A Matter Of Interpretation – Heroes’ Square:  Wonder & Confusion At The Millennium Monument (For The Love of Hungary Part 14)

If I could have traveled back in time to visit the Millennium Monument in Heroes’ Square (Hosok tere) at the turn of the 20th century, it would have surprised me to see just how non-Hungarian the monument was back then. That was because multiple Habsburg Emperors were deemed important enough to be given a place among the colonnaded columns. The statues on display included ones of Ferdinand I, Charles III, Maria Theresa, Leopold II and Franz Josef. The latter statue would have been the most egregious to an informed contemporary observer. Though Franz Josef was still ruling what was then called the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the Dual Monarchy) at the time, he had also been the Austrian Habsburg ruler during and after the Hungarian Revolution. Franz Josef had signed off on measures of oppression, such as the execution of 13 Hungarian generals at Arad that would never be forgiven by many Hungarians. Despite such feelings, Franz Josef along with several other of his Habsburg ancestors, had been placed in one of Hungary’s most exalted spaces. This state of statuary affairs would not last. The First World War and its aftermath destroyed the Dual Monarchy, leaving Hungary riven by revolution and the Millennium Monument open to new interpretations.

Changing times - Rally at Heroes' Square

Changing times – Rally at Heroes’ Square in 1939 (Credit: Bruno Pesti/Fortepan.hu)

Time For A Change -From Celebration To Confusion
If I had come back to visit the Millennium Monument in 1920 there would have been no statue of Franz Josef. The communists had taken it upon themselves to destroy it. Most symbols of the old imperial order were banished to the dustbin of history during the six months of communist rule in 1919. The counter-revolutionary Horthy regime would right (quite literally) this historical wrong by commissioning a new statue of Franz Josef. He would reappear transformed. No longer dressed in military garb, instead the former emperor was now portrayed in coronation regalia. The imperial was deemed worthy of promoting since Miklos Horthy was now acting as regent. If I had made a third visit to the Millennium Monument ten years later, I would have seen the recent addition of a National Heroes Memorial cenotaph that commemorated those lost in the Great War as well as the preservation of the Kingdom of Hungary’s old borders that had been greatly reduced by the post-World War I Treaty of Trianon.

These changes, like seemingly everything else at the Millennium Monument, were not to last. If I came back a decade and a half later after World War II had ended, the National Heroes Memorial cenotaph was now nowhere to be found. All the statues of Habsburg monarchs had vanished, replaced with indigenous Hungarian heroes. Strangely all the new heroes on display had come from regions that were no longer inside the nation’s borders. Historic Hungary, which the monument was supposed to deify, had undergone massive changes since the monument had been first commissioned. Those changes continued until the communists solidified their hold on power, which would last forty relatively stable, but increasingly stagnant years. The only change of note was the reappearance of the National Heroes Memorial cenotaph in 1956. It had been altered prior to reinstallation. Language about those who died fighting in the World Wars and anything concerning the borders of Historic Hungary had been erased.  Through all the turbulent political changes, the Millennium Monument was still left standing.  Its metaphorical meanings had changed from celebration to confusion.

Getting to know you - Imre Thokoly at the Millennium Monument

Getting to know you – Imre Thokoly at the Millennium Monument (Credit: Karelj)

Know Nothings – The Slightest Of Ideas
Of course, I could not travel back in time and judging by all that had happened it was probably a good thing. What I knew of the Millennium Monument’s past had been the product of research from history books and travel guides. Despite the peaceful present, the experience I had at the monument was disconcerting in its own way.  Watching group after group of foreigners snapping photos of the statues left me wondering if they had any idea who these Hungarian heroes were. I was just starting to read a fair amount of Hungarian history, but I would have had trouble identifying several of these historical personages. If I had been asked to give a recitation of their achievements, I would have flunked the test. One of the oddest things about visiting Budapest is that many of the city’s attractions are so grand, so dramatic and so sensational that a visitor feels compelled to snap photos, feign interest and act as though they have a compelling interest in people, events or objects they know nothing about.

I doubt most visitors had the slightest idea of what Lajos Kossuth did other than lead Hungary in the failed revolution of 1848. A few might know from their guidebooks that Ferenc Rakoczi had an entire independence war named after him. They would also have learned that this was a war he had lost. As for Gabor Bethlen, well at least he was a Prince of Transylvania. Though he did not remind me of Dracula, he did look quite devious. And then there was Imre Thokoly, a hero who induced head scratching from everyone except Hungarians. Thokoly’s name was made for verbal butchery by English speakers who pronounced the h which should be silent. I later learned that Thokoly had also made a name for himself opposing the Habsburgs. Thus, most of the statues on the right side of the colonnade had been pro-Habsburg, then they became and stayed anti-Habsburg. Eventually the truth must come out.

In wonder & confusion - Heroes' Square at night

In wonder & confusion – Heroes’ Square at night (Credit: Paul Mannix)

True Heroes – Standing Up To The Test Of Time
The statues on the left side of the colonnade were of Hungarian kings who had been much more successful than those Hungarian heroes who had replaced the Habsburgs on the right side. I found these statues to be impressive, but not nearly as fascinating. Tragically, one of the selling points of Hungarian history and consistent threads that run through it is of resistance, failure, survival and then somehow coming out ahead. Only one of the kings on display fit this narrative, Bela IV. He lost the kingdom and nearly his life to the Mongol Invasion in 1241-1242, but then returned to rebuild and reign for over a quarter century. His name and feats were worthy of a place in this pantheon. True heroes overcome adversity and stand the test of time. The Millennium Monument fits that definition. It has been transformed by regimes both tyrannical and democratic, but still stands in the heart of Budapest for Hungarians and tourists to gaze at in wonder and confusion.

Click here for: Making Ends Meet – Metro Line 3: Riding The Blue Line Beneath Budapest (For The Love of Hungary Part 15)

Headed Towards A Confrontation – Heroes Square In Budapest: A Deep Romance (For The Love Of Hungary Part 13)

It was a late autumn afternoon in Kispest. Only a few hours of light were left in the day. As I left on Bus 68 for the Kobanya-Kispest metro station the sun was making a slow descent from the sky. I decided to spend this late afternoon visiting an attraction in Budapest. Where or what that would be I had not the slightest idea. So many choices and so little time made the decision more than a little difficult. Due to the late afternoon hour visiting a museum was not going to happen. I had already toured Castle Hill and both sides of the city along the Danube, so neither of those options sounded appealing. Then a certain place came to mind or maybe it would be better to say a certain space, Heroes’ Square (Hosok tere).

The name reminded me of where I had stood two and a half years before. On that occasion, I had been Intimidated by my first visit to the square, ignorant of its history and dumbfounded by the heroic statues that stood before me. Who were these people? Why had I never heard of them? They were all important enough to be called “heroes”, but I had no idea why.  The Millennium Monument of which they played a part was just as perplexing. Who was the winged figure that stood atop the slender column at its center. That first visit to Heroes Square made me feel less than heroic. I was humbled by how little I knew about Hungary and its history.

