Budapest was originally two cities – Buda built on the hills on the west bank of the Danube Pest on the east bank. Although there was a settlement on the east bank as far back as Celtic times, Pest was overshadowed by Buda which became the capital of medieval Hungary, but developed rapidly in the 19th century during the period of Austrian dominance and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The first bridge over the Danube connecting the two cities, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, was constructed in 1849 and the two cities were united in 1871.
Most of the buildings standing today in Pest were constructed during the massive expansion of Pest during the mid to late 19th Century and the early 20th Century, when there was obviously a lot of money swilling around. Like in all the great European cities at this time, many of the emerging manufacturing and commercial class largely had a conservative approach to architecture, looking backwards to older architectural forms for their inspiration, so building styles were strongly influenced by earlier periods. Consequently there are many neo-classical, neo-gothic , neo-Renaissance, and neo-everything-else structures throughout the city.
However, there were some more forward thinking architects and members of the industrial and commercial classes who were receptive to new ideas. One result was the birth of Art Nouveau in Belgium, which quickly spread throughout Continental Europe. Jugendstil in Germany, Secessionism in Austria and Szecesszió in Hungary were related movements which all attempted to bring fresh ideas to architecture and the decorative arts.
The pioneer of Szecesszió architecture in Budapest was Ödön Lechner. He’d originally worked on “neo” / “historicist” buildings but after spending time working in Paris and London he started to look to develop a new Hungarian style. He won the competition to design the building for the Museum of Applied Arts which was constructed between 1893 and 1896. The result was a dramatic fusion of Art Nouveau, Hungarian and Eastern influences.
He went on to design other landmark buildings including the Post Office Savings Bank (below) and the Sipeki-Balazs villa.
Other architects followed his lead and the Szecesszió style became the height of fashion until the First World War. Consequently there are many hundreds of Szecesszió buildings, or buildings with elements of the style, throughout Pest.
Another landmark building is the Gresham Palace (1904-06) which stands immediately facing the Chain Bridge. Designed by Zsigmond Quittner for the British Gresham Life Assurance Company, it originally contained offices, luxury residences and a shopping arcade. After falling into disrepair during the Communist period, it now houses a luxury hotel.
The House of Hungarian Art Nouveau on Honvéd Utca, not far from the Hungarian Houses of Parliament and the Post Office Savings Bank, is housed in a Szecesszió building designed by Emil Vidor in 1903, for the Bedő family. The design is clearly influenced by Belgian Art Nouveau and the style is similar to hoiuses built by Victor Horta and Paul Hanaker in Brussels. Like many other Szecesszió buildings in Budapest, the house fell into disrepair but has been beautifully restored. There are some “before and after” pictures on the museum’s website. The ground floor houses the museum, which contains many items of art nouveau style furniture, displayed in an eccentric, but engaging fashion, and a cafe. The other floors contain apartments. We visited the museum and the staff very very friendly, but were unable to provide much information about the history of the building.
This building, on the north side of Szent István tér, close to St Stephen’s Basillica, with it’s rounded bays minimal ornamentation, reminded me a little of the Hotel Tassel in Brussels, the fist Art Nouveau building, which was designed designed by Victor Horta.
We spotted the next building in a side street when we were walking up Kossuth Lajos Utca
I thought that this building, a former bank at No. 8 József Attila utca looked like a giant owl. It was designed by Artur Meinig and completed in 1898.
The Párizsi Nagy Áruház building on Andrássy Ut was designed by Zsigmond Sziklai, as a department store and was completed in 1909. After renovation it re-opened the Alexandria book chain flag-ship store. The top floor houses a cafe with a magnificent neo-baroque painted ceiling. It’s lines are more geometric than most Art Nouveau buildings and in many ways has an Art Deco feel, even though that style only really developed after the First World War.
This building at 90 Dozsa Gyorgy Ut, just of Hero’s Aquare, has a very distinctive Eastern influenced style.
The following buildings were spotted on Széchenyi rakpart, north of the Houses of Parliament
These a just a few of the many hundreds of Art Nouveau style buildings in Budapest. See the following websites for more information on Art Nouveau in Budapest and Hungary and more pictures of buildings.