On the outskirts of Buda, the Danube flows languidly past the industrial landscape of Csepel Island all smokestacks and post-communist gutted factories, billowing smoke and steam create a near permanent haze. This is a world that looks as though it is perpetually stuck in the 1970’s. That is until one goes a bit further south to the suburb of Nagyteteny. It is here among the houses and shops of what is today a distinctly middle class settlement, that suddenly development gives way to an expansive space, parkland suddenly and quite surprisingly stretches all the way to the baroque splendor of Szaraz-Rudyanszky Castle. It feels otherworldly at first, as though a different universe has been discovered. Entering through an ornamented gate, it is a portal to the past, presenting to the traveler a stately relic from another time. In front of the eyes stands a castle or is it a giant manor house or perhaps a palace. In truth, the eye poppingly yellow facade, could be defined as any of the three. It is reminiscent of the more famous palace at Godollo, that great gift from the Hungarian people to Franz Josef and Sisi. It makes sense that one of this castle’s namesakes was Jozsef Rudnyanszky, a nephew of Antal Grasselkovich, that great patron of Godollo. The resemblance is striking.
Conversely, the Szaraz-Rudyanszky Castle does not have the royal lineage or historical resonance of a Godollo. It’s history is much much deeper though, actually starting with the Romans. All the way back in 10 BC – a time so long ago that two generations had yet to pass since the death of Julius Caesar – a farmhouse stood as part of Roman frontier fortress works in the same area where the castle is located today. Fast forward 1,200 years and another fortified work, this one Gothic in style appeared on the same site. This edifice was owned by the Teteny family who would become namesakes for the family. It stayed in Hungarian hands until it fell to the Ottoman Turkish occupation. Its demise during this time is reflective of the Kingdom’s as a whole. By the time the Habsburg’s gained control of the area the castle was a mere ruin. It was not until the early 18th century that rebuilidng commenced, eventually morphing into the baroque style we see today.
The history of the castle in the 20th century is somewhat quixotic by Hungarian standards. While Hungary basked in the glow during the belle epoque of the Dual-Monarchy era, the castle suffered a fire that not only damaged the building, but gutted interior furnishings. The Second World War was unkind as well. In the final year of that all consuming conflagration the building was damaged yet again. Oddly, the onset of hard line Communism did not signal the end of the castle, but a strange new beginning, as a furniture museum, a function it still repeats to this day. Though the building did not receive much upkeep, for the next four decades it presented furnishings from the collection of the Budapest Museum of Applied Arts. Following the end of communism, the slowly degrading castle was closed down for renovation work. The process from closure to reopening took over ten years. A short amount of time compared to the two thousand year plus history of the site.
History at the Szara-Rudnyanszky Castle is for those who like to let their imagination inform the past. No great figure towers over the castle’s history, as a matter of fact the true architect is still unknown today. The aristocratic lineage is of obscure families with no memorable characteristic. Yet there is also something refreshing about this. The castle can be whatever you want it to be. It is left to the imagination. This is a place to imagine not what might have been and not even what once was, but instead whatever one wants it be. Surely anything that exudes such grandeur must have been have been the product of fertile imaginings.
For me, I imagined the castle as a lost opportunity for visitors of today. Though the furniture exhibit is replete with impressive pieces, how refreshing it would be for visitors to see an exhibit on the losses sustained at the castle during war (whether the Ottoman Turkish Occupation and World War II) How about an exhibit on the loss of private property from aristocratic families by the communist state? And where are the people who last privately owned the castle? Where did they go? What do the surviving heirs of the estate think of its present usage? These were the ideas that came to my mind as I walked through room after cavernous room in this castle that had lost all sense of the past. It had been a victim of history and that was its history.
The castle to me is a metaphor for how we come into contact with history today. It’s grand facade is alluring and beautiful, filled with promise and hope. Once inside we find that history is not what we thought it was going to be, this leaves us feeling empty. We then fill it with details that distract and confuse, the furnishings from a different, made up past. We say that will have to do and by the time we are finished, we hardly even know what we were looking for at the start.