Headed towards a confrontation - Heroes' Square (Hosok tere)

Headed towards a confrontation – Heroes’ Square (Hosok tere)

An Elegant Throwback – Traveling Back In Time
My path for a return visit to Heroes’ Square took me first to Deak Square (Deak ter) where all three of the city’s metro lines intersect. Late afternoon public transport traffic was heavy, a human stampede rushing to make transfers for a final journey home. Fortunately, I was changing to Line One, used mostly by tourists because it goes to a multitude of the city’s most popular sites. On what was the first underground Metro Line in continental Europe (third in the world), I found myself passing through stations with names that went from the unpronounceable (Bajcsy-Zsillinszky) to the evocatively poetic (Opera and Oktogon) until the quaint yellow car I was riding in stopped at Hosok tere (Heroes Square), where I disembarked into the immaculately tiled station, an elegant throwback to an earlier era.

My reentry to the surface world consisted of walking up a single flight of stairs. Now standing at ground level, I looked back down Budapest’s own Champs Elysees. Here was the grand tree lined Andrassy Avenue (Andrassy ut), the boulevard that I had just passed beneath on Line One. Turning around, I now saw the spectacular open space of Heroes Square just a short walk away. The Millennium Monument, with its soaring column at one end of the square was silhouetted against the sky, with the Archangel Gabriel’s wings rising into a deep blue sky amid airbrushed wisps of cloud. The flanking colonnades added to the spectacle. I could hardly wait to cross over Gyorgy Dosza ter, the street bordering the square’s southern end, to get a much closer look.

Hosok Tere (Heroes Square) - Line One Metro Station

Hosok Tere (Heroes Square) – Line One Metro Station

Conquering All Who Come Before Them – A Heroic Pantheon
In a matter of minutes, I was walking onto the square where I began a methodical frontal assault on the monument. The openness of the square gave me the feeling that I was getting ready to confront something of great importance. That confrontation was with Hungarian history. The monument showcases a pantheon of Hungarian heroes, selected from eleven hundred years of conflict, conquest and consternation. It starts at the centerpiece column’s base, where Arpad and six other chieftains of the Hungarian tribes that first entered and conquered the Carpathian Basin are mounted on a pedestal, high above ground level. This forces mere mortals to look up at them.

Arpad and the chieftains on either side of him are portrayed as prototypical warriors, stern and regal, intense and unapproachable, the kind of men who conquer all who come before them. Hungarian history is not something most tourists are going to have much, if any prior knowledge of. Nonetheless, Arpad and the other six chieftains are probably the most easily understandable of all the figures portrayed at the monument. An observer can quickly discern that these men on horseback were quasi-civilized warriors. The kind of tough men who were fierce, savage and uncompromisingly tough.

As such, most tourists who ponder this group of sculptures likely understand that these are the first Hungarians in a long line to come. Comprehending the rest of the monument is not as easy. The archangel Gabriel crowning the column is symbolic of a legend that I had never heard. The story goes that Stephen I (Saint Stephen and the first King of Hungary) had a dream in which Gabriel encouraged him to continue the push to turn the Hungarians towards Christianity. This encouragement was taken as Stephen was crowned Christian king of Hungary in the year 1000. To that end, Gabriel holds a double cross in one hand and a crown in the other, symbolic of the intertwining of church and state in the Hungarian kingdom.

The Magyar Conquest at Heroes' Square

The Magyar Conquest at Heroes’ Square (Hosok tere)

Ideology Above Country – History In Hiding
Much of this symbolism was lost on me at the time. It was not until I later read about it that I became cognizant of the deeper meanings inherent in the Millennium Monument. I did find the angelic sculpture topping the column at 120 feet above the square to be highly impressive in its singularity. Perhaps because it stood so high above the rest of the monument, the column and Archangel Gabriel sculpture had not been tampered with for ideological reasons. This was not the case with the statues which stood on the colonnade. As I would later discover, heroes had not been hard to replace at the monument. Heroes’ Square was much too important of a space not to be reconfigured to fit the ideological whims of more tyrannical regimes that had ruled over Hungary not so long ago. This history was now hidden to all except those who dared to look deeper into the past.

Click here for: A Matter Of Interpretation – Heroes’ Square:  Wonder & Confusion At The Millennium Monument (For The Love of Hungary Part 14)

The Re-emergent Revolutionary – Mihaly Tancscis: An Eccentric Iconoclast (For The Love of Hungary – Part 10)

On March 15,, 1848 a wave of popular unrest stirred in Pest as Hungarians came out into the streets and gathered to rally at the National Museum in opposition to Austrian rule. A large group soon took the growing movement westward. They poured over the pontoon bridge that led across the Danube connecting Pest with Buda. Thousands of Hungarians marched up Castle Hill where they proceeded to demand the release of Mihaly Tancsics. Tancsics, a radical activist who supported freedom for the serfs and better conditions for the working class, had been imprisoned at the Jozsef Barracks for over a year. Tancsics had been confined to a room in the barracks after being accused of sedition for the publication of a pamphlet entitled, The Word of the People Is God’s Word. From the Austrian perspective, locking Tancsics up made perfect sense. His ideals were revolutionary in a Hungary that still labored under serfdom, as well as imperial authority.

Mihaly Tancsics - Portrait of a revolutionary

Mihaly Tancsics – Portrait of a revolutionary (Credit: Miklos Barabas)

Falling Asleep On The Job – An Exhausting Revolution
Hungarians had decided they could no longer stomach Austrian rule. The imprisonment of Tancsics was symbolic of the heavy handed Habsburg administration in Hungary. The masses decided to take matters into their own hands. They gained an audience with the Vice Regency Council which ran national affairs. The threat of mob violence swayed the council to release Tancsics. The mood of the masses then turned celebratory. Tancsics was placed in a carriage that traveled through the streets. An adoring public welcomed their newly released hero. He was soon ushered back to Pest. Cheering throngs greeted him every step of the way. A plan was soon hatched for Tancsics to be feted at a performance of the wildly popular play Bank Ban, which was due to be performed at the National Theater that night. He would be the guest of honor. First though, he needed to rest.

Tancsics accepted an offer of temporary quarters. This would allow him to relax after an exhilarating and exhausting day. So exhausted in fact that he never made it to the National Theater that evening. Tancscis overslept and failed to make it to the play. The crowd had been informed beforehand that he would speak. When he was nowhere to be found, they grew increasingly unruly. The famous writer Mor Jokai did his best to speak on Tancsics behalf, but it was not the same. Overnight, Tancsics had been transformed from prisoner to hero. The energetic defiance of authority that his ideals provoked was right in line with revolutionary values. Yet the success or failure of the revolution would be based on more than one man or one glorious day. March 15th was a spectacular start, but freeing Tancscis was a relatively easy task. Freeing Hungary from Austrian rule would turn out to be much more difficult.

Mihaly Tansics - In prison during the 1860's

Mihaly Tancsics – In prison during the 1860’s (Credit: Karoly Jakobey)

Re-emergent Revolutionary – Power Without Promise
Tancsics’ popularity rose to unsurpassed heights in the wake of his release. This helped him gain election to the newly formed Hungarian Parliament. When the Revolution collapsed in 1849, Tancsics found himself a wanted man. Unlike Lajos Kossuth and others who fled the country in exile, Tancsics went into hiding. He was convicted to death in absentia, but several years later re-emerged. Soon he was back to his old revolutionary ways. On March 15,, 1860 Tancsics could be found attending a commemoration of the events that occurred on that same day in 1848. He was arrested once again. Soon he was back in confinement at the Jozsef Barracks where he would spend the next six years of his life. When he did finally gain his freedom for a second time, it was not because of revolution, but compromise. The creation of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary set in motion a golden era for Hungary. Tise era would turn out to be much less revolutionary than Tancsics had hoped for.

