Walking Tour 5: Tabán & Watertown (Víziváros)
Start: The Pest side of the Erzsébet Bridge.
Finish: The Buda side of the Margaret (Margít) Bridge.
Time: About 2 to 3 hours (excluding museum visits).
Best Time: Any time except a hot summer day.
Worst Time: In the hot summer sun.
This tour will take you through a narrow, twisting neighborhood along the Buda side of the Danube. Tabán, the area between Gellért Hill and Castle Hill, was once a vibrant but very poor workers' neighborhood. The neighborhood was razed in the early 20th century for sanitary reasons; only a handful of Tabán buildings still stand below the green expanse of parks where the rest of Tabán once was. The neighborhood directly beneath Castle Hill, opposite the Inner City of Pest, has been called Víziváros (Watertown) since the Middle Ages. Historically home to fishermen who made a living on the Danube, Víziváros was surrounded by walls in Turkish times. The neighborhood still retains a quiet integrity; above busy Fo utca (Main St.), which runs one street up from and parallel to the river along the length of Watertown, you'll wander along aged, peaceful lanes. This walk includes lots of stairs and small hills.
Begin the walking tour on the Pest side of the:
1. Erzsébet Bridge
The nearest metro stations are Ferenciek tere (Blue line) and Vörösmarty tér (Yellow line). The Erzsébet was named for the much-loved queen of Hungary. The bridge was completed in 1903 and sits at the most narrow part of the Danube. All of the city's bridges were destroyed by the Germans in World War II. The bridge you are walking over was reconstructed from 1961 to 1964. The bridge starts at Marcius 15 tér at one of the oldest churches in Pest, the Inner City Parish Church, which dates to the 12th century. Cross the bridge on the right side with the flow of traffic. In order to do this, you'll need to be in front of the church; there's a staircase opposite, leading up to the bridge.
You are walking toward Gellért Hill with the statue of Bishop Gellért. Remember he was killed by the vengeful 11th-century pagans, who were forced with cruelty to convert to Christianity. Bishop Gellért was an Italian bishop, who assisted King Stephen's crusade and suffered by being put to death in a spike-embedded barrel and rolled in the river far below.
Upon reaching Buda, going down the steps you will pass the statue of Queen Erzsébet, for whom the bridge was named. There is a tablet here to commemorate the anti-fascist revolutionaries who destroyed the statue of Gyula Gömbös, which was located here. Gömbös was a leading Hungarian fascist politician between the wars. You're now at the bottom of the historic Tabán District. Walk away from the bridge, toward the yellow church, whose steeple is visible above the trees. Your first stop here in Buda is the:
2. Tabán Parish Church
Tabáni plébánia templom is a baroque church with one steeple. It was dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, built between 1728 and 1740 to replace a medieval church, which, during the Turkish occupation, was known as the Mustafa Mosque. Inside, you'll find a copy of a 12th-century carving called the Tabán Christ. The original is in the Budapest History Museum (inside the Buda Palace).
When you leave the church, you will see in front of and above you the southern end of the Buda Palace. Watertown is the long, narrow strip of Buda that lies on a slope between Castle Hill and the Danube. Continue now down Apród út. The rust-and-white building at Apród út 1-3 is the:
3. Semmelweis Medical History Museum
Named for Ignác Semmelweis (1818-65), the obstetrician and "savior of mothers" was born and is buried in this house. He was the first to discover that puerperal fever could be prevented by hand-washing with chlorinated lime solution. The exhibition follows the history of healing and medicines, has exhibits related to a variety of medical fields, and contains furnishings from the 19th-century Szentlélek Pharmacy. Open 10:30am to 5:30pm Tuesday to Sunday.
Proceed down the street to:
4. Ybl Miklós tér
This narrow square on the Danube is named for one of Europe's leading architects and Hungarian son, born in Székesfehérvár. The interesting building at the square's southern end is the former Várkert (Castle Garden) Kiosk; it's now a casino. The patio ceiling is covered with sgraffito, a decoration created by carving into a coating of glaze to reveal the color below. Directly across the street from Miklós Ybl's statue is the Várkert Bazaar. Once a beautiful place that went into ruin, it is now designated for gentrifying. The goal was to have it completed by 2010, but there has been a problem with finding investors.
Walk the length of the old Bazaar to Lánchíd utca (Chain Bridge St.), so named because it leads into Clark Ádám tér, the Buda head of the Chain Bridge. Walking away from the river, take the steep set of stairs on your left up to quiet, canyonlike:
5. Öntoház utca
In summer, the terrace gardens of these residential buildings thrive. Flowers, small trees and shrubs, ivy, and grape vines are cultivated with care.
