Scaffold from a public hospital
For the construction of the New Building, which was roughly on the site of today's Szabadság Square, Joseph II of Austria gave instructions, and it was designed by the Viennese architect Isidore Canevale a renowned architect of the period. What function the building was intended to perform was not clear to the public at first, as this information was not shared with anyone. Allegedly first, Joseph II wanted to improve the health care of Buda and Pest by building a public hospital, as he found that hospitals were in a terrible condition during his travels. Later, he changed his mind and wanted to have a military hospital and barracks built on the selected site of Lipótváros. Lipótváros was an industrial quarter of Pest at that time, so the New Building stood out not only for its purpose but also for its size. Work on the rectangular building enclosing the inner courtyard began in 1786, under the guidance of mason foreman János Hild, whose son József Hild also gained his first professional experience here.
The building was rectangular, with smaller rectangular bastions at its four corners, from which it became truly a fortress. In terms of size, the larger front walls were longer than 100 fathoms, and the inner main courtyard occupied almost 10,000 square fathoms. At the same time, the New Building lacked a special architectural value, overall it was a very puritanical but functional building, which showed well the taste of the ruler. However, the work progressed slowly and Joseph II could not see the completion of the planned structure, the construction of which was interrupted by the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, thus the construction was not completed until 1814.
What made the New Building a bad memory for us was that on 6 October 1849, Count Lajos Batthyány, the first prime minister of Hungary, was executed in its courtyard. The Batthyány Eternal Flame, which also serves as a place of remembrance today, was inaugurated in 1926.
After the fall of the War of Independence, the Neugebäude (New Building) rightly became one of the symbols of Austrian absolutism. However, it lost its role after the Compromise (1867), after which the city leaders tried to find a new function for the building. In fact, the monster of the New Building was unsuitable on the map of the growing city, so in the 1890s it was sentenced to demolition, which was done in 1897.
Stock Exchange Palace and the Adriatic
Meanwhile, an arm's length away from the demolished ominous building, the construction of the Parliament began, and due to this, the area became more valuable. The plots of the area were sold in 1899, and Szabadság Square was created on the site of the New Building according to the plans of Antal Palóczi. At the same time, the image of the quarter also changed. A number of financial palaces were built within a few years, such as the Stock Exchange Palace, the Hungarian National Bank, the Hungarian Trade Hall, the Post Office Savings Bank and the Adriatic Nautical PLC.
The Stock Exchange Palace, built between 1902 and 1907 according to the plans of Ignác Alpár - like the headquarters of the Hungarian National Bank -, is one of the largest buildings in contemporary Europe, modelled on Brussels. Until its liquidation in 1948, it hosted the Pest Stock Exchange, and from 1955, it operated as the headquarters of the Hungarian Television. The interiors of the building were then completely rebuilt, only the exterior walls retained its original condition. The Hungarian state has since sold the property, which has been vacant since 2009, only during the time of filmings does life move to the former palace.
Another imposing object of the square is the headquarters of the Royal Hungarian Adriatic Nautical Company, located at the intersection of Vécsey Károly and Zoltán Streets. The headquarters not only provided space for their offices, but also served as a residential home for company officials. The new customs and trade laws following the Compromise made it possible for Hungarian foreign trade to become independent, as well as the need for shipping independently from the Austrians. Thus the Adriatic company, which later had headquarters in Fiume and Budapest, was established in 1881, and it flourished at the beginning of the 20th century. The building was designed by architect Artúr Meinig in his characteristic neo-baroque style (his best-known work is the Wenckheim Palace on Calvin Square). The building permit was issued in April 1900, and the building was completed in 1902. Between the two world wars, the Pension Institute of the National Bank owned the building. After Trianon, all this changed. It became a representative office and tenement house in the absence of the sea, and various organizations moved in it after the Second World War. The Express Youth and Student Travel Agency operated in the house, so the building was sometimes referred to as the Express House, but the Hungarian Partisan Association also rented premises here, and even a kindergarten operated in the former palace. Its long overdue renovation seems to be realised soon.
Irredentist group of statues and the Soviet heroic memorial monument
Not only the representative palaces but also four groups of statues often appear in the contemporary depictions of the square. The plan to erect an irredentist monument arose as early as the mid-1920s, and the idea, allegedly came from the Ministerial Councillor of the Ministry of Culture Róbert K. Kertész, was embraced by a radical irredentist organization the Association of Defensive Leagues (VLS). The heroic statues symbolizing the detached areas were completed at attack speed by the end of the 1920s. The North, South, East, West were created by sculptors Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl, István Szentgyörgyi, János Pásztor and Ferenc Sidló. However, the allegorical works did not focus on the struggle against the successor states, but on the supremacy and cohesive power of Hungary.
The Irredentist group of statues was unveiled on 16 January 1921, amid considerable interest. It survived the Second World War, the statues stood in their places until August 1945. Then a press-attack lobby, typical of the era, began to remove the works of art, and their fate after their disappearance is still unknown. The square was not left without a monument; the erection of the Soviet heroic memorial monument in 1946 strengthened the expropriation of the former shrine. Thus, the square became a place full of contradictions of symbols invoking the suppression of Hungarians and the Hungarian liberty.
Translated by Zita Aknai