Hidden treasures in Budapest: Part IV – Szabadság tér & surrounding area
France, India, the Soviet Union and Argentina all have a connection to one of Budapest’s most interesting squares: Szabadság tér in District V.
Flying into Budapest’s Ferihegy airport, one can see that the ensemble of buildings to the south of Parliament appears like a monolith. The reason is that until 1896 the city barracks block named “New Building” was here. When such a barracks was no longer deemed necessary in the city centre for security reasons and there was demand for a more prestigious area to be created near Parliament (which was being built at the time), the decision was made to break up the entire barracks and a unique collection of turn-of-the century buildings took its place between 1900 and 1905.
The key building is undoubtedly the monumental former Stock Exchange Palace, which until last year was the headquarters of public television broadcaster MTV. Following MTV’s much-criticised move to a new headquarters in Buda, the palace is to be used as a café and office building. The upper horizontal strip of the façade, with its natural stone panelling ornamentation, brings to mind an Indian temple.
The architect Ignác Alpár established a reputation as a designer of bank buildings with the Stock Exchange and the National Bank on the opposite side of the square. Alpár went on to design the building of the former Hungarian Commercial Bank of Pest (today the home of the interior ministry) on Roosevelt tér, and the Hungarian General Credit Bank (today housing the finance ministry) on József Nádor tér.
Post Office Savings Bank
Right behind Szabadság tér in Hold utca can be found the masterpiece of probably the best-known Secessionist architect, Ödön Lechner: the former Post Office Savings Bank. This elegant building with its folk art motifs on the façade and characteristic Zsolnay roof tiles offers both symbolic details, such as bees returning to their hives, and technical finesse. The architect patented the ingenious window design, which consisted of a casement window with an opening mechanism for the upper sashes and even in 1901 had an integrated roller shutter.
Immediately opposite is a market hall where you can have a bite to eat such as a popular lángos (deep-fried Hungarian flatbread) with sour cream and cheese, before returning to Szabadság tér past the Eternal Flame of Count Batthyány, Hungary’s first prime minister, who was executed by firing squad in 1849.
In a side street named Aulich utca another beautiful white Secessionist building, Walkó House, can be found. It is worth spending time discovering the hidden animal motifs of its façade. The film director Steven Spielberg must have been impressed by this street when he chose it for filming a Parisian scene for his film Munich. In fact some of the Buenos Aires scenes of the film Evita starring Madonna were also shot on Szabadság tér.
Infamous Red Army memorial
One element that appears slightly out of place and is unpopular with some Budapest residents is the fenced and guarded obelisk that sits in the centre of the square in tribute to the Red Army troops who died while seizing Budapest from the Nazis. Finally, visitors can turn into Honvéd utca, admire the wonderful façade of the Bed? House, view the old furniture of the Secessionist inside and have a drink in the café.
– One-time Budapest Times scribe Johannes Schuler has been offering architectural city tours to private individuals and companies for several years. Since this year he is the exclusive member for Budapest of the worldwide network “Guiding architects”. He can be contacted at (+36) 70 311-0113 or email@example.com. For more information about his work see: www.human-design.net.
Former MTV building