The best-preserved houses were in the area around today's Dísz Square, later acquired by the wealthiest, but immediately after the siege, the city leadership offered the plots almost free in the hope of renovating the buildings. Military officers and state officials mainly occupied the houses in Úri Street - which also still have many remains of walls and arches especially at 13 and 31 Úri Street -, while the streets running parallel to it were populated by craftsmen.
During the reconstruction of the castle, the medieval character was preserved basically, but the construction of the bastion walkway on the western side was a major change. Previously, the rows of houses were all supported by the top of the castle walls, but in the rebuilt Buda, this typically medieval form of construction has been preserved only in the section between the Fisherman's Bastion and the Víziváros Gate. In several places, the junctions of the streets were extended into squares: this is how the Szentháromság Square and Szent György Square were created.
However, the quarter has not changed in one thing: it has retained its character of a fortress, all the more so because they feared a possible Turkish return for some time after the recapture. The focus was first on fortifying the castle, along with restoring the damaged waterworks, the destruction of which was crucial to the successful siege.
Thus, a number of military buildings were erected: barracks, a food store, an armoury and a military hospital. The majority of the buildings were concentrated on Szent György Square, as it was the site of the main guard’s headquarters, the armoury and the headquarters of the Hungarian army as of 1786.
However, the revitalisation of the district required large-scale settling of people. In the opinion of the Court Military Council, 'it would be best to populate the Upper Town (the Castle) with Germans and Catholics, and the Lower (Víziváros) with Hungarians and Rascians (Serbs). The chamber that carried out the settling tried to act according to these criteria, at least with regard to those who were granted property and citizenship. From 1688, decrees prohibited the settlement of Jews and Protestants. Although there were some of them among the poorer, non-property-owning residents, but they were forced to convert to Catholicism if they wanted to stay in Buda permanently.
It is interesting to note that the royal palace was rebuilt only after a considerable delay. In fact, the remains of the medieval palace disappeared during the construction. The later building complex, which was intended for representational purposes, was completed during the reign of Maria Theresa. The Queen visited it only twice, in 1751 and 1764. After that, it was used as an occasional residence, and later as a temporary home for the nuns of the Congregation of Jesus, who had just moved to Hungary. In 1771, Maria Theresa brought the relic of the Holy Right Hand, acquired from Ragusa, to Buda and entrusted it to the nuns.
From the 1780s, after the government offices had moved to Buda, the value of the plots increased, and at the same time, there was a change of populations: nobles, officials and intellectuals moved into the Castle instead of craftsmen. The wealthy citizens rebuilt some of the houses in the Baroque and then Classicist style, according to the period. After the Compromise, the district boomed again when the offices of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defence moved here, making the Castle District the centre of government.
Talking street names, from the inviting Balta Lane to Országház Street and to Fortuna Street
The street names in the Castle District are even more evocative than the ruins, a reminder not only of Turkish domination but also of the siege. Today's Dísz Square was called Pasa Square for a long time, after the palace on its southern side. The area around Kapisztrán Square, where the Christian armies first entered the castle, was remembered as the "imperial gap". The name of the Zsidó (Jewish) Street – now Táncsics Mihály – was also a reference to the past, although after the liberation Jews were not allowed to live in the castle, only their ritual baths preserved their memory.
Today's Országház Street was originally known as Platea Italicorum, or Italian Street, after the Italians who settled here. The Ottomans first used its Hungarian name, and then called it Fürdő (Baths) Street. In the 17th century, part of the street was already called Böcken Gasse, after a local baker, Bernát Spiegl, and an embossment of a bagel still marks his occupation on the gatepost of his former house.
Another interesting history is that of the building at 28 Országház Street, which used to belong to the Clarisses, but by the time their convent was completed, Joseph II had dissolved the order.
The vacated building was rebuilt according to the plans of Franz Anton Hillebrandt for the Royal Curia (the Supreme Court) and the Parliament. The former Clarist church was divided into three levels, and its tower and gable wall were demolished up to the height of the main ridge. In 1785, the other wing, facing the street, was converted into the parliament building. It is no coincidence that this building has been the denominator of the street since the end of the 18th century. The building was used only three times for national assemblies, and was most often rented by the bourgeoisie of Buda for balls.
Balta (Axe) Lane, which still has the same name, is no less exciting. According to the legend, it received its name from the fact that László Hunyadi's head was chopped off in front of this lane. According to another version, when Ladislaus the Posthumous lured the Hunyadi children to Buda, he wanted to have them arrested here. Then the mercenaries protecting the Hunyadis were caught in this lane, trying to protect their masters from the king's soldiers, and as there was only a small space for fighting, they were forced to use their battle-axes instead of their swords. Of course, probably not a word of this is true. The name of the street comes from the name of the wine-bar and tavern 'Zum Hackl' (to the Axe) in the corner house, which was run by János Hackl (Hacke means axe). As of 1888, the tavern was run by Mrs. Ede Schwarz née Erzsébet Müller, which is said to have been a popular meeting place for young lovers at the turn of the century.
Fortuna Street has little to do with luck, in the Middle Ages it was called Középső (Middle) Street (Media platea), and later Szent Pál (St Paul's) Street, as it was the site of the great house of the Pauline fathers of Budaszentlőrinc (Order of St. Paul the First Hermit). For a long time after the reconquest, it was called Wienner Gasse (Vienna Street). In 1784, the Fortuna Inn was opened, and soon the name of the street was changed to that of the inn. The unique Hungarian Catering Trade Museum (the predecessor of the MKVM) was opened in the inn on 19 August 1966. The title of the first exhibition of the museum, “Sections from the History of Catering in Hungary”, defines the collection of the museum accurately. The institute was open to visitors until 2005, when it moved to Korona Square in Óbuda.
The 1930s brought a radical change in the life of Úri Street. The Hungarian government, sensing the approach of the Second World War, decided to locate the treasures of the National Bank in the then 'government quarter'. Thus, at 72 Úri Street, a large-scale construction project began. Additional rooms were built in complete secrecy under the basement of the building, which had already existed. The created bunker, equipped with cooling and heating ventilation, water, sewerage and electricity, also housed safe-deposit vaults, and they were used for storing a part of the country's cash and gold reserves, as well as the coronation jewels during the WW II. After the communist takeover, the property was finally taken from the National Bank in 1950 and was given to Erőmű Tröszt (Power Plant Trust). The protected bunker was used for housing the National Electricity Distribution Company, which was responsible for managing the electric network of Hungary until the late 1970s, when it moved to the recently demolished MAVIR headquarters next to the National Archives.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Albert Enikő: Budavári séták, Látóhatár kiadó, Budapest, 2017.