Downtown Pest: The New Imperial Capital 1867-1914

Downtown Pest: The New Imperial Capital 1867-1914

Downtown-Pest-2This tour takes you through Pest, the busy and lively centre of the city on the east bank of the river Danube. Since the Middle Ages, the castle of Buda on the west bank has always been the seat of royal power. But in the second half of the 19th become the opulent political, financial and religious centre of the newborn Hungarian nation.That development started in 1867, when Hungary regained most of its independence after a political compromise with the Austrian Hapsburg Empire to which the country belonged. Six years later, Buda and Pest were unified and from then the city started booming. They built a huge new Parliament, extravagant palaces for the Stock Exchange and banks, an immense new basilica, an impressive new Synagogue, the Andrassy út – an elegant boulevard modeled after the Champs Elysée in Paris ­­–, the first subway on the European continent, the Opera house, a river promenade, theatres and city parks.

The tour starts in front of the Parliament at Kossuth square. At its inauguration in 1896, it was the biggest and most costly structure ever built in Hungary and, an investment which still shows. Massive and impressive from the outside and dazzling within, it is brimming with art contributed by nearly every famous Hungarian painter and sculptor of the time. (We will not go inside, as Parliament organizes its own guided tours).

Downtown-Pest-3Of course, we take in and discuss the other buildings and monuments on and around the square, then visit the most impressive Holocaust Monument erected on a bank of the Danube right behind Parliament to memorialize the thousands of Jewish citizens of Budapest (a fourth of the city’s community) tragically killed on that very spot in the last months of the Second World War.

Freedom Square is our next stop. It was originally built as the financial centre of the city and according to many it is the most beautiful square in town. There is a lot to see here: the huge stock exchange palace and the opulent buildings that still house several banks, including the Hungarian National Bank. Interesting stories abound here: about the statue of American general Bentholz, about Cardinal Mindszenty, who lived hidden for 15 years in the US embassy while on the run for the communists, and the last Soviet monument, curiously flanked today by a the statue of Ronald Reagan put up in 2011.

Downtown-Pest-4We continue to St Stephen’s Basilica. Along the way, we will pass several beautiful art nouveau buildings for which Budapest is famous. A bit further is the Large Synagogue, the second largest synagogue in the world. It is a monument to the vital role the Jewish population (25% of the citizens of Budapest) and its wealthy bourgeois played in the development of the city. Eventually, we will travel along and under Andrassy Boulevard, an esplanade designed for nobility. After a short stop at the Opera House, the tour ends at Heroes Square, where the Hungarians in 1896 celebrated the 1000­year existence of their kingdom.

Andras Schweitzer Andras Schweitzer is senior lecturer at ELTE University, Budapest, focusing on contemporary political history. He holds a PhD in International Relations (2006, Corvinus University of Budapest). Besides his alma mater, he took courses on the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, studied contemporary Hungarian history at the Eszterházy Károly Főiskola (Eger) and East-Central European history at the Central European University (CEU). He had worked for 17 years for HVG, Hungary’s leading political-financial-cultural weekly magazine („The Economist of Hungary”) as journalist and section editor producing and editing feature and news stories, interviews, reportage among them some award-wining ones. He covered a wide array of topics in- and outside of Hungary at conferences from Boston through Copenhagen and Nové Zámky to Seoul. His most recent articles appeared in The Guardian, in Hungarian Spectrum, in Intersections – East European Journal of Society and Politics, in The Hungarian Quarterly. He is a vice-chairman of the Hungarian Europe Society.
Zoltan Zoltán Csipke was born and raised in Los Angeles. After starting his PhD in History at the University of Liverpool in 2006, he moved to Budapest in 2007 for his research, where he has lived ever since. Zoltán’s research focused specifically on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and collective memory, with a wider interest in the Cold War. He formerly lectured at Eötvös Loránd University and the Balassi Institute, having also been a senior editor at the All Hungary Media Group, where he focused on Hungarian politics and Budapest nightlife. He can frequently be found wandering the streets of Budapest with his camera as he indulges in his hobby of cityscape photography or providing impromptu history lessons at a table with friends in one of the city’s cafés or ruin pubs.
RunaRuna Hellinga is a freelance journalist, writing for Dutch newspapers. She came to Hungary in 1989 when communism was just collapsing and the century’s most exciting political, economical and social changes were unfolding. From 1994, she spent a number of years in South Africa, covering the end of Apartheid in that country for the Dutch press. In 1998 she returned to Hungary as a freelancer, and has been living in the country ever since, first in Budapest and the last couple of years in the small Baroque town of Vác. In 2008 she wrote a book about Budapest, covering the city’s history and culture, but also the social and political developments from the times of the Romans until today. Together with her husband Henk Hirs (also a journalist) she organizes themed tours, covering subjects from Jugendstil architecture and the remnants of the Turkish occupation to the communist past. As a correspondent, she can also offer a lot of insight in recent Hungarian political and cultural developments. On request, she also organizes tours around special subjects like Hungarian literature or current social issues.
HenkHenk Hirs is a Dutch radio and newspaper journalist who first came to Hungary in the summer of 1989, when the country was in the midst of pulling down the Iron Curtain. He has been reporting on its many ups and downs ever since,getting to know the people, their turbulent history, their various cultures and their impossible language in the process. Between 2006 and 2010, he was editor in chief of Business Hungary, the monthly magazine of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary. After living in Budapest for many years, in 2008 he moved with his wife, Runa (also a distinguished journalist), to the lovely little Baroque town of Vác close to the Hungarian capital. Suddenly, he got to know “the other Hungary” of gracious suburban town life. He has published several books on the country, among them a tourist guide which he updates yearly. He is also the co-author of various Dutch-language blogs on current events and tourism developments.
CsabaCsaba Tibor Tóth born and raised in Szeged, Csaba acquired a distinguished interest in the history of his country quite early on, finishing his BA studies in 2010 at the University of Szeged, with a double major in history and cultural anthropology. On the cultural anthropology track, he finished a thesis on the beginnings of Hungarian Jewish Folklore in the 1890’s, then he expanded on with this topic at Central European University, where he achieved a MA with Honors in 2011. In order to study Jewish history and culture in a broader context, Csaba went through a second Masters program at the University of Southampton, UK in 2012. He currently works at Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Center in as a guide and educator, while regularly blogging in Hungarian about the country’s history and daily politics.


Starting Location:
Café Smúz
Kossuth Lajos tér 18, Budapest
1055, Hungary
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Groups of over 10 should contact us at [email protected] in order to get a special rate for their party.

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