The way Budapest looks today has been strongly influenced by Baron Haussman, who was responsible for the city planning in Paris at the end of the 19th century, reason why it is sometimes nicknamed Paris of the East. Pest boasts the typical large boulevards with neo-classicist and art-nouveau facades. The Andreas’s Boulevard (Andrassy Ut) is a typical 19th century Haussmann boulevard and protected as Unesco World Heritage. In Bruges we also have a small quarter that has been modeled after the example of Haussmann halfway the 19th century but is nothing like what you find in Budapest or Paris.
I love the inner courtyards of some of the larger apartment buildings. Years ago when we visited Budapest for the first time we stayed in one of those apartment buildings with an inner court, just next to the Opera House. In the mornings we could hear the opera singers practice through the open windows of the Opera House. Unfortunately you can’t visit or see most of these inner courtyards anymore, they are closed off for safety I guess. But you can still admire the many beautiful facades. Wandering through the city gives you a sore neck and aching feet but admiring so much architectural beauty is really satisfying. I tricked my husband into several detours to see some of the most impressive buildings.
The first one that really blew me away was the Parisi Udvar hotel and passage on Petofi Sandor Utica 2-4. It has been historically restored by the Hyatt hotel chain. At the turn of the 20th century Budapests’ Central Savings Bank built its Belle-Epoque headquarters featuring neo-gothic, moorish art-deco and art nouveau elements. Decorative elements like Majolica tiles, Mirjam glass mosaic and a prism crystal dome evoke a fin the siècle bustling café atmosphere of Paris. The passage is open to the public and houses a café under the beautiful glass ceiling. The exterior is covered in hundreds of thousands of ceramic tiles with creeping vines, male and female busts and small beehives, Bees, seen as diligent and hardworking are common decorations on financial institutions. On one of the evenings we took a light dinner in style here.
One block further on Karoly Korut 14, gilded mosaics from the Miksa Roth’s workshop are found in between the windows on the top floor. The roof is decorated with cupola’s and spires, like little crowns on top of the building.
Just opposite the grand market hall on Fovam ter 4, we find another example of mosaics on the top floor of the building. This is the former printing house of David Susz book publishing. The mosaics are the work of Sandor Domotor from 1913.
Just around the corner from the Synagogue, on Sip utca 17, we find the house designed by the Loffler brothers, completed in 1906 with blue and aquamarine tiles above the entrance. The building is in a bit of a dilapidated state, and the round tiles have lost much of their luster.
The grand central market hall on Vamhaz krt. 1-3, was built at the end of the 19th century to improve the food supply to the rapidly expanding population of the city. The hall was designed by Samu Pecz, the entrance hall shows neo-gothic details but what really attracts the attention is the colourful tiled roof with Zsolnay tiles from Pecs on top of a steel construction. I visited it, but did not buy anything nor ate anything at the market since it seemed to cater mainly to tourists.
The late gothic Matthias church on Buda castle hill, also boasts the colourful Hungarian Zsolnay tiles on its roof in bright orange, brown, green, red, and white. The Zsolnay factory was opened in 1853 in Pecs and produced high quality art ceramics. They can withstand cold and hot temperature extremes. The tiled roof was a result of the 19th century restoration.
Walking down Andrassy Ut is a real treat for any architecture lover. There is of course the Opera House. But you have to look up all the way, to spot the many sculptures that grace the facades. No wonder the boulevard is now under Unesco protection. Just of Andrassy Ut you find the Maygar Photography house, an eight story neo-renaissance pearl used tot be Mai Manó’s photo studio and house. He was the Imperial and Royal Court Photographer of the Habsburg Court. On the facade majolica putti between the ground floor and the mezzanine and façade paintings on the third floor show the “six muses of photography”. In his glass covered daylight studio they retrieved fresco’s that used to serve as background for Mai’s portraits. The house now acts as an exhibition space for contemporary photography.
On Andrassy ut 39 we find the former Paris Department Store, a late modern art nouveau addition built for Samuel Goldberger in 1911 who wanted to build a French inspired department store in Budapest. The facade on Andrassy ut is typically art nouveau, the facade on Paulay Ede utca, neo-renaissance. The glass windows are by Miksa Roth. The Parisi café in the Lotz hall with frescos made by Károly Lotz and Árpád Feszty, re-opened in 2019 but doesn’t seem to have survived covid and is permanently closed. On top of the building you have a 360 degree rooftop bar.
The old world elegance of the New York cafe named one of the most beautiful cafes in the world wows visitors with its sparkling gilded interior. Built for the New York Life Insurance Company in 1894 in an eclectic neo-renaissance style by Alajos Hauszmann, the architect who also redesigned the Buda castle boasts. With its marble columns, sparkling chandeliers, stunning frescoes, and gilded details, the cafe transports you to another era. The facade is impressive and the main door is guarded by two devilish statues holding lanterns, old symbols for coffee and thought. Yes the interior is stunning, unfortunately the service is slow and unfriendly, the food and drinks overpriced, the live piano music disappointing and the tables and chairs badly chosen by the interior designer. It felt like a tourist trap so if you want an authentic experience visit the Parisi passage instead.
Around the Varosliget City Park you will find some beautiful buildings. On Varosligeti favor 47 stands the Art Nouveau Korossy Villa which is a mix of French Art Nouveau and German Jugendstil and was completed in 1900. The facade is decorated with ornate peacock decorations around the unusually shaped windows, a relief on the gable representing an allegory on painting, sculpture and architecture. The stained glass windows with vines and flowers are by Miksa Roth. It was originally designed as a holiday home, but the architect Albert Kalman Korossy, who had worked at Lechner’s workshop, decided to move his studio into the villa.
On the right side of the park, on Stefania ut 14, the Royal Geological Institute (1899) is designed by Odon Lechner, trained in Berlin and Paris, and the father of the Hungarian Art Nouveau movement known as Szecesszio (Secessionist). He was nicknamed the Hungarian Gaudi, using brightly coloured ceramics, organic motifs, eastern details and Hungarian folk art elements. Striking is its turquoise and blue tiled roof from the Zsolnay factory and the shape of the roof that represents the ancient Tethys Ocean. The building is crowned with a human figure holding up a globe. It is a bit out of the way but you can reach it with bus nr. 7.
On one side of the City Park stands the National Institute of the Blind, one of the capital’s most impressive art nouveau masterpieces. The organisation for the blind was set up by Archduke Joseph in 1825, one of the first of its kind in Europe. The building was designed by Sandor Baumgarten and Zsigmondy Herczegh and has folk art inspired details.
Another impressive art nouveau building on Hold utca 4, the Royal Postal Savings bank, is also from the hand of Odon Lechner, built in 1899. Scenes of Hungarian plains and steppe shepherds run up the walls, diligent bees head for their hives, symbolising collecting and saving money, dragons guard their treasure on the green and yellow roof with glazed tile from the Vilmos Zsolnay porcelain factory, and mosaics glitter in the sun. The etched windows are the work or Miksa Roth. The whole looks like a fairytale castle.