To achieve the radical city development of the past, investors having large capital – who took high risks -, enterprising businessmen and the personal sacrifices of common people were also needed beyond leading personalities, grandiose ideas and state intervention.
“Among the capitals of Europe, probably just these two cities (Naples and Constantinople) have more beautiful sceneries than Buda-pest has. Rows of hills, dark forests, a great river, valleys and a far-reaching steppe vary here, with all colouring power of nature, to grab your imagination and enchant your spirit with unforgettable impressions.” – Imre Áldor, 1866.
At the end of ice age and afterwards
The city of Pest was built on the western side of the Plain of Pest, near the Danube, on the high-level flood-basin and river terrace that was formed at the end of the Pleistocene ice age, which was 2-3 metres higher than the surrounding territories, thus it was protected against large floods. Pest was bordered by the Danube in the west, and by several tributaries of the Danube in the east. The tributary in the place of Nagykörút (Grand Boulevard) was a shipway, thus the area provided inhabitants with protection in strategic aspect too. The name Budapest, created from Buda and Pest, was first mentioned in István Széchenyi’s work Világ (World) in 1831.
“The name of your capital city should be changed to Budapest that would sound familiar and easily just like Bukarest in a few years or rather few months; thus, the two cities that do not take the best view of one another would be associated.” – István Széchenyi, 1831.
World famous wines and restaurants of Buda
Nowadays, it is less known that vineyards covered the slopes of Gellért Hill until the end of the 19th century. So popular white wine was produced from their grapes that it was even faked.
“Indisputably, the restaurants of Buda were beneficial to Buda. Many people visited Buda owing to its wine… In the fifties, Hungarians and Germano-Hungarians – whose grandchildren loved their homeland like the Hungarian-born – all rollicked in tears in these restaurants.” – Buda és vidéke, 1896.
Mostly only street names safeguard the memories of grape cultivation and wine production of Buda. The phylloxera epidemic was responsible for their disappearance at the end of the 19th century.
“Nevertheless, the whole world knows that the wine of Buda can compete with the wines of many other renowned regions.” – Buda és vidéke, 1893.
Palace district and neon signs
The palace district of Budapest can be found in the 8th district; on the area limited by Astoria, Rákóczi Road, Nagykörút (Grand Boulevard), Üllői Road, Kálvin Square and Múzeum Boulevard. Building operations started here after the fall of the 1848-49 Revolution and War of Independence, when construction became fashionable there among aristocrats, the nobility and rich middle-class people. They had luxurious palaces and mansions built by famous architects in the district; their number is over thirty nowadays. For example, the Károlyi, the Festetics, the Prónay, the Gschwindt and the Wenckheim palaces, the latter functions as the Szabó Ervin Library presently.
Later, there was another change – similarly spectacular like the appearance of palaces – in the life of the city, which “illuminated” the streets of Budapest literally: the appearance of electricity in street advertisements. It changed the night view of the city so much that it even triggered extreme reactions (beside the fact that not everybody liked it):
“It would be the duty of authorities to act against what some shops do with the neon lights, because of the infringement of public health. …we almost go blind in front of certain shop-windows, without any pleasant moment that would recompense our eyes for the harmful irritation of our nerves. Lately, the sign boards composed of light bulbs and their mechanical system that flashes in different colours in every second is spreading, which threatens the inhabitants of whole streets with losing their sights.” – Buda és vidéke, 1899.
Good to be among the firsts: in the lead with the underground
Based on Prime Minister Count Gyula Andrássy senior’s idea, the construction of Andrássy Road started almost at the same time as that of the Grand Boulevard. The road and the surrounding houses were expropriated, purchased by the state, thus many people had to leave their homes. Miklós Ybl and István Linczbauer were charged with the design of buildings, among others. That is the reason why the road has a unified eclectic neo-renaissance style. The development of Andrássy Road was crowned with the construction of the underground railway. It is among the first pure electric underground railways built in the world, and the second underground railway in Europe. Why was it necessary? Because the public labour council that was responsible for the public place developments was against building a tramway in the avenue from the beginning. Despite the worldwide fame of the underground, there were some people in the country who were discontented with the achievement:
“The staircases of the underground railway going along Andrássy Road could have been used for elevating the artistic effect of our streets. But what happened instead? …they built boorish stands filled with tasteless garnishes with roofs reminding of a conventional elephant back, which disfigure our most beautiful avenue all the way.” – Buda és vidéke, 1899.
Filling up the Rákos Ditch that surrounded Pest, which was partly natural and partly due to human activities, prepared well the constructions of the Grand Boulevard. It was necessary mainly because the water level was the highest along the ditch during the famous icy flood of 1838 in Pest. It is hard to tell what had the biggest role in the realization of the Grand Boulevard development, but besides Ferenc Reitter’s diligence and the public labour council’s work, the tax allowances could have the biggest part. Namely, the property owners, who were willing to start constructing the palaces along the Boulevard, received an unprecedentedly generous support from the state: absolute tax exemption for a period of fifteen years. This must have had a huge motivating effect on the owners’ building inclinations.
“Especially the construction of Andrássy Road and the Grand Boulevard was feasible in relatively short time, owing to the fact that opening these roads had been initiated by the state itself, based on proposals from the respected council, at the expense of great sacrifices.” – Dr. Sándor Országh, 1893.
Translated by Zita Aknai