In 1869 Tancsics was elected once again to Parliament. In an era filled with renewed hope, the future looked promising. That promise did not extend to radicals such as Tancsics. He was the main advocate for transforming Hungary with an early version of what would today be known as socialism. He advocated for universal suffrage, an idea that was one hundred and twenty years ahead of its time in Hungary. He was for proscribing the power of landowners which would have to wait until the Communists came to power following the Second World War. His idea to separate church and state was anathema in a country whose identity came partly from its religious heritage. Tancscis also promoted equal rights for all, which was nothing more than a distant dream at this point in Hungarian history. Such utopian idealism failed to connect with a country undergoing rapid development. Socialism was decades away from coming to fruition in Europe and even further than that in Hungary. Instead, the Kingdom was ruled by an aristocratic elite. The major political change brought about by industrialization was the rise of nouveau riche capitalists who would come to haunt the circles of power.

Chasing ghosts - Tancsics utca Castle District in Buda

Chasing ghosts – Tancsics utca Castle District in Buda (Credit: Antal Kotnyek)

Ideas Before Their Time – Sacrifices Worth The Suffering
When Tancsics’ term expired in 1872, he began to steadily move away from politics. His eyesight had been irreparably harmed by his time in prison. This disability did nothing to stop him from continuing an intense study of one of his greatest passions, Hungarian linguistics. Tancsics had become something of an eccentric iconoclast in his later years. A man who ended up largely alone because his ideas did not fit the age in which he lived. He was a fervent ideologue, a man of unyielding principles who believed his sacrifices were worth the suffering. Though he was no longer involved in politics he continued to write and publish, paying out of his own pocket for the publication of his autobiography. Such efforts brought him to the brink of insolvency.

Tancsics ended up dying impoverished in 1884, but he was not forgotten. His body was laid to rest in Kerepesi Cemetery, a national shrine. In 1948, with the ascendancy of communism he was back in vogue, though it is doubtful he would have agreed with their monstrous brand of socialism. Exactly a hundred years after his famous release from the Jozsef Barracks, Tancsics’ name was given to the same street in the Castle District where the barracks were located. Twenty years later, the statue of Tancsics standing just outside the Vienna Gate (Becsi kapu) was unveiled. Fitting memorials to a great Hungarian. A man who should be better known, if not for his name, than his ideas.

Prisoner To The Past – Mihaly Tanscis Radical Of The 1848 Revolution (For The Love of Hungary – Part 9)

March 15th is the preeminent date in modern Hungarian history. As such, it has also become one of the most important national holidays in the country. The date is when the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 broke out. The revolutionaries began the day by marching through Pest reading aloud Sandor Petofi’s National Song (Nemzeti dal) along with their 12 Points for reform in response to the onerous rule of the Habsburg-led Austrian Empire. The most famous event of that day was a mass rally at the newly completed National Museum. There was another event that day atop Castle Hill in Buda which is much less well known than it should be. The culmination of this event was the release of a Hungarian freedom fighter whose egalitarian ideals and democratic radicalism was as much an expression of the revolution, as his liberation from prison was representative of the changes suddenly brought on by the revolution.

Mihaly Tancscis - Statue by Imre Varga

Mihaly Tancscis – Statue by Imre Varga (Credit: Globetrotter19)

A Surfeit Of Surnames – Gate To The Past
Go anywhere in Hungary and you will find a surfeit of surnames gracing the streets of cities, towns, villages and neighborhoods. Make a name for yourself in Hungarian history and it will become a street name somewhere in the country. Sometimes streets in famous districts do not always have the most familiar names attached to them, at least not famous to a westerner such as myself. This was the case with Mihaly Tancsics utca, which begins just off Besci ter (Vienna square) then runs along the northeast side of Castle Hill and ends not far from the Matthias Church. I knew nothing about Mihaly Tancsics and most guidebooks did not devote any space to explaining who he was or what he had done. I figured that Tancsics must have done something of historical importance to have his name given to one of the main streets on Castle Hill. What I did not realize, until I later did my own research, was just how much of Tancsics remarkable life story was connected to this area.

Mihaly Tancsics can be found just below the walls that still guard the northern side of Castle Hill today. I walked right past a statue of him, barely taking the time to notice that it had been placed not far outside the Vienna Gate (Becsi kapu). I had no idea who he was or what he had done to gain such a spot. He was portrayed wearing a cloak that covered the upper half of his body. In his right arm he held several books. It was an odd representation, open to interpretation because of his portrayal in such a benign manner. It did little to make me want to learn more about Tancsics. Considering what I would later discover about his life, this was a shame. The fact that a statue of Tancsics stands just outside the Vienna Gate is ironic. In a sense he has finally been freed from the confines of the Castle District. A place where he spent two different periods of his life imprisoned behind walls there.

Jozsef Barracks - The building where Mihaly Tancsics and Lajos Kossuth were imprisoned

Jozsef Barracks – The building where Mihaly Tancsics and Lajos Kossuth were imprisoned

A Restless & Radical Hungarian – Simmering With Discontent
From its very beginnings as the seat of Hungarian power in the 13th century right up through today, most people have come to the Castle District by choice. Mihaly Tancsics was different, he was brought here against his will. Most people, including myself, would like to spend more time in the Castle District, Tancsics would have preferred to spend less. Yet now Tancsics is commemorated just outside the gate that once guarded the road between Buda and Vienna. A Vienna that was home to an administrative apparatus that held the power of life, death and imprisonment over Tancsics beginning in the mid-1840’s. This was a time when Hungary had grown increasingly restless under Austrian rule. Tancsics was both restless and radical. He wrote and printed pamphlets that propagated ideas that were a threat to the powers that be. Prior to the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 he advocated for universal suffrage, an abolition to serfdom with little to no compensation for landlords and equal rights for all.

Tancsics used the power of his pen to disseminate these ideas for publication. And he enjoyed the additional asset of authenticity. The fact that his parents were serfs and he had an intimate understanding of their struggle made his writings that much more powerful. Tancsics was a self-made man, who had managed to work his way up the ladder of life, from weaver to school teacher. He then proceeded to travel across much of Europe on foot. These life experiences gave him a unique perspective on the problems faced by the working and lower classes in Hungary at that time. The Austrian authorities had Tancsics arrested in 1847 for his writings. His ideas were too radical, especially in a Hungary that was chafing under imperial authority and simmering with discontent. He was imprisoned in the Jozsef Barracks on Castle Hill.

Memorial plaque to Mihaly Tancsics on the Joszef Barracks where he was imprisoned

Memorial plaque to Mihaly Tancsics on the Joszef Barracks where he was imprisoned (Credit: Janos Istok)

Further Than They Had Ever Gone Before – Rallying A Nation
The building in which Tancsics was confined still exists today. Ironically, it can be found on a street in the Castle District now named for him. In a room on the street side of #9 Tancsics utca, Mihaly Tancsics spent the year before revolution broke out in prison. Two plaques adorn the wall of this building, one tells how Lajos Kossuth – one of the most famous men in Hungarian history – was also imprisoned in the structure during the 1840’s. The other, just two windows down from the entrance, commemorates Tancsics’ imprisonment.

