This outstanding representative of European historicism created many of Budapest’s most iconic structures, and this is our salute to him: we highlight 12 of his best works in chronological order in this compilation, illustrated with the photos of Krisztián Bódis so that you can notice even the smallest details.

Unger House Gr. Festetics Palace (Andrássy University) Károlyi Palace House of Representatives (Italian Institute) Roman-Catholic Parish Church of Ferencváros Headquarters of the First Savings Bank of Pest (Ybl Palace) Headquarters of Chain Bridge Association (Chain Bridge Palace) Church of St. Stephen in Lipótváros (St. Stephen’s Basilica) Main Customs House (Corvinus University) Degenfeld-Schomburg Palace Opera House (Hungarian State Opera) Várkert Bazaar

Unger House

The palace connecting Museum Boulevard with Magyar Street is one of the earliest works of Ybl in Budapest: it was built between 1852 and 1853, as commissioned by Henrik Unger. The commissioner, who was a lawyer by trade with blacksmith ancestors, acquired great wealth by building tenements. On the first floor of the building, which features Romantic, Byzantine, and Moorish elements, we can see seven small balconies, each of which are supported by two griffons from below. The courtyard, which is most commonly used as a shortcut, is covered by wooden blocks – similarly to the driveway of the Opera House. The slightly worn building definitely deserves a thorough renovation.

Gr. Festetics Palace (Andrássy University)

Photo: Krisztián Bódis
The palace standing at Pollack Mihály Square largely retained its original condition and interior spaces, so we can observe the memories of the commissioning family’s lifestyle. Naturally, representation, private life, and service functions were all given their own space. As we step into the building, we can admire the former salons and suites, the stucco flower decorations of the French Baroque styled staircase, the original chandeliers and intarsia flooring of the assembly hall, and the Venetian mirrors and Czech crystal chandeliers of the ballroom. Below we can find a café in place of the former carriage storage. The Italian palazzo-inspired palace is one of the most beautiful in Budapest – even listening to a lecture can be an enchanting experience here.

Károlyi Palace

Photo: Krisztián Bódis
This building, crowned with a French mansard roof, is just a few meters away from the Andrássy University, and is unfortunately a mere ghost compared to its former glory. The elegant aristocratic palace burned down in 1945, and due to the flawed renovations, it still does not fulfil any function, although there were some plans about converting the building into a “ruin restaurant” or boutique hotel.

House of Representatives (Italian Institute)

Photo: Krisztián Bódis
The building on Bródy Sándor Street was originally a meeting place for lower house representatives, while the upper house representatives met in the nearby National Museum. The neo-Renaissance building was completed in just five months in 1863. The representatives moved to the bank of the Danube, to the building of Imre Steindl in the early 1900s, and since 1942 Ybl’s palace represents the Italian culture and spirit with more than its architectural style. The building has a library, a 140-seat cinema hall, a 500-person concert hall, and a cozy café, as well.

Roman-Catholic Parish Church of Ferencváros

The octagonal top of the church at Bakáts Square can be clearly seen from the Buda side, as well. The constructions started before Hungary’s Great Compromise, in 1865, in place of another church destroyed in the flood of 1838. Some of the greatest artists of the era were involved in the decoration. We can access the three-nave, transept, eclectic church through the columned entrance gate.

Headquarters of the First Savings Bank of Pest (Ybl Palace)

The newly renovated neo-Renaissance building next to the University Library and Centrál Café is one of the gems of “downtown’s main street”. According to the customs of the era, some other venues were also housed next to the office buildings: there used to be a café below the building’s corner tower, and on the first floor there were elegant civilian homes. The staircase is one of the most beautiful in Budapest.

Headquarters of Chain Bridge Association (Chain Bridge Palace)

Photo: Krisztián Bódis
The only neo-Renaissance building at Clark Ádám Square that preserved its original state was built for a very important company in the era, the Chain Bridge Association. Residents of the building included Ferenc Reitter, known for designing the quays, and Károly Herrich, the director of the Tunnel Society. Between the two world wars, a beer hall and café operated on the ground floor. Today, the iconic building of Ybl stands renovated, but without function.

Church of St. Stephen in Lipótváros (St. Stephen’s Basilica)

The construction of the Basilica started in 1851, based on the plans of József Hild, the architect behind the cathedrals of Esztergom and Eger. He revised the previously classicist plans and envisioned a neo-Renaissance look for the huge building, which had a great townscape significance even back then. Construction work was hindered by several unexpected events, none of which were the fault of Ybl – for example, the collapse of the dome – and thus the completion and the interior decoration can be associated with the name of Kauser József. Three eras and three masters: the result is a masterpiece, which is a dominant building of the city’s image to this very day.
The following sentence can be read on the main façade, beneath the pediment: EGO SUM VIA, VERITAS ET VITA, meaning I am the way, the truth, and life. Similarly to the Parliament, the height of the building is 96 meters, so it is no wonder that a spectacular view unfolds before our eyes from the dome’s circular lookout. The building has a Greek cross ground plan, so it does not have a basilica layout. The interior decoration, the design of the dome, the wall paintings of Károly Lotz, the mosaics of Bertalan Székely and Mór Than, Kauser’s main altar with a canopy, and the sculpture of St. Stephen by Alajos Stróbl are all elements that always leave visitors in awe.

Main Customs House (Corvinus University)

In the large courtyard of this monumental building used to be a place for parking horse carriages, but today it is filled with students. Below the building is a basement system, serving as a warehouse and linked to the riverbank with tunnels. The 170-meter façade of the building is decorated with columned balconies and allegorical statues of trade, transportation, and arts. It is worth mentioning the cast-iron columns of the inner courtyard, as well.

Degenfeld-Schomburg Palace

Photo: Krisztián Bódis
On the corner of today’s Bródy Sándor Street and Puskin Street, opposite from Andrássy University, stands this three-story aristocratic palace and tenement, commissioned by the Odescalchi Family. The key elements of the façade are the rustics of the ground and first floor.

Opera House (Hungarian State Opera)

The Opera House – the building that we introduced in a previous article – is one of the most important and best-known works of Ybl. It is harmonious, elegant and serves its purpose excellently to this very day. The wooden blocks of the driveway, the Carrara marble sphinxes, the statues of Liszt and Erkel, the Red Salon, and the dome of the auditorium all became inseparable not only with the building, but with Budapest, as well.

Várkert Bazaar

The first round of the renovations to this riverfront monument, which we also wrote about before, were finished just in time for the 200-year anniversary of Ybl’s birth. The building used to be a huge missed opportunity in the city’s development for decades: the building complex and its gardens have their own atmosphere, and the panorama and the location speak for themselves.