Budapest corner with Istanbul: Gül Baba’s Rosegarden

Humans are seldom happy with what they have. Say you’re offered a bank holiday right in the middle of the week, and in a more positively disposed moment you do admit that this arrangement could perhaps function in the long run, making people more focused on the tasks they have on the four working days which would be left of the week, sort of a less unhappiness and cat video browsing, more efficiency approach. But one day is awfully short too, if you spend the morning on some household chores and you have a compulsory programme in the evening (though of course the compulsory-ness of a Champions League semifinal may be debatable), you’re left with just a handful of hours that do not allow for longer day trips. But the weather is quite lovely, and a solution must be found, which in our case happens to be a tomb.

Not just any old tomb, of course, but one of the best known in the whole city. Perched at the top end of Gül Baba street, which recently reached a certain level of insta-notoriety due to being quite probably the only Budapest street with a truly Mediterranean feel, the tomb in question houses the worldly remains of Gül Baba himself, a Bektashi dervish who apparently had a fondness for roses (hence the name, gül being the Turkish word for rose) and arrived in Hungary with the conquering armies of Sultan Süleyman I. Rather disappointingly, he passed away almost immediately, at the end of Buda’s siege, not in battle, but attending a ceremony in the repurposed mosque which is now the Matthias Church. Even more disappointingly he may not have had anything to do with roses either- some historians theorize that his name may have been the rather more prosaic Kel (Bald) Baba, which later mutated towards the similar sounding gül as the faithful began a tradition of laying roses on his grave. The tomb itself was erected by the third pasha of Buda, Mehmed Yahyapaşazade, between the years 1543 and 1548 and then escaped unharmed when the Habsburgs took the city in 1686, but, as these things happen, was promptly converted into a church dedicated to Saint Joseph.

Having returned to its initial state of Muslim pilgrimage site by the end of the 20th century, it also fell into a certain romanticized dereliction, which made it a popular meeting spot for couples who sought both its seeming remoteness and its spectacular views of the city. Thus, the news that the area would be reconditioned with the help of a sizable investment from the Turkish government was greeted rather doubtfully by many, and its stone-heavy renovation put a weight on the hearts of others. And indeed, there is a certain artificial, sanitized feel about the perfectly cut slabs- or rather, generally perfectly cut, except at the top of the columns which somehow managed to end up considerably larger than the wooden structure of the roof they are meeting. It can occasionally feel like a custom made tourist attraction freshly assembled from the box, though attention has definitely been paid to keep some coherence with its original purpose and it does bear an overall resemblance to the tekke and museum dedicated to the Bektashi order’s founder Haji Bektash Veli, found in the Turkish city bearing his name.

A museum, currently housing a general exhibition about Gül Baba, the Bektashi order and their connection to Budapest and another one of miniatures by a contemporary artist, can be visited for free and is rather enjoyable and well presented, giving us a glimpse, among other things, into the fact that Bektashis loved strange stones with even stranger names almost as much as Thanos. The coffee house was pretty subdued in spite of the bank holiday throng (the strong scent of hot Ceylon tea and thick Turkish coffee would exponentially increase the authentic feel of the place), while the small souvenir shop dispensed rose themed and Turkish made items, such the Iznik coffee cup the blog’s lazy co-photographer  (he has been degraded from industrious to lazy as he showed up without an actual camera) purchased in a rather counter-intuitive move.

The views obviously remain quite tempting, especially the ones containing the Parliament in its full splendour, and the three leveled garden found by the Mecset street entrance (theoretically the official one, though I will forever vote for a Gül Baba street approach) somewhat makes up for the lack of vegetation inside what would have been the traditional rose garden. Mind you, there are roses inside as well, only that they are boxed and contained in a way which is more fitting the garden of a maniacal French person as opposed to the haphazard lushness of its Oriental versions. But as previously mentioned, humans are seldom happy with what they have, and instead of grumbling about the perceived shortcomings of the renovation, we could appreciate that it happened at all and root for the roses to grow and reclaim the lost lands and perfect slabs.

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