Hilton Hotel Budapest
It is a widespread legend that János Kádár decided, on the terrace of the Intercontinental, to have the first Eastern European Hilton built in the Castle District. At that time, the Hilton contract already existed, under which the hotel would have been built entirely in accordance with Hilton standards, but the Hungarian state would remain the owner. The design of the building was not an unanimous success, with critics complaining that the hotel would destroy the harmonious silhouette of the Castle Hill. Find out what challenges the architects faced and read our latest selection of hospitality history.
In 1968, it was already decided that a hotel would be built in the Buda Castle district, as the views were considered superb and the location exclusive. The American Hilton Corporation was the partner of the Hungarian state in the construction of the hotel, while the Hungarian Danubius Hotel and Spa Company built the hotel with a loan from the Hungarian National Bank, using Hungarian materials and designs by Hungarian designers, according to Hilton's specifications. Being the sixty-eighth member of the Hilton network the hotel was intended to be based primarily on American tourists visiting Hungary.
However, the planning and construction of the hotel were not without difficulties, and the remains of the Dominican monastery, the tower of St. Nicholas and the Jesuit boarding school on the site were hindrances, as the architect in charge of the hotel construction had to take care of their preservation. All this had to be carried out by bringing together blocks of buildings of different styles and ages - obviously with considerable compromises - in order to meet the criteria of both historic environment and modernity.
In 1969, the Institute of Public Building Design (KÖZTI) launched an internal tender for the design of the hotel, which was won by Béla Pintér (who was responsible for the Nyíregyháza College, back then Teacher Training College) and his colleagues. Pintér deliberately kept the design simple, as the building of the new hotel is directly adjacent to the Matthias Church and the Fisherman's Bastion.
Once the plans were approved, archaeological excavation of the site could begin, which took five years. The excavations revealed the 13th-century Dominican monastery, the fountain with the Matthias coat of arms, the cloister, the 15th-century St. Nicholas tower and the ruins of the Jesuit boarding school built at the turn of the 18th century. The monastery and the tower were destroyed during the Ottoman occupation, while the Jesuit boarding school - founded by György Széchenyi - was built between 1687 and 1702, south of the Dominican monastery, merged with the Matthias Church. After the abolition of the Jesuit order, the enlarged building became the home of the universal seminary first and then of the royal chambers of Joseph II of Austria. After the Second World War, the burnt-out former Jesuit building was enclosed and stood in this form behind the Fisherman's Bastion for 25 years.
János Sedlmayr was entrusted with the restoration of the monumental parts by the National Monument Inspectorate. The biggest challenge of the whole construction project was to integrate the excavated remains into the new building. It is no wonder that the excavation and conservation work took so long.
Not only did the archaeological excavation cause some headaches, but so did the foundations. The work also involved wells, cisterns and 2-3 storey-high basement systems under the Castle Hill. In addition, the presence of bomb disposal experts was required due to ammunition left over from the Second World War, which meant a risk of explosion.
However, the Hilton was a challenge not only for the designers, but also for the domestic construction industry, as Hungarian factories were not prepared for large-scale prefabrication and the whole process took longer. The Hilton, built in collaboration with more than a hundred companies and over thirty artists and craftsmen, welcomed its first visitors on 31 December 1976. The 28 suites and 295 rooms of the completed hotel could accommodate 647 people. The Hilton was home to the most expensive deluxe restaurant of Hungary, the Tower, but also to the offices of IBUSZ and Malév.
The Hilton has been renovated several times since it was opened, the vice-presidential suite has been converted into a fitness room, but there is no swimming pool because it was not considered a standard when it was built. A few years ago, the interior of the hotel, which has been owned by Danubius since its opening, was renovated at a cost of HUF 10 billion.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Jancsó Ágnes: Szálloda műemléki konzerválással - 40 éves a budapesti Hilton