In Hungary both men are well known, but Kossuth’s fame transcends borders. He is an icon of Hungary and his portrait can be found in many English language history books on Modern Europe. Kossuth’s name and face are synonymous with the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. He is the historical standard bearer, along with Sandor Petofi, of the fight for Hungarian independence from the Austrians. And yet Tancsics was much more in touch with the common man, the uneducated, the serfs and wage laborers. Most Hungarians in the 19th century had more in common with Tancsics than Kossuth. And Tancscis, not Kossuth, was the focus of specific events on March 15th which rallied the masses to go further in revolt than they had ever gone before.

Click here for: The Re-emergent Revolutionary – Mihaly Tancscis: An Eccentric Iconoclast (For The Love of Hungary – Part 10)


A Meeting With Expectations – Buda Castle Up Close & Impersonal (For The Love of Hungary – Part 6)

When I think of touring a castle, what comes to mind is audio tours that never quite work the way they should, drafty and dank rooms that are mostly empty, loads of meaningless furniture, weapons and armor that look like something no sane person would wield or wear and guides who burden their audiences with structural details that a professional engineer would be hard pressed to understand. Nonetheless, castle tours are infectious, they always keep me and millions of others coming back for more. There are always opportunities to take incredible photos. Castle are photogenic in the extreme. They usually occupy a scenic position atop a hill, plateau or mountain. It as though the brains behind these stone-built spectaculars located them for maximum tourist effect.

In truth, castles attained their exalted topographical positions as a matter of security and survival. Castles manage to capture the imagination to such an extent that not many people care anything about their history. History gets in the way of fantasy and every castle relies more for its effect by stimulating imagination rather than relying on reality. In other words, it is not so much what we see in castles, as it is what they make us want to believe. Thus, I had high hopes when I went to visit Buda Castle for the first time. My head was filled with outrageously high expectations. What I would find was quite unexpected. Buda Castle was unlike any other castle I have ever visited.

Impressive & imposing - Looking over the Danube at Buda Castle

Impressive & imposing – Looking over the Danube at Buda Castle (Credit: Túrelio)

“High & Mighty” – An Exercise In Visual Intimidation
From the distance of the Danube promenade, Buda Castle looks impressive and imposing. High above it stands and spreads outward, a massive edifice that looks like it was pieced together from several buildings. Each one would be large by itself, together they form a coherent and gigantic whole. As I would later discover, to a large degree Buda Castle was an agglomeration that had been pieced together in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Its core architecture is Baroque, with neo-Renaissance elements added as well. Crowning it is a very large neo-Baroque dome, done up in modernist style. Its size cannot be disguised by distance. When viewed from the Danube, the castle seems to spread itself up and out, expanding its girth in several directions and commanding the area around it. No wonder it provides the name for the plateau on which it and hundreds of other buildings stand, Castle Hill (Varhegy). Looking up at the castle is an exercise in visual intimidation, one that can leave the viewer feeling small and insignificant.

The Castle looks the very definition of “high and mighty”, as impenetrable as it is intimidating. From below, the castle communicates a powerful presence. I wondered how a visit to it might make me feel. The answer to that question soon came as I made it a point to visit the Castle on my first full day back in the city. My initial response as I began to approach it was one of trepidation and confusion. The Castle was overwhelming. I could see how, after a full renovation and additions were completed in 1905, it became the largest Royal Palace in the world. At one time it sported over 200 rooms. The Castle had been ordered built as a sop to the Hungarians by Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa for their support in her wars against foreign foes. She had no intention of ever living in it, but that did not stop the construction from being ridiculously outsized and ornate. And that was just the first version in the mid-18th century. It continued to expand as it was redeveloped and revised.

Out of the shadows - Lions Court at Buda Castle

Out of the shadows – Lions Court at Buda Castle (Credit: Darinko)

A Royal Palace Without Royalty – Crowning Behemoth
The version of the Castle which stands today approximates the one that was redesigned in the late 19th century by Miklos Ybl and then finished after his death by Alajos Hauszmann. Ybl’s design had been responsible for an additional western wing, while Hauszmann implemented a massive expansion which resulted in a new northern wing that ended up doubling the size of those parts of the castle facing the Danube. This version of the castle suffered grave damage during the Second World War. The communist regime, which took control of the country in the years after the war, would not hear of rebuilding the castle as it had previously existed. They wanted to avoid any reminder of the proto-nationalist regime of Miklos Horthy, who had called the Castle home during the inter-war period. It was thus decided to gut the interior rooms so Buda Castle could house an array of cultural institutions. While much of the ornate splendor that had once covered the Castle both inside and out was not replaced.

I wanted to take a tour of this crowning behemoth, but that would be problematic. There seemed to be no central starting point. I found myself wandering in and out of shadows, while walking beneath hundreds of windows and past multiple wings. I soon discovered that it was impossible to take a tour that would cover the entire castle. Oddly enough, this is by design.   The upshot of the post-war reconstruction is that visitors see a lesser example of what the Castle was like in its early 20th century heyday. There are no royal quarters to visit. Historically, this is more appropriate than one might think. The Castle was never a royal residence, Horthy was the highest official ever to inhabit its chambers. As far as the Habsburg administration went, the Castle acted as home to the palatine, which was the Habsburg Emperor’s representative in Hungary. Thus, there were no great personages connected with the castle nor any tales of royal feats or depravity.

A meeting with expectations - Buda Castle

A meeting with expectations – Buda Castle (Credit: Jorge Lascar)

A Daunting Task – Built To Be This Way
Buda’s Castle present status is as a house of museums, converted to showcase works of art, historic artifacts and books. This meant that if I wanted to “visit” the castle, I would have to spend time in such disparate attractions as the Hungarian National Gallery, the National Szechenyi Library and the Budapest History Museum. This seemed like a daunting task for a first full day, so I satisfied myself by walking around the castle, through several courtyards and snapping photos from stunning vistas. This castle was not really made for tourism or tales. It was a place that one could visit, but never quite penetrate. It could never be captured in a single image or grasped in its entirety by the human mind. I had the stinging suspicion that it was built to be this way. It felt like too much of a great thing and it always will be.

Click here: Silent Witness – Tower of the Church of Mary Magdalene In Buda (For The Love of Hungary – Part 7)

The Wekerle Estate – Transylvania In Kispest (For The Love of Hungary – Part 3)

Transylvanianism is the kind of quixotic word that sounds like something related to paranormal activity. After first seeing the word my imagination began to run wild with a plethora of bizarre suppositions concerning just what it might mean. Perhaps it was an academic pursuit where all things Transylvania would be examined in detail and the studious sort could procure an undergraduate degree in “the land beyond the forest” (the root word’s literal meaning). Or maybe the word was some sort of strange affliction caused by contact with mysterious counts who double as vampires on the night shift. Another idea was that the word stood for a populist political movement to make Transylvania an independent nation. It turned out that all my theories were wrong. The word was an idea, unique to its time. This idea was largely the brainchild of a famous ethnic Hungarian architect, Karoly Kos (Kos Karoly in the Hungarian order of names) and came about after Hungary’s borders were trimmed to exclude Transylvania following the First World War.