Turn right, winding back down to Lánchíd utca toward:
6. Clark Ádám tér
This is a busy traffic circle named for the Scottish engineer who supervised the building of the Chain Bridge in 1848 and 1849. Clark fell in love with a Hungarian woman, married and stayed in Budapest until his death at the very early age of 55 years old. Clark Ádám tér was one of the few streets named after a foreigner that was not renamed during Communism. A hotel has been planned for this small space for years, but has yet to materialize.
Immediately to your left is the:
7. Funicular (sikló)
The funicular opened for business on March 2, 1870. It was destroyed in World War II, but reopened in 1986. It climbs a length of 95m (312 ft) at a grade of 48% using two cars, one for each direction at 3m (10 ft) per second. It carries passengers to the Buda Palace. In front of the funicular is the Zero Kilometer Stone, the marker from which all highway distances to and from Budapest are measured. The original marker was at the threshold of the Royal Palace, but changed to its current location in 1849.
Straight across the square from the Chain Bridge is:
8. The Tunnel
Built between 1853 and 1857, the tunnel connects Watertown with Christina Town (Krisztinaváros) on the other side of Castle Hill. The old joke is that the tunnel was built so that the precious Chain Bridge could be placed inside when it rained. Just across the street from the tunnel, a set of stairs marks the beginning of the long climb up to Castle Hill. Adam Clark was also the builder of this project.
Passing straight through the square, you'll find yourself at the head of Watertown's:
9. Fo utca (Main St.)
You'll be either on or near this long, straight street for the remainder of this walking tour.
Now head left on Jégverem utca (Ice House St.). Proceed up the stairs to the next street:
10. Hunyadi János út
Notice the absurdly tall, narrow doorway of Hunyadi János út 9.
At the intersection with Szalag utca, turn right, then right again on Szonyeg utca, back toward Fo utca. Bear left on Pala utca. Crossing Kapucinus utca, continue down the steps. Here are the rooftops you viewed from a distance a short while ago. Emerge onto Fo utca, where you'll see the site of the monstrous:
11. Institut Français
Note also the reconstructed remains of a medieval house across the street from this French cultural center.
Take a Break -- Stop for a coffee and snack at the French Institute or have lunch or an early dinner at Le Jardin de Paris, I. Fo u. 20, a delightful French bistro.
Across the street from Horgásztanya is the former:
12. Capuchin Church
This church dates back to medieval times; it was built by the Capuchin order of monks. When it was refurbished, it was built into the hillside and in romantic style. Note the Turkish door and window frames on the church's southern wall.
Just past this church is:
13. Corvin tér
Several interesting buildings, including the home of the Hungarian Heritage House that houses the Hungarian Folk Ensemble, the Folks Arts Department, and the Folklore Documentation Center are at no. 8 on this square. If the timing is right, you might hear a rehearsal through the open windows. Note the row of very old baroque houses at the top of the square. If you look up, you can see the spires of Fisherman's Bastian from here.
Head above Corvin tér to:
14. Iskola utca (School St.)
Turn right on Iskola utca and left up the Donáti lépcso (stairs) to Donáti utca; a clay frieze of two horsemen adorns the residential building to the left, opposite the stair landing. Turn right and walk to the next set of stairs, Toldy lépcso. Turn left up the stairs and right onto Toldy Ferenc utca, a residential street lined with old-fashioned gas lampposts. This street is so tranquil that the only other travelers are likely to be following this very walking tour. Notice the gorgeous brick secondary school on your right (Toldy Ferenc Gimnázium); a plaque notes "ITT TANÍTOTT ANTALL JÓZSEF" ("József Antall (first post-Communist prime minister) taught here").
Now turn right on Iskola utca, then left onto Vám utca. Cross Fo utca, heading to the:
15. Bem rakpart
This is the Danube embankment. In pleasant weather, it can be a gentle walk along the river's edge, but below the wall to the river is a highway, which can distract any relaxing thoughts. Directly across the river is Parliament; the view is rewarding during the day, but exceptional at night. The next bridge on your left is the Margaret Bridge, where this walking tour will end.
Turn right now and you'll immediately find yourself in:
16. Szilágyi Dezsó tér
The architect, Samu Pecz, who designed this church, used the same type of brick that was used in the Great Market, but in a neo-Gothic style for this Calvinist Church. It dates from the end of the 19th century. Composer Béla Bartók lived at Szilágyi Dezsó tér, 4 in the 1920s. The Danube bank near this square is the site of a piece of Hungary's darkest history: here, the Arrow Cross (Nyilas), the Hungarian Nazis, massacred thousands of Jews in 1944 and 1945, during the last bitter winter of World War II. Many were tied together into small groups and thrown alive into the freezing river.
