City guide
Tour the secret villas of Rózsadomb
Photo : Gábor Szabó / We Love Budapest

Rózsadomb is both a Buda neighborhood and a synonym for a luxury lifestyle. Only the privileged could build their expensive villas in this most prestigious location, something that did not change after the war. Then known as ‘Káderdűlő’, this was the favoured residence of the Party elite or cadre. The bare trees of winter now allow you to admire the splendour of these villas over the fence – classic, Art-Nouveau and Bauhaus examples of a bygone era.

According to legend, the roses strewn all around this hillside came with Turkish rule – in particular, thanks to soldier poet Gül Baba, the ‘Father of the Roses’ whose tomb on the lower reaches of Rózsadomb (‘Rose Hill’) was recently renovated.

 

After the phylloxera blight destroyed the vineyard that once spread across these slopes in the 1880s, elegant villas began to spring up. These were used as holiday homes by the elite: factory owners, entrepreneurs, traders. After the war, these elegant properties were confiscated by the Communist regime, and assigned to Party functionaries, the ‘cadre’, from which the term ‘Káderdűlő’ arises.

Szépvölgyi út 88B/Zenta-Hoffmann Villa Baba utca 14/Járitz Villa Áfonya utca 3 Áfonya utca 7A Orgona utca 8 Szemlőhegyi út 8 Aranka utca 10 Marczibányi tér 6 Nyúl utca 6

Szépvölgyi út 88B/Zenta-Hoffmann Villa

Photo: Gábor Szabó / We Love Budapest

This beautiful villa designed by József Fischer is one of the most remarkable of the Rózsadomb villas, a prominent example of modern Hungarian architecture.

 

Here, the Bauhaus influence is clear. Fischer himself admitted that the style had a huge impact on him – he even knew Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School. Fischer was also deeply influenced by contemporary Viennese constructions embodying the social commitment of architecture. He was an advocate of Modernist architecture in Hungary and, along with Marcell Breuer and Farkas Molnár, established the Hungarian section of the International Congress of Modern Architecture, CIAM 1928.

 

Together with his wife Eszter Pécsi, Hungary’s first female postgraduate engineer, Fischer built this villa in 1933-34, for the laywer Dr Dezső Hoffmann.

 

The two-storey villa building gained significant international resonance when the UK’s Architectural Review published it as its House of the Month. Fortunately, it has recently been renovated, relieving the property of all its haphazard later additions and all but restoring its original majesty.

Baba utca 14/Járitz Villa

Photo: Gábor Szabó / We Love Budapest

The story of this modern luxury villa, also designed by József Fischer and Eszter Pécsi, was recently revisited in an in-depth interview with the son of István Járitz, the former builder. The villa was constructed in 1943, and was soon engulfed in flames during the bombing of Budapest. The family rebuilt it but just as they wanted to move in, nationalisation took the villa away from them.

 

The building’s great transformation, its extension and roof terrace, were created when it became a hospital during the raging polio virus of the early ’50s. Patients of the János Hospital’s Department of Respiratory Rehabilitation are still treated here today.

 

Contemporary photos and detailed floor plans for both villas can be downloaded from the website of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences website free of charge – with texts in Hungarian.

 

With several events being staged to mark the centenary of the Bauhaus movement, these villas will be brought more into focus this year.

Áfonya utca 3

Photo: Gábor Szabó / We Love Budapest

A short stroll over to Vérhalom tér, this modern villa is well worth a look. At first glance to the layman, Baroque or Art-Nouveau styles might be much more exciting. But to the trained eye, the real attraction of these particular constructions built between the wars is not in their history nor in their rich decoration, but in the revolutionary innovation of detail.

 

In its deployment of materials, this is a masterpiece that is still in use today, a humane living space created for metropolitan residents. The real luxury is provided by sunlit terraces, practical kitchens and spacious children’s room or bathrooms.

 

Áfonya 3 is a two-storey, flat-roofed property built in 1935-36, designed by István Janáky Senior, whom we have to thank for the Palatinus lido on Margaret Island. The official papers also credit Móric Pogány, who worked as Janáky’s office manager at the time.

Áfonya utca 7A

Photo: Gábor Szabó / We Love Budapest

These plans were also drawn up in 1934 by Móric Pogány. Compared to its two neighbours, the softer curves here provide a more undulating façade. This villa has two apartments, one on the ground floor and one with two storeys. Large windows and cascading terraces facing the garden dominate the exterior, making best use of the hilly backdrop.

Orgona utca 8

Photo: Gábor Szabó / We Love Budapest

This newly renovated villa with Art-Nouveau features was completed in 1904, according to a design by Samuel Gabinyi.

 

The building is currently under heritage protection. Here the brickwork is more modest, built by Sándor Baumgarten and Zsigmond Herczegh, who designed the Blind School on Hermina út. Baumgarten was a keen follower of the father of Hungarian Art Nouveau, Ödön Lechner.

Szemlőhegyi út 8

Photo: Gábor Szabó / We Love Budapest

A sad fate seems to have befallen this classic villa on Szemlőhegyi út. Even if it is not as striking as the modern or Art Nouveau buildings so far featured, it was one of the earliest summer houses to have been built. A point of interest is one its former residents, Imre Ungár, who was the most famous blind pianist in Hungary.

Aranka utca 10

Photo: Gábor Szabó / We Love Budapest

This multi-towered yellow villa rises above the other buildings like a fairytale castle. Inside, the villa features exquisite eclectic features and beautiful Art Nouveau detail, from tiling to windows of colourful glass.

 

Designer and builder Emil Ágost Gerstenberger was an architect who moved not only his office, but also his whole family here. Habsburg Archduke Josef Franz then took a shine to the place. After a couple of false starts – by law an ordinary citizen could not sell to a grand duke, so the property was first sold to Count Erdődy and thence to this second cousin of Emperor Franz Josef – the Habsburg royal moved in with his new bride, Princess Anna of Saxony, in 1924. Together, they lived here for 18 years.

 

After the war, the Statistical Office moved in for a while, and from 1949 to 1964, the building was home to 120 pre-schoolers at the state-run Hóvirág Győrotthon. Later, as the Hetes Otthon, it allowed parents working long shifts to visit their children during the week. Currently, it operates as the Tapolcsányi residential college for protected children.

Marczibányi tér 6

Photo: Gábor Szabó / We Love Budapest

Civil defence has long been part of everyday life. Tradition dictates that citizens with certain rights had the duty to protect the capital in the event of an attack. In the 19th century, of course, shooting practice meant passion and prestige.

 

In addition to a shooting hall and practice area built by the Budapest Civil Shooting Association, community spaces such as this one – with a reception hall, a games room and a dining room – were also built, often visited by the well-to-do.

Nyúl utca 6

Photo: Gábor Szabó / We Love Budapest

The most beautiful part of the Gyenes Villa, dating back to 1906, is its balconies with richly carved, Transylvanian folk-art features. A number of Budapest apartment buildings also have links with the designer, Augustine Emileva, an admirer of North German architecture, its steep attic roofs, wooden gables and ornate architectural solutions.