Transylvanianism was controversial at the time because its basis involved an acceptance of Romanian rule over Transylvania. Kos believed that ethnic Hungarians should work within the existing system to promote their interests, rather than call for the old borders to be reinstituted. While Kos’ idea is now largely part of the past, his legacy lives on in an unlikely architectural project. Kos helped construct a little bit of Transylvania in an area that is now part of Hungary’s capital city. This physical representation is something that can still be seen and enjoyed in one of the least visited areas of Budapest. The fact that it stands hundreds of kilometers west of Kos’ beloved Transylvania, makes it that much more fascinating.

Beyond all expectations - Transylvania by way of Kispest

Beyond all expectations – Transylvania by way of Kispest (Credit: toldym)

Opposites Connect – A Splendid Outlier In Budapest
I first discovered Transylvania not in the dark forests of the Apuseni Mountains or among the craggy peaks of the Fagaras, instead I found it confronting me in Kispest, the gritty 19th district of Budapest. Kispest is just about the last place one would expect to be reminded of Transylvania. The district is working class to its core. The resident’s faces are as cracked as its sidewalks. This is a place that has more in common with the 1980’s than the 21st century. The apartment blocks are aging badly, there is a sheen of grime coating anything related to public transport and the citizens have a perpetually dour look frozen on their faces. In other words, Kispest is a place serious about its decrepitude. Scratch beneath the surface though and glimmers of post-communist Hungary soon become apparent. There are fine middle-class homes, shiny car dealerships and a shopping mall that pulses to the rhythms of consumerism and mass consumption.

And then there is the Wekerle Estate (Wekerletelep – named for two-time Hungarian Prime Minister Sandor Wekerle whose government supported its construction). On the surface, such words as Kispest and estate would seem to not have anything in common, but here they do. That is one reason the Wekerle Estate is worth a look. Opposites have not so much attracted, as they have connected here. The Estate stands as a splendid outlier amid the wasted vestiges of the old proletarian ideals that were swept away before the tide of history in 1989. At the Wekerle estate one can find what Kispest could have been, rather than what it was turned into. The estate is a place where style and substance are combined to create a towering achievement no more than three stories high and all the better for it. The scale matters less than a certain sensibility that pervade this remarkable place. The Wekerle Estate consists of 1,007 houses containing over 4,400 apartments. All have an architecturally communal tinge with stylistic elements of Art Nouveau and above all Transylvanian.

Style & substance - Gate into the heart of the Wekerle Estate

Style & substance – Gate into the heart of the Wekerle Estate (Credit: rlevente)

A Garden City– Grown With Folkore
Imagine a village hidden among the urban, a garden city grown to guard against the excesses of modernity, folk architecture blended with domestic living space. The architectural style on offer at the Wekerle Estate emphasizes sharp angles, gables and turrets. An aesthetic appealing slice of Transylvania. The estate was the work of as many as fifteen different architects and engineers with Kos playing the lead role. Construction started prior to the outbreak of World War I and continued up to the mid-1920’s. At that time there was no longer money to complete this vision of Transylvania sprouting up on the fringes of Budapest. Kos is the man most associated with the estate, as he should be since it was his vision which lay at its core. Kos Karoly Square is an oasis of nature surrounded by exquisitely folk inspired structures. Beyond the square, tree-lined streets radiate outward. These streets are lined with dwellings that represent the same inspired style. The development could house up to 20,000 people.

Everything in the Estate was built with the goal of creating an agreeable living space, where people could live in the city, but feel as though they were still in a village. This was of particular interest to the tens of thousands who had moved to Budapest from the countryside in the late 19th and early 20th century. During this period, Hungary was transformed from a rural to a predominantly urban society. The hope was that the Wekerle estate would help these economic migrants keep a connection to the land and also their fellow man. Here was an idea of the communal and collective without the loss of individuality. At the same time, the Wekerle estate represented a physical embodiment of Transylvania. And Karoly Kos was the greatest exponent of that place as an aesthetic ideal.

Living Legacy - Karoly Kos in the Wekerle Estate

Living Legacy – Karoly Kos in the Wekerle Estate (Credit: Mark Ahsmann)

Living Legacy – An Idea Ahead Of Its Time
At the center of the Wekerle Estate stands Kos Karoly Square and at the center of the Square stands a statue of the man himself. It is a fitting tribute to his legacy. Kos would live out his life in Kolozsvar (Cluj in present day Romania), the largest city and cultural capital of Transylvania. He worked hard to advance the idea of Transylvanianism throughout the 1920’s and 30’s. This policy of moderation was not in tune with the Hungarian desire to recover the prewar Kingdom of Hungary’s “lost lands”. Living in peaceful coexistence with Romanians meant more to Kos than going to war, but hotter heads prevailed. Northern Transylvania was re-occupied by Hungary through an alliance with Nazi Germany, but that alliance led to greater losses, including Transylvania forever. Oddly enough though Kos died in 1977, his ideal of peaceful coexistence has been largely realized in Transylvania as part of a different entity, the European Union. In that respect his legacy lives on, just as it does at the Wekerle Estate in Kispest.

Click here for: A Dazzling Island In The Sky – Castle Hill In Buda (For The Love of Hungary – Part 4)

The Beginning & End Of Transylvania – Zsibo to Zilah By Rail: The 1900 Baedeker Guide (Part Eight)

Our English traveler was proceeding through the heart of northwest Transylvania at a leisurely pace. He would have probably checked his pocket watch somewhere past Aranymezos (Babeni), noticing that over two hours had elapsed thus far on what was shaping up to be a very pleasant journey. To his left, the sunlight created a cascade of sparkles on the Szamos River, a little further off in the distant a series of low hills were covered in verdant greenery. Here was a whole new world that only a few outsiders had ever seen. One of those had been a Baedeker guidebook author who had first blazed this itinerary a few years earlier. The journey had only become possible in 1890, the year that the Des-Zsibo-Zilah Railway opened. Two-thirds of the railway line followed the serpentine course of the Szamos. It was not until Zsibo (Jibou), where the Agrij River entered the Szamos, that the line broke away from the river.

A Chateau & A Park - Wesselenyi Kastely in the early 20th century

A Chateau & A Park – Wesselenyi Kastely in the early 20th century

The Hidden Opposition – Deep In The Countryside
Zsibo (Jibou) was an important town in the region, but Baedeker only hints at that in a description that refers to “a chateau and a park”. These were references to the Wesselenyi Castle and Botanical Garden, which can still be visited today. The castle was, as it still is, one of the largest Baroque structures in Transylvania. This branch of the powerful Wesselenyi family gained a fair amount of fame for their fervent opposition to Habsburg rule. Miklos Wesselenyi Sr. took up the fight, leading an army of nobles, peasants and outlaws in an attack on the local Austrian administrator. This resulted in Wesselenyi Sr. being throw into prison for several years. His son, Miklos continued the opposition, going so far as to support the liberation of serfs as leader of the liberal, reformist nobility. In an ironic coda to this lost cause, Zsibo (Jibou) also became the setting for the final surrender of a Hungarian Army in 1849 fighting for the Revolution that had begun the year before.

