City Park is the largest park in Budapest. The first trees and walkways were established here in 1751. In the first decades of the 19th century, a park was created, which I understand makes it the first public park in the world. With an area of 302 acres compared to Hyde Park, London (625 acres) and Central Park (843 acres) it offers a lot.
Városliget is situated behind the Hősök tere (Heroes Sq) and its iconic statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important national leaders, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, called the Millennium Monument. The Millennium Monument in the middle of the square was erected to commemorate the 1000-year-old history.
It’s the biggest square in Budapest and also the home for Museum of Fine Arts on the left and Kunsthalle (Hall of Art). Laid out in 1896 to mark the thousandth anniversary of Hungary.
Vajdahunyad Castle (main attraction in the park), a replica of a Transylvanian castle of that name, was built to show the various architectural styles found in Hungary and has Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque parts.
In the courtyard is the statue of Anonymus, the nameless medieval chronicler to King Béla. His work is the main source of information on Hungarian history through the Middle Ages, however, the fact that there were four kings called Béla during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries makes it hard to identify him or the monarch. His face is hidden by a hood, making him anonymous, and yet portraying an interesting and important historical figure. I just love this statue, every detail …. every angle.
The castle amalgamates some of the finest buildings in the historical Hungary into a single eclectic palace featuring styles from the Middle Ages to the 18th century: Romanesque, Gothic Renaissance, Baroque buildings, from the Romanesque church of the village Jak to the Baroque palace. Together form a historic building complex built in 1896. It’s famous by representing the 1000 years of Hungarian architecture by mixing various styles in itself. The name came from the Castle of Vajdahunyad in Romania, because of copying its main facade.
Although the Vajdahunyad Castle in the City Park may look like a historical building … it was in just a temporary structure made of wooden planks and cardboard designs. for the 1896 Millennial Expo of Budapest. But the Hungarians loved the building so much that it was eventually built from permanent materials between 1904 and 1908. It became the home of the Hungarian Agricultural Museum in 1897.
The Chapel of Jak (Jaki kapolna), with the tympanum over the portal, shows the life-size figures of the 12 apostles with Jesus. The Church of Jak was, in fact, the monumental basilica of the Benedictine monastery, most probably finished in 1256. It is extended with a medieval style ‘Kerengo’ cloister, which is beautiful and very romantic. It’s possible to get married in the chapel today.
The Budapest Zoo, the Amusement Park, the Municipal Circus, the Museum of Transport, the legendary Gundel Restaurant and the famous Széchenyi Baths are also located within City Park. In addition, there are playgrounds, slides, wooden castles and monkey bars in the park to keep the small ones entertained. For the treasure hunters, there’s a flea market held every weekend at Petőfi Csarnok Hall.
The tragic arrival of World War I, and while there were no battles in Hungary during this conflict, several City Park buildings served as temporary military hospitals, including the newly built Museum of Fine Arts, the Kunsthalle, and the Ice Rink building. As the war dragged on, there were rumours that the copper roofing of Széchenyi Bath was stripped to be melted down for military supplies, but otherwise, City Park was spared major damage.
But with the onset of World War II, and the flames caused much more devastation to Városliget. Bombs hit almost every building in the park, including the Museum of Fine Arts and Kunsthalle, and then City Park turned into a battlefield when the Red Army invaded Hungary’s capital during the Siege of Budapest.
The Zoo also sustained extensive damage during the war, and most of their animals died during the battles, either as collateral damage or due to a lack of food. Only a few animals survived, and some of them escaped from their damaged shelters – including a lion, who, according to World War II historian Krisztián Ungváry, hid in the tunnels of the nearby Millennium Underground for weeks, until Soviet soldiers managed to capture it.
Today City Park is as popular as ever with joggers, bikers, children, and dog-walkers. Life buzzes near the lake, surrounded by such sights as Vajdahunyad Castle, the Budapest Zoo, and excellent restaurants like the legendary Gundel, (established immediately after the regime change in 1989, and situated on its own island), or Városliget Café & Bar, located right next to the City Park Ice Rink and providing panoramic park views for diners.
I enjoyed a very nice and pleasant lunch (goat cheese salad and a fantastic pumpkin & orange lemonade) at the bussing Városliget Café & Bar with at magical view over the ice-rink and the castle. The spring sun was so inviting, but it was a bit too cold to be sitting outside.
And there is an exciting future for the park with new buildings; House of Hungarian Music, new National Gallery for modern art and 1956 Memorial Square, where the future Museum of Ethnography is set to be built.
The project is called Liget Budapest and there are protests against new modern buildings being built in this beautiful park and that so many trees have to cut down to given space for the new development. Some tree is already removed. Even Greenpeace had their protests
So City Park still has some uncertain years ahead, but this is not the first time – 120 years ago, when the Millennium Exhibition took place in the park, there were certainly a lot of changes occurring here during a very short period of time.
The best way to get to the park is through using the Millennium Subway (M1) a small yellow train – you can either use the stop for Heroes Sq (Hősök tere) or the stop in the middle of the park (Széchenyi fürdő)
I missed out on the flea market … I missed out on restaurant Gundel … I missed out on the Zoo … I missed out on the Botanic Garden … I missed out on the Amusement Park and the Municipal Circus … and all the flowers, fountains and greenery. So that gives me a very good excuse to go back to Budapest.
But I had the first day of Spring 2017 in the most beautiful park.