But the story of Gellért did not start here, at least that of the bath did not for sure. The medicinal springs of Buda were known even in the first centuries after the founding of the state, but the real groundwork of the bathing culture was left behind by the Ottomans who invaded Hungary. The bath that was established at the feet of Gellért Hill was called ‘Açık Ilija’ (open-air mud bath) or Aga’s bath. After successfully ousting the Ottomans out of the country and several owner-changes, developments that served the better exploitation of thermal waters were started only as of the 19th century. In 1827, there were also accommodations available for bathers, but the 27-roomed hotel with restaurant that encompassed the whole public- and Turkish baths was built later in 1832. The so-formed Sárosfürdő (Muddy Bath) operated correctly, though the wealthier preferred Rudas or Császárfürdő, despite that the name-giving medicinal mud exceeded those of rivals both in quality and quantity.
However, the mud went dry after a time and important investments were prepared everywhere in the city as the Millennium approached, which affected the surroundings of Gellért Hill as well. Constructions of Franz Joseph Bridge – Liberty Bridge today – began in 1894, and Sárosfürdő stood just in the way of the Buda bridgehead, thus it was condemned to demolition, the municipality confiscated the area. Landscaping of Szent Gellért Square started, and later in 1905, a tender was invited for a building complex to be built there. Finally, the late-art-nouveau-style hotel was built during 9 years by contracting two competition designs of Ármin Hegedűs, Izidor Sterk and Artúr Sebestyén.
Gellért Hotel was a real hotel deluxe; its bath was the most modern one in the whole continent, and a thirty-bedded hospital operated in the complex. Compared to the unique decorations of the building, the fixtures and fittings were gorgeous too. It was the Gundel Restaurant that provided guests with catering. During the twenties, Gellért became a real centre of society of Budapest. Not only the elite of Hungarian political and cultural life frequented it, but also foreign illustrious celebrities, monarchs, authors and actors stayed here. When the wave pool was built in the hotel park, it brought a significant change in the history of the bath, thus sun terraces were full during the summer period. In 1933, the interior was transformed too, and a bubble bath was installed in the place of the former winter garden.
However, the Second World War damaged the building complex. Its Danube-side wing burnt down completely, its hill-side wing only partly did. During the siege, employees managed to save a few pieces of furniture – which were placed back after restoration -, but the incurred damages were inestimable. Restoration started at the northern side; the renovation of the Danube-side wing started only in 1957. The inner spaces received new, modern coating, furniture and decorations, thus the former characteristics of the interior disappeared almost completely. Despite that, Gellért became the flagship of Hungarian tourism again until the seventies, and the whole hotel was modernised in the eighties. The complete restoration of the bath was accomplished ten years ago, when the women’s section got back its leaded oval skylights. On the occasion of its hundredth anniversary, Budapest Healing Baths and Hot Springs Co. Ltd. will celebrate one of the most emblematic buildings of the Hungarian art nouveau with a two-day festival. The Hungarian Museum of Trade and Tourism is preparing an exhibition for this occasion that you can visit in Óbuda from 27 September 2018 to 3 March 2019.
Translated by Zita Aknai