Zsibo (Jibou) was the turning point, quite literally, for the final stage of our Englishman’s journey to Zilah. The Szomas soon became a memory as the railway sliced south and then southwest along its new course. The low, forested hills periodically closed in either side of the railway. The Englishman may well have grown both excited and apprehensive by the thought of arrival which was now less than an hour away. It is doubtful he knew that prior to reaching Zilah, deep in the hills a few kilometers off to the south stood one of the great architectural antiquities of Transylvania. Porolissum had been the site of a Roman settlement which had begun as a military encampment during the Emperor Trajan’s conquest of the Dacians in 106. It eventually grew to become the capital of a province known as Dacis Porolissensis. Baedeker does not mention the ruins – which include three temples and an amphitheater – that can be found there. This is not surprising since most of these remnants were not excavated until the latter half of the 20th and early part of the 21st centuries. The hidden historical secrets of Transylvania did not give themselves up so easily to tourists or modernity.

Old Zilah - The Unseen Transylvania

Old Zilah – The Unseen Transylvania

Sights Unseen – Staying The Night In Zilah
After passing through one last narrow defile the train would suddenly arrive in Zilah. The town was situated in a valley of the same name at a crucial geological junction of the Apuseni Mountains with the Eastern Carpathians. In 1900, Zilah was growing rapidly in no small part due to the railroad which aided commerce. The population had grown to 7,000, three-quarters of whom were ethnic Hungarians. Baedeker gave Zilah only a single sentence in its narrative. This hardly did the town justice. Baedeker does mention that the railroad station has a restaurant. It also recommends one accommodation, known by the name Tiger. Let us imagine that our Englishman decided to avail himself of an overnight stay. He would have been one of the few foreigners to have ever walked the streets of Zilah. A clutch of sites would prove of interest.

The City Hall had only been completed in 1889, work that was over fifty years in the making. The building’s trapezoidal shape and prominence – centered on the Old Market square – were a fine expression of the role played by the town as administrative seat for Salaj County. The town also sported a museum, its first, which had been opened in 1880. Gifted by a former Minister of the Hungarian Parliament and art collector, Lajos Szikszai, the museum contained a wealth of archaeological objects. Our English traveler may well have availed himself of a visit to the theater in the evening. Located in the Transylvania Building, which was just five years old at the time, the theater showcased local and regional talent in an array of productions. This was the main form of entertainment of that era for urban dwellers.

Looking back - Panorama of Zilah in 1903

Looking back – Panorama of Zilah in 1903

The Other Side Of Twilight -A Land Distilled To Its Essence
Zilah was the end of the line for Baedeker’s mini-itinerary as well as for our fictional English traveler. The area has always been a good place to make a transition. This transitory role goes back over two millenniums, long before the town came into existence. In ancient times, the town site had been inhabited by the Free Dacians, members of the Dacian tribe that had not been conquered by Rome.  A mere five kilometers away stood the Roman border. In later centuries, Zilah had been a crossing point between Transylvania and Central Europe along the old Salt Route. In Austria-Hungary, it was either the beginning or the end of Transylvania depending on which way a traveler was going.

No matter which way one was traveling in 1900, a journey to Zilah was a trip to the periphery. A journey along the edge of a world just beginning to be discovered by foreigners. Few made that journey or the discovery, but those that did were able to see Transylvania distilled to is essence. Romanians and Hungarians living side by side among nature’s beauty, if not its bounty. The timeless traditions and quasi-mystical landscapes of the Land Beyond the Forest were now accessible to anyone. All they needed was a bit of courage, a train ticket and the good sense to let Baedeker be their guide.

The Unknown Transylvania – Des to Zilau By Rail: The 1900 Baedeker Guide (Part Seven)

Baedeker was the first English language guidebook to deal extensively with more remote and less visited areas of Eastern Europe, including Transylvania. The seven itineraries provided for that region in the 1900 version of their Austria-Hungary Handbook For Travellers focused on journeys between such larger towns as Klausenberg, Bistritz, Hermannstadt, Fogaras and Kronstadt*. The itineraries did not stop there, they provided details and sites of interest for places along the chosen route. Baedeker also went one level deeper with detours into the countryside.

These itineraries within an itinerary were offered for the most adventurous. They would often begin from smaller towns found along the main route. The town would have a branch railroad line that could take travelers into a rural netherworld of smaller towns and atmospheric villages. Allowing them to see places that had not changed very much since medieval times. In some cases, the only thing different were the steel rails now running across this land which lay beyond the forest (Transylvania literally means the land beyond the forest). Rails ridden by an iron horse that transported a few wayward foreigners to a world entirely different from anything they had ever known before. What was this world like? With the 1900 Baedeker Austria-Hungary as a guide it is time to find out.

Riding the rails - Train at station in Transylvania

Riding the rails – Train at station in Transylvania (Credit: fortepan.hu)

A Detour From Des – Into The Wild
It is 1900, an Englishman is traveling from Klausenberg to Bistritz and his name is not Jonathan Harker. The Englishman’s name is not known and never will be, but he must have been an adventurous spirit to make it this far abroad. Transylvania is just coming into the consciousness of European travelers, it takes a good bit of courage to strike off into a land that few foreigners have ever seen or heard of before. A land of wild nature and diverse ethnic groups adhering to their own exotic centuries-old customs. A land where English is barely spoken and the closest thing to it is German, a rudimentary knowledge of which is essential. Our traveler has made it to Des (present-day Dej, Romania), the halfway point on the tour route provided by Baedeker. From Des, an off the beaten path is offered. On page 406 of that 1900 Baedeker guide to Austria-Hungary a couple of secondary itineraries are given in smaller type. The first of these is a 63 mile (100 kilometer) journey from Des (Dej) to Zilah (Zalau).

The trip by train between these two towns was slated to take a little over four hours. A steam engine would be pulling a few passenger carriages up the Szamos (Somes) River Valley. A trip that would have been well worth it, if for no other reason than to see the stunning nature. The usually sober, fact laden literary style of Baedeker gives way in this mini-itinerary to spasmodic descriptions of an enchanting natural world. There are “wooded slopes and fissured cliffs” “lofty embankments and deep cuttings” to be seen. The train glides along rails close to the Szamos. Our traveler must have realized just how lucky they were to see such scenes of spectacular nature. It is difficult to overestimate the revolutionary effect rail travel had upon Transylvania. Areas once accessible to a select few born in these areas, were now open to the wider world. Furthermore, while rail travel of that era may have been slow, it was quite comfortable. This type of travel was a kind of luxury that the middle class could increasingly afford.

Glimpses Of Past & Future – Rural Skyscrapers & New Settlers
What would our English traveler have thought of those rustic villages that the train passed through on the way to Zilau? About half an hour after leaving Dees, the train arrived at Kacko (Catcau) which stood on the right bank of the Szamos. The village was sizable, with over two thousand people, four-fifths of whom were Romanian. Our traveler would have glimpsed several spires of churches in Kacko. These were then, as they still are today, the skyscrapers of Transylvanian villages. As the tallest, most well-built structures they express one of the most important tenets of village culture, religion. Though Kacko’s history dated back to the mid-14th century, more recent history had been made near the town. Only fifty years before Hungarian troops led by Polish General Joszef Bem fought a battle close to Kacko in their unsuccessful campaign to fee Hungary from Habsburg rule.

Further along the valley was Nagyilonda (IIeanda) where beautiful forested hillsides hemmed in the valley. Perhaps our English traveler saw some of the old wooden Orthodox churches made noticeable by their lean spires and shingled roofs. Nagyilonda had undergone a bit of transformation since the first half of the 19th century. In the 1830’s Jews began to settle in the area. By 1900, they administered most of the trade in the Nagyilonda and nearby communities. Their presence would continue to grow until they were a quarter of the population before being largely wiped out by the Holocaust. All that was part of an unimaginable future of which our traveler would have been oblivious. The pastoral landscape and docile peasantry going about its business would not have given much hint of the underlying tensions slowly building in this land.

