Visible and invisible 15th March
Naturally, the Pilvax Coffee House is our first stop, because everything started here. Petőfi arrived here early in the morning, he recited the National Song here for the first time and Jókai read out the 12 points that were composed here on 14th March. The café was opened by Ferenc Privorsky in 1838, Károly Pilvax took it over in 1842, and he worked here until 1846, when János Fillinger rented the place but kept the name of it – though certain sources mentioned it as Fillinger Coffee House related to the events of ’48 – except for a short period, when it was named Liberty Hall for Petőfi’s suggestion in order to honour the revolution. After the fall of the independence war, the café changed its name and owner several times later, until it became a real memorial place under Antal Schowanetz’s leadership in 1895. Pilvax became Pilvax again, and the framed 12 points hung on the wall with murals painted about the key figures of the revolution. Unfortunately, we cannot see that because the city leadership had the building pulled down in 1911. In the new building, only a memorial tablet informs passers-by about what kind of place of historical importance they are standing at.
Youngsters targeted the universities after the Pilvax, according to their former agreement. They wanted to mobilise the students of the faculty of law, the medical university and finally those of the faculties of engineering and philosophy. The scenario was the same everywhere: Petőfi recited the National Song and Jókai read out the 12 points. They did not need to walk much, actually less than the distance today from the Faculty of Law of ELTE at Egyetem Square to the campus of the Faculty of Arts in Múzeum Boulevard, because the distance was only 1 or 2 corners among the three places. The faculty of law operated in the monastery building that belonged to the Order of Saint Paul back then, on the same place as today at Egyetem Square. The faculty of medicine was not far from that on the corner of Hatvani Street and Újvilág Street. Nowadays, it is the corner of Kossuth Lajos Street and Semmelweis Street and people who come here do not study organs in formaline, but watch films in the Puskin Cinema. Two corners from the faculty of medicine, students of the faculties of engineering and philosophy could listen to Petőfi and his company. Today the Reáltanoda Street is not attended by university students, but the students of the Eötvös József Secondary Grammar School.
Landerer and Heckenast
At 10 o’clock in the morning, not only big crowds of university students joined Petőfi’s companions, but also a growing number of people from the streets in order to vindicate the first point of the proclamation: freedom of the press. Landerer’s printing house was on the corner of Hatvani (Kossuth) Street and Szép Street, and the building is still standing. The classicistic building that was designed by Mihály Pollack became an important spot of the revolution not only for the 12 points and the National Song that were printed here, but also due to the Nemzeti Kör (National Circle) that rented a room here from 1845 till ’47, and to Prime Minister Lajos Batthyány’s office that operated here in April 1848 and the first responsible Hungarian government also held its sessions here. When the revolutionary crowd arrived at the printing house in order to occupy it, Landerer did not offer significant resistance, moreover he was rather cooperative. This was probably because Landerer, Jókai and Petőfi knew one another well, as this printing house published the magazine Életképek that was edited by Jókai and was popular with Petőfi’s circle of acquaintance. The first products of the free press, the first flyers were just thrown out of the window to the crowd waiting outside, and then Petőfi recited the National Song – which he had written on a sheet of paper from memory, verse by verse to the piece-compositors because he had forgotten the original copy at home – that happens even to the best ones.
By three o’clock in the afternoon, when the national assembly was due, a huge crowd arrived at the museum and thousands of printed proclamation and National Song flyers were handed out to the people. Later during the war of independence, national assemblies were also held here and the last group of revolutionists departed from here on 11 July in 1849. The events that happened here made this building – that had been opened about six weeks before the revolution broke out - a real historical symbol. In the pouring rain, during the inspiring speeches held on the stairs of the museum, Petőfi did NOT recite the National Song, or at least he does not mention it in his work ‘Lapok Petőfi Sándor naplójából’ (Pages from Sándor Petőfi’s Diary).
City Hall of Pest
There is no point in searching the building, because it vanished in 1900, as the new Elizabeth Bridge needed space. It must have stood somewhere next to the Downtown Church on the place of the Piarist Secondary Grammar School. The crowd left the museum yard for here, in order to gain the city leaders’ support. When the big crowd trooped into the boardroom of the city hall, the aldermen did not sympathize with them first and wanted to bundle them out, though they felt sympathy with their claims. Finally, Lipót Rottenbiller convinced the aldermen of signing the 12 points and then he showed it to the crowd waiting outside. In the meantime, the rumour said that the Austrian military was on their way, so they decided to go to Buda to the Royal Council of Governor and in order to free Mihály Táncsics.
Royal Council of Governor and Táncsics’ prison
A crowd of twenty thousand people crossed the pontoon bridge. The Royal Council of Governor was the supreme governing body and was also responsible for censorship. The claims were handed to the Council by Rottenbiller, sub-prefect of Pest County Pál Nyáry (who had joined the crowd earlier) and chief speaker of the Parliament Gábor Klauzál. The Council was white with fear, trembled and agreed to everything after a five-minute consultation. The council building is still standing at 53 Úri Street. It went through smaller reconstructions during the past 150 years; nowadays the Institutes for Ethnography and for Legal Studies of MTA (Hungarian Academy of Sciences) are working here.
Mihály Táncsics’ prison can be found a couple of corners from here, at 9 Táncsics Street named after him. A memorial tablet on the façade commemorates the story of his captivity and rescue. He was waiting for his rescuers behind the window that is next to the plaque now. After Táncsics’ rescue the prison was locked up but they forgot about another prisoner, the Romanian lawyer Eftimie Murgu, who was kept there, too. He was living on leaves and grass for weeks, because he could not climb down the bailey and nobody heard his shouting; he was found a month later.
The last scene of the famous events of 15th March 1848 was the National Theatre. The theatre used to stand opposite the Astoria Hotel that time. It was built in 1848 by public subscription and was directed by Ferenc Erkel. The building was demolished in 1913-14, as it was found dangerous in 1908; stood empty until its demolition, and now you can find an office building and a Burger King restaurant on its place. The program was the play ‘Két anya gyermeke’ (Two Mothers’ Child) that day in 1848, but the actual events made it clear: the program had to be changed. The directorate decided to show József Katona’s Bánk Bán. They could not finish the drama, because the crowd that returned from Buda interrupted it. By public request, the National Song, the National Anthem and the Szózat (Summons by Mihály Vörösmarty) were performed instead. Róza Laborfalvi pinned up a rosette made by herself on Mór Jókai’s coat and this momentum was the beginning of their acquaintance and love. ‘Liberty and love These two I must have.’ – Sándor Petőfi wrote.
Translated by Zita Aknai