A Glimpse into the Hidden Budapest

One of my most frequent compulsions when walking the streets of Budapest is stealing a furtive glance into the inner courtyards of the houses when an unsuspecting inhabitant is going in, perhaps lingering a few seconds to hoist a shopping bag or lead a reluctant mutt over the threshold. Every now and then, I glimpse coloured light streaming through stained glass windows, spiraling staircases with worn yet still magnificent handles, inner gardens with sumptuous flower beds. In those instances my instinct tells me to dash in and pretend I’m not aware that a shocked an appalled inhabitant is about to call the police.

Luckily then, each year since 2011 the Budapest 100 event is being organized by a group of enthusiasts who want to make sure that the city’s historical buildings can be freely visited once a year, usually on the last weekend of April.  As the name of the event shows it, the original idea was to celebrate buildings which turn 100 years old, but these days that’s more of a general guideline, with buildings both older and newer being included on the list.

The theme of 2017 is the Rakpart, with buildings on both sides of the Danube being open to visitors and also hosting programmes, such as guided visits, exhibitions and games. Some houses are open continuosly from 10 to 6, while others can only be visited at given times, so you either follow a route and hope for the best, or consult the event booklet beforehand and plan ahead.

Those who have glanced upon this blog previously know that planning ahead is definitely not our forte, so we started our exploration quite randomly on Batthyány square, basically because we had had lunch in the Bavarian eatery around the corner. The first two houses we visited were the two little fairy tale mansions squeezed on a low bit of the square between the corner of Batthyány street and the market hall, both dating back to the middle of the 17th century. We then moved on to another building which had caught our eyes previously, on Szilágyi Dezső tér and to a different era of the city’s history. The house, which was once the home of Béla Bartók, was built in 1912 in secessionist style. It is also the birth house of Hungarian-Indian painter Amrita Sher Gil, whose parents had a musical and literary salon on the third floor. 

The house also offered some rather exquisite views from the rooftop which could be approached from an ominous looking attic paired with a slightly flimsy metal rail. It was all worth it though, and the overall impression was so lasting that we found the next houses we visited, on Lánchíd, Fő and Döbrentei streets a bit less exciting, even though Lánchíd 5 comes equipped with a piano, in keeping with the profession of the man who commissioned it in 1901, Czech born musical instrument maker János Stowasser and Döbrentei 16 seems to have housed more famous people along its history than entire town elsewhere.

We’ve managed to plan such a packed weekend that to our great chagrin we’ll have to pass visiting the opposing side of the Danube, but you still have one day to do so. We’ll just look forward to next year then, and shower you with some Budapest rooftop porn below.

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