Pass Through Territory – A Land Harsh & Quaint
Either side of the journey’s halfway point was bookended by a couple of small villages, Hosszurev (Rastoci) and Letka (Letca). The inhabitants were mainly small-scale Romanian farmers, adherents to the Greek Orthodox faith who lived in wood houses with straw roofs. It was a humble existence in a beautiful land where faith, family, custom and tradition defined the way of life. What these farmers and their families must have thought when the railroad arrived is anyone’s guess. It brought foreign travelers such as our Englishman to look in on a world that must have appeared both harsh and quaint. The laborers, in sunlit fields, surrounded by golden stacks of hay looked like a purer form of enchantment when seen from behind a pane of glass in a comfortable railway carriage. Much less so for those struggling to earn their livelihood in a magnificent, but marginally productive land. The railway was little more than a transitory presence, at least for now. This was pass through territory, but the fact that it could now be accessed by an English traveler was nothing short of miraculous. As was everything else that was to come along this route.

* Klausenberg is now Cluj, Bistritz is Bistrita, Hermannstadt is Sibiu, Fogaras is Fagaras and Kronstadt is Brasov. In 1900 they were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today they are in Romania.

Click here for: The Beginning & End Of Transylvania – Zsibo to Zilah By Rail: The 1900 Baedeker Guide (Part Eight)

Klausenberg To Kolozsvar To Cluj – A Transylvanian Transition: The 1900 Baedeker Guide (Part Three)

Baedeker was nothing if not thorough. Their Handbooks for Travellers contained thousands of details molded into itineraries such as the one that would carry me both backward and forward in time from Klausenberg to Bistritz. The seemingly infinite number of details culminating in a travel itinerary between two of Transylvania’s most important cities. To compare the information from 1900 with everything that had happened to the towns and villages along the route since that time makes for a fascinating journey. One that offers a kaleidoscopic view of a world that has been by turns lost or transformed and in some places, surprisingly unchanged. I began to read, reread and then study in intimate detail the Transylvania section of the Austria Including Hungary, Transylvania, Dalmatia and Bosnia Handbook For Travellers. The world of yesterday and today began to collide, creating something altogether new. Forming by way of comparison, contrast and contradiction. This development melded past with present, allowing me to see how much had changed and discover just how much had not.

Eclecticism & Electricity – New York In Transylvania
Before a turn of the 20th century traveler departed Klausenberg they would have taken some time to tour the city. Following the advice of Baedeker, they could book a room at the elegant New York Hotel, which happened to be the guide’s first recommendation. The New York was a striking four story edifice built in the eclectic style, reflecting that growing architectural trend. Among its most striking features was a turret that topped the apex where both sides of the hotel intersected. The interior offered a new class of comfort. There were 65 rooms, kitted out with plush furnishings. In addition, the hotel had its own generator allowing guests to enjoy electric light, a first anywhere in the city.

The New York also housed a coffee house which was the favorite haunt of numerous authors both those who lived in and visited the city. Among the clientele was Hungary’s most famous writer of that time, Mor Jokai. One of the present-day streets fronted by the edifice is named for Jokai. The hotel was the crown jewel for accommodation in the city. A place where travelers could rest and relax in refined luxury. The New York, like Kolozsvar had an ill-starred future ahead of it. It was later renamed the Continental Hotel.  When the German Army occupied Kolozsvar during the spring of 1944 it acted as the Gestapo’s first headquarters. After World War II it was turned into a youth hostel for students. In the 1960s it was renamed the Continental Hotel until it was sold in the early 21st century and shuttered for a planned conversion into a shopping mall.

Glitter & Rust - The former New York Hotel in Cluj

Glitter & Rust – The former New York Hotel in Cluj (Credit: Acquario 51)

Changing Faces  – Playing The Percentages
The New York Hotel was just beginning to realize its sparkling promise as the new century opened. At that time Baedeker reported Klausenberg’s population as 34,500. Figures given by Romanian sources today show the population at 50,000 (Hungarian sources provide a similar number). The total number is not as important as the percentage of each ethnic group in the city. Klausenberg/Kolozsvar/Cluj* was multi-cultural before multiculturalism happened to be a fashionable idea. In 1900 the city was overwhelmingly Hungarian. Magyars made up 82% of the population. Romanians were the second largest group with 14% and Saxons third at 3.5%. These figures are both enlightening and deceiving. In northern Transylvania, Hungarians were overwhelmingly urban dwellers while Romanians dominated the countryside.

The Hungarian figure was also boosted by 6,000 Jews, because they spoke Magyar as their mother tongue they were counted as such. As an individual class Jews were almost as numerous as Romanians in Kolozsvar and much more powerful due to their varied commercial interests and high rate of employment in the professional classes. Being a German publishing firm, Baedeker refers to the city by its German name, even though Saxons were a minute proportion of the population. Saxons had also been mentioned earlier in the Transylvania section. The introduction included information on each of the region’s five main ethnic groups – Hungarians, Romanians, Saxons, Szekeler and Roma. Hungarians would continue as the city’s majority ethnic group until the 1960’s.

The Romanian communist government’s policy of rapid industrialization went hand in hand with diluting the Hungarian share of the populace. After the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu at the end of 1989 the borders of Romania opened up to the west. Many of Cluj’s Hungarian residents fled to Hungary in search of greater economic opportunities. The upshot was that by 2011, the Romanian share of Cluj’s population was 81.5% almost the same as the Hungarian majority’s share in 1900. There was one major difference though, the population of Cluj was now 324,000, 16.5% of which was Hungarian. Cluj had become a Romanian city in a matter of a few generations.

A Fleeting Image - Old Kolozsvar

A Fleeting Image – Old Kolozsvar (Credit: fortepan.hu)

Strolling Down The Strada – From Aristocrats To Peasants To The Present
A visitor clutching their Baedeker had two choices when they arrived at Klausenberg’s main train station. They could either choose to head by rail for points further east or take a self-guided tour around the city using the Handbook for Travellers. Baedeker’s chosen route through Klausenberg started at the station then slowly headed westward towards the Belvaros (Inner city), an area stuffed with scintillating architecture. Buildings in the Belvaros showcased a much deeper past than the relatively new train station could offer. Getting to the heart of the city meant a rather long walk down Franz Josef utca. That same street still exists, but the name has long since been changed.

Instead of an Emperor, the street is now named after a peasant. Strada Horea commemorates one of the Romanian leaders of the Transylvania Peasant Uprising in 1784. The name may have changed, but the strada sill acts as one of the city’s main transport arteries. Travelers of the past and present followed the same paths. Now shops, restaurants and grocery stores line the route. A sure sign that capitalism in all its varied forms has conquered Romania in a little over twenty-five years. The transition from communism to a free market economy has been so rapid that the visitor is unlikely to even take notice. Only after crossing a bridge over the Somesul Mic River (Little Szamos) and entering the Belvaros does the true splendor of Klausenberg, Kolozsvar and Cluj begin to shine through.