Returning now to Fo utca, turn right and continue on toward Watertown's main square, Batthyány tér. You may want to stop in at the Herend Village Pottery shop at Bem rakpart 37, on the ground floor of the housing block. You'll find several attractions along:
17. Batthyány tér
One of this area's principal sights is the 18th-century:
18. St. Anne's Church
One of Budapest's finest baroque churches, St. Anne's was started by Kristóf Hamon in 1740, but completed by Mátyás Nepauer in 1761. It was almost destroyed in the early 1950s because the Hungarian dictator Mátyás Rákosi (known as "Stalin's most loyal disciple") thought that when Stalin visited him at his office in Parliament, he would be loath to look across the Danube at a Buda skyline dominated by churches. Fortunately, Rákosi's demented plan was never realized. It has been threatened by floods, earthquakes, and even the construction of the metro, but it still survives.
Also on the square is:
19. The Vásárcsarnok (Market Hall)
One of the markets built in 1897 to improve sanitation of meats and vegetables, this building now houses a grocery store that really drains the charm from the building. The interior is worth a look. Two doors down is the former White Cross Inn with a mix of rococo and baroque ironwork on the balconies. Joseph II (1780-90) stayed here twice as did the legendary womanizer, Casanova. This is where the ground-floor nightclub acquired its name. To the left of the back gate is where tradesmen enter the market hall.
Continue along Fo utca. The next church on your right is:
20. St. Elizabeth's Church
This church has a fine baroque interior if you can ever get in to see it. As with most churches here, when there is no mass, you can only enter the foyer and peek in the glass windows to the church's interior. The frescoes date from the 19th century.
Continue along Fo utca. You're now approaching the northern border of Watertown where the streets get larger, such as Batthyány utca and Csalogány utca, which bisect Fo utca. You can no longer see Castle Hill. The next square is:
21. Nagy Imre tér
A small park hidden behind a Total gas station, this square is named for the reform Communist leader who played a leading, if slightly reluctant, role in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The prisonlike building on the corner is the Military Court of Justice, where Nagy was secretly tried and condemned to death in 1958, thus providing Hungary with yet another martyr. Nagy's reburial in June 1989 was a moment of great national unity, and a statue of Nagy was later erected near Parliament. The main entrance to the Military Court of Justice is on Fo utca.
Two blocks farther up Fo utca, at Fo u. 82-86, are the:
22. Király Baths
This 16th-century bathhouse is one of the city's major positive reminders of Turkish rule. Most people walk right past it even when purposefully looking for it since, from the street, it does not look like much at all. Inside, the gorgeous interior dome over the baths has holes in the ceiling that let in rays of light. You won't get to see it unless you pay the entry fee and use the thermal's waters. The baths are open on different days for men and women.
Next door, at the corner of Fo utca and Ganz utca, is the baroque:
23. Chapel of St. Florian
A baker had this chapel commissioned in the 18th century. Due to flooding before the protective wall was built on the river, the church had to be lifted 1.4m (4 1/2 ft) in 1938. The contemporary painter Jeno Medveczky painted all of the frescoes. Now it is home to the Greek Orthodox community in Buda.
Turn left on Ganz utca, passing through the small park between the baths and the church. At the end of Ganz utca is the:
24. Öntödei (Foundry) Museum
This museum is housed inside the original structure of the famed Abraham Ganz Foundry (started in 1845). From the exterior, painted a creamy yellow with a rusty-red trim, it's hard to imagine the vast barnlike interior. The collection of antique cast-iron stoves is the highlight of the exhibits.
Turn right onto Bem József utca, a street with several small fishing and army-navy-type supply stores, and head back down toward the Danube. You'll find yourself in:
25. Bem József tér
Józef Bem was of Polish origin, and a hero in the War of Independence of 1848. He commanded the Hungarian troops against the Habsburgs. On October 23, 1956, the square hosted a rally in support of the reform efforts in Poland. The rally, and the subsequent march across the Margaret Bridge to Parliament, marked the beginning of the famous 1956 Hungarian Uprising.
Turn left onto Lipthay utca, which is parallel to the river. Always remember to admire the buildings as you make your way to the end of the tour at:
26. The Buda Side of the Margaret Bridge
Here, you can walk the bridge to Jászai Mari tér for the no. 4 or 6 tram or head to Buda's Moszkva tér (Red metro line).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.