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Fodor's Budapest, 2nd Edition
Királyi Palota (Royal Palace)
Királyi Palota (Royal Palace) Review
A palace originally built on this spot in the 13th century for the kings of Hungary was reconstructed in Renaissance style under the supervision of King Matthias during the 15th century. That, in turn, was demolished as Buda was recaptured from the Turks in 1686.
The Habsburg empress Maria Theresa directed the building of a new palace in the 1700s. It was damaged during an unsuccessful attack by revolutionaries in 1849, but the Habsburgs set about building again, completing work in 1905.
Then, near the end of the Soviets' seven-week siege in February 1945, the entire Castle Hill district of palaces, mansions, and churches was reduced to rubble. Decades passed before reconstruction and whatever restoration was possible were completed. Archaeologists were able to recover both the original defensive walls and royal chambers, due in part to still surviving plans and texts from the reigns of Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund and King Matthias.
Freed from mounds of rubble, the foundation walls and medieval castle walls were completed, and the ramparts surrounding the medieval royal residence were re-created as close to their original shape and size as possible. If you want an idea of the Hungarian home-life of Franz Josef and Sissi, however, you'll have to visit the baroque Gödöllő Palace. The Royal Palace today is used as a cultural center.
In front of the Royal Palace, facing the Danube by the entrance to Wing C, stands an equestrian statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a commander of the army that liberated Hungary from the Turks at the end of the 17th century. From here there is a superb view across the river to Pest.
Budapesti Történeti Múzeum. The Royal Palace's baroque southern wing (Wing E) contains the Budapesti Történeti Múzeum, displaying a fascinating permanent exhibit of modern Budapest history from Buda's liberation from the Turks in 1686 through the 1970s. Viewing the vintage 19th- and 20th-century photos and videos of the castle, the Széchenyi Lánchíd, and other Budapest monuments—and seeing them as the backdrop to the horrors of World War II and the 1956 revolution—helps to put your later sightseeing in context.
Through historical documents, objects, and art, other permanent exhibits depict the medieval history of the Buda fortress and the capital as a whole. This is the best place to view remains of the medieval Royal Palace and other archaeological excavations. Some of the artifacts unearthed during excavations are in the vestibule in the basement; others are still among the remains of medieval structures. Down in the cellars are the palace's original medieval vaults; portraits of King Matthias and his second wife, Beatrice of Aragon; and many late-14th-century statues that probably adorned the Renaissance palace. District I, Királyi Palota (Wing E), Szent György tér 2, Castle District. 1/487–8800. www.btm.hu. 1,400 HUF. Mar.–Oct., Tues.–Sun. 10–6; Nov.–Feb. Tues.–Sun. 10–4. Várbusz (5th stop from M2: Széll Kálmán tér).
Magyar Nemzeti Galéria. The Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, which comprises the immense center block of the Royal Palace (Wings B, C, and D), exhibits Hungarian fine art, from medieval ecclesiastical paintings and statues through Gothic, Renaissance, and baroque art, to a rich collection of 19th- and 20th-century works. Especially notable are the works of the romantic painter Mihály Munkácsy, the impressionist Pál Szinyei Merse, and the surrealist Mihály Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry, whom Picasso much admired. There is also a large collection of modern Hungarian sculpture.
Labels and commentary for both permanent and temporary exhibits are in English. If you contact the museum in advance, you can book a tour for up to five people (or more for an additional cost) with an English-speaking guide. Note that there's a charge to take pictures (1,600 HUF) or film video (2,100 HUF) inside the museum. District I, Királyi Palota (entrance in Wing C), Dísz tér 17. 06-20/439–7325 or 06-20/439–7331. www.mng.hu. Permanent collection: 1,000 HUF. Special exhibitions: 2000 HUF. Tours in foriegn languages are 7,500 HUF (per person for a group of up to 15 people) or 10,500 HUF (per person for a group of 15 people or more). Tues.–Sun. 10–6. Várbusz (5th stop from M2: Széll Kálmán tér).
Országos Széchenyi Könyvtár. The western wing (F) of the Royal Palace is the Országos Széchenyi Könyvtár, which houses more than 2 million volumes. Its archives include well-preserved medieval codices, manuscripts, and historic correspondence. This is not a lending library, but the reading rooms are open to the public (though you must show a passport); the most valuable materials can be viewed only on microfilm, however. Temporary exhibits on rare books and documents, for example, are usually on display; the hours for these special exhibits vary, and admission for smaller exhibits is sometimes free, though major exhibits usually have a charge. Note that the entire library closes for one month every summer, usually in August. District I, Királyi Palota (Wing F), Dísz tér 17. 1/224–3745; 1/224–3700 to arrange English-language tours. www.oszk.hu. Museum: 600 HUF (plus any fee for special exhibits). Reading rooms: 600 HUF. Tues.– Sat. 10–9. Várbusz (5th stop from M2: Széll Kálmán tér).
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