Our recent visit to the Kiscelli Museum came with the extra bonus of a free ticket to either the Castle or the Aquincum museums, which can be used for up to 30 days from the purchase of the first ticket. Emboldened by this prospective, we decided to go for the Aquincum museum, which proved to be a very wise decision, as the first real summery day of the year then led us to an exploration of the Római-part as well. Though, as they say, we’re kind of talented at finding a cloud in every silver lining, the sunshiny weather attracted quite a throng to the riverbank, composed of people, dogs and bikes in random arrangements- sadly no dogs literally riding the bikes, just a few tucked away in baskets, but perhaps the Fellini Kultúrbisztró could ponder a somewhat fellinian dog on a bicycle circus act for the future.
Reaching the Aquincum museum is kind of a no brainer- you just need to get off suburban railway line H5 at the Aquincum stop and walk a little backwards. You’ll soon start seeing the rubbly remains of the old Roman settlement, and a Roman looking hand will point the way to the entrance for the entire final stretch. The museum boldly advertises itself as the Hungarian Pompei, though that might be a bit overblown, and we should also be pretty grateful that the Hármashatár and János hills on the horizon lack any Vesuvian ambitions.
It is however laudable that the museum tries to promote itself in alternative ways and appeal to newer and tech savvier generations, though I remain a sucker for the good old artifact dug up from the bellows of the earth. Of those Aquincum has plenty, perhaps the most exciting being the pipe organ which is one of the best preserved in the world, plus a wide-ranging array of pots and pans, glassware and coins- I was pleased to discover several bearing my name, which suddenly made me feel very connected to the probable Roman ancestry I should have.
There is an intriguing bit of the collection dedicated to dark spells, which the Romans seemed very keen on, with the old artefacts juxtaposed with a story shown as a comic strip (it’s perhaps high time for the breathtaking tales of some Aquincum based Roman adventurers), plus a version of the so-called Tabula Peutingeriana, an ancient Roman road map, which groups places according to their placement on particular Roman roads.
It can thus seem rather odd to our modern eyes, with Aquincum being shown way closer to Rome than let’s say the castrum of Porolissum, which lay in the proximity of both the Romanian city of Zalău and my mother’s home village. Porolissum also lay on a limes, or Roman fortified frontier, and as a child I often wondered whether I preferred my ancestors to have been the free roaming Dacians which I pictured like benign if slightly alcohol imbued sylvan fairies, or the scientific and road building Romans. Investigating the manifold baths of Aquincum and comparing them to the possible hygiene options of the Dacians, my older self is now strongly inclined towards the imperial side of the problem.
The museum also offers some glimpses into pre-Roman Budapest, of which my favourite bunch are the Celtic Eraviscan tribe, who had a rather complex culture which was centred around the Gellért hill- they were conquered by the Romans around 12 BC and some of the locals probably became the not wholly enthusiastic inhabitants of the newly founded Aquincum.
Returning to the exciting subject of the limes, the so-called limes Pannonica, on which Aquincum was a border fortification, ran along the Danube from the Vienna Basin to the castrum of Singidunum, today’s Belgrade. We thus united to the flow of history as we rather less majestically tread up the limes, through a sedate neighbourhood basking in the Sunday sunlight towards the Római part.
Once lined with water mills, today’s Római-part (which translates literally as Roman riverbank) is mostly meant for rowing, boating, biking to and from Szentendre and consuming enormous quantities of European hake, which is on offer at basically all of the restaurants dotting the riverbank. Of these there are very many, most of them running in a self-service buffet mode, yet on a good day they are invariably crowded, with long queues leading up to the bar.
Despite my Portuguese ode to fish, hake is still somewhat off limits to me, as it festers with tiny bones, so my primary choices for hanging out on Római are the rather more burgers and grilled meat minded locations of Fellini Kultúrbistro and Nap bácsi. Both have super comfy sunbeds right at the edge of the river, thus being a perfect location for a relaxing read with the gentle sound of the Danube’s waters washing up ashore in the background. Either that, or an extremely loud and extremely obnoxious homo sapiens on a motorboat disturbing the primeval peace of the river.
For our return to the city centre we chose to follow the bike road all the way to the Kaszásdűlő HÉV station, on which we were the only pedestrians, but our silly endeavour was rewarded with an extremely pleasant pit stop at This Is Melbourne Too, My Little Melbourne’s outer city little brother, located in a leafy nook near the IBS campus.