*Note: Klausenberg (German), Kolozsvar (Hungarian) and Cluj (Romania) are used interchangeably throughout this post. In general a specific derivation of the name is used depending on what group administered the city, except in the case of Klausenberg which is used when referring to Baedeker’s text on the city.

Click here for: Arti-factual Details – Kolozsvar & Cluj Transformed: The 1900 Baedeker Guide (Part Four)

A Turn Of The 20th Century Train Ride To Transylvania – Budapest to Klausenberg: The 1900 Baedeker Guide (Part Two)

In 1900, English and German travelers going on a journey to Transylvania would almost certainly have gone through Budapest. The Hungarian capital was the most prominent jumping off point for heading into one of the most diverse natural and cultural landscape in Eastern Europe. Going eastward out of Budapest meant starting in a counter intuitive turnabout of geographical logic. The city’s western railway terminal (Nyugati Palyudvar) was the jumping off point for Transylvania. This magnificent hall of transport had been constructed by the famous Eiffel firm of France a quarter century before. A turn of the century traveler would have entered the station in search of the cavernous ticket hall, which still manages to serve the same function today.

There they would have been able to purchase a ticket for the journey to the largest city in Transylvania, Klausenberg.* This was the route recommended by the 1900 edition of Austria Including Hungary, Transylvania, Dalmatia and Bosnia – Handbook for Travellers by Baedeker. Listed as Itinerary #69 – From Budapest to Klausenberg via Grosswardein – this rail trip is still offered today for the nostalgically inclined. It departs multiple times each day beginning at the same exact station as it did over a century ago. It is comforting to discover that despite all the geopolitical changes that rocked the region during the 20th century, Baedeker’s itinerary between the two cities is largely unchanged, at least on paper.

Itinerary 69 - From Budapest to Klausenberg via Grosswardein

Itinerary 69 – From Budapest to Klausenberg via Grosswardein

Delighting In The Details – First Class All The Way
Baedeker was the gold standard of travel guides in the late 19th and early 20th century. The breadth of coverage and detailed information they provided was unprecedented. The guidebooks eschewed opinionated commentary for a “just the facts” writing style. Baedeker’s itineraries are chock full of details that the latter-day reader will find of especial interest if they want to compare the same journey from past to present. For instance, the railway journey from Budapest to Klausenberg is listed as taking anywhere between 8 ½ to 13 hours. The trip today, which now includes a border crossing, can be done in about 8 hours. Thus, the speed of travel has increased, but not as dramatically as one might imagine. This is most likely due to the mountainous topography that trains must scale as they climb the Transylvanian portion of the route.

The comfort and ease for those who could afford to travel this route by train in 1900 would have been much greater, especially regarding food, than modern travelers have come to expect. A dining car was an integral part of the train. Such services are noticeably lacking today on all but night trains. And those that travel through the night offer a heightened version of the TV dinner as opposed to the elegant dining options offered on turn of the 20th century Hungarian trains. A traveler paid for this elegance. Baedekers lists a first-class ticket on this route as costing 9 florins. Calculated for inflation this would be the equivalent of 47 euros/55 dollars in today’s terms. A second-class ticket cost 6 florins or the equivalent of 33 euros/38 dollars. Today, the cost of a first-class ticket on the route is 51.50 euros/60 dollars, while a second-class ticket now goes for 34.50 euros/40 dollars. Prices have not changed and neither has much of the route.

Starting point - Nyugati Palyudvar (Western Station) in 1900

Starting point – Nyugati Palyudvar (Western Station) in 1900 (Credit: fortepan.hu)

Facts Versus Opinions – Taking The High (Rail)Road
Baedeker starts the itinerary by providing a thorough point by point description of the rail route between Budapest and Nagyvarad which crossed the Great Hungarian Plain. The guidebook’s author is mostly sparing with anything other than the details. Amid the facts are tidbits that might raise an eyebrow. The landscape is referred to as “a monotonous plain”. For anyone who has ever traveled this route that description rings true. Though the amount of historical and architectural information is much less than a modern reader might prefer, Baedeker aims to provide a step by step account of the stations and villages that the railway passes through. A fine example of this style can be found in the description starting with the train crossing the Theiss (Tisza River):

69 ½ M. Szajol (where the Arad line diverges, see p. 374). 75 M. Torok Szent Miklos; 81 M. Fegy-vernek. From (92 M.) Kis-Ujszallas lines run to the N. to Kaal-Kapolna (p. 347), to the S. to (18 M.) Devavanya and thence to (29 1/2 M.) Gyoma (p. 374), and to the E. to (58 M.) Grosswardein. — 102 M. Karczag (branch-line to Tisza-Fured, 28 M., see p. 369). 111 M. Puspok-Ladany (Rail. Restaurant)

Such information might be construed as gobbledygook. Then again, it was certainly preferable to staring out the window at a mind numbing landscape. Current guidebooks are quite the opposite. They skip the in between parts to expound on the larger towns and better known attractions. Baedeker did a bit of this, but their guidebook was more information than interpretation. From time to time, the authorial opinion of Baedeker managed to creep through. For instance, the traveler learns that Grosswardein is “a pleasant town”. Among its architectural attractions “is the tasteless Roman Catholic Cathedral” which stands close to the “handsome” bishop’s residence. The hills outside the town “yield excellent wine”. Such opinions are benign by the standards of modern travel guide writing. Nonetheless, they stick out because relatively few of them are to be found in the pages of Baedeker.

A Transylvanian Terminal - Kolozsvar Palyudvar (Klausenberg-Cluj Railway Station)

A Transylvanian Terminal – Kolozsvar Palyudvar (Klausenberg-Cluj Railway Station)

Ghost Journey -Passing Into History
In Baedeker’s defense, it must have taken a monumental amount of work just to assemble the Hungary and Transylvania portions of the Handbook for Travellers. Roads were in deplorable condition across most of the eastern areas in Hungary. The authors would have been largely limited to areas in and around railways. Travelers would have appreciated this thoroughness, where else could they learn that at the first station in Transylvania- Csucsa (Ciucea, Romania) – there was a restaurant. Such amenities are something modern train travelers would love to find in out of the way locales. The days of railway restaurants in small Transylvanian towns have long since passed into history, as have Baedeker’s Handbook for Travelers which once directed travelers to them.

The final stop on itinerary #69 was Klausenberg (Koloszvar/Cluj), the main hub of business, commerce and culture in Transylvania. A traveler who braved a trip outside of the main tourist season would have been especially interested in the city’s role as, “the headquarters of the numerous noblesse of Transylvania.” Baedeker remarked that because of this, “the town is very animated in winter.” Grand balls were held where aristocratic elegance was on display. One of the sites not included by Baedeker, but which can be visited today was the Banffy Palace. That was because in 1900 the palace was still the setting for the shimmering pageantry of what was once Transylvania’s greatest aristocratic family. The fact that the Banffy Palace can now be found in all the present day guidebooks, but not in the 1900 edition of Baedeker’s speaks volumes about the changes that have occurred since 1900 in Klausenberg. Baedeker had no idea of the transformation and tragedy still to come.

* Note on place names: Klausenberg is Kolozsvar in Hungarian and Cluj in Romanian; Grosswardein is Nagyvarad in Hungarian and Oradea in Romanian

Click here for: Klausenberg To Kolozsvar To Cluj – A Transylvanian Transition: The 1900 Baedeker Guide (Part Three)