Budapest Architecture: Buda

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Architecture buffs may find Budapest’s range of styles somewhat head-spinning.

Roman amphitheatres, Gothic and Neo-Gothic styled cathedrals, Turkish baths and Secessionist (Art Nouveau) buildings give the city an architectural ambiguity that only underscores its many charms.

1. Though the original Royal Palace with its Gothic and Renaissance foundations was destroyed and rebuilt many times, the Habsburgs built a completely new, small Baroque palace in the beginning of the 18th century. Today, Buda Castle (Kiralyi Palota) houses the largest collection of Hungarian fine art at its Hungarian National Gallery. Explore the gardens and nearby restaurants and make a half day of the visit.

Dabble Savvy: Had history been different, we might know the names of Hungarian artists as well as we know Monet, VanGogh and Picasso. Hire a guide to enjoy the impressive collections.

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ABOVE: Ernst Galeria owner Eleni Koranis strikes a pose beside a 1920s iron rocking chair from Vienna. Her Pest gallery specializes in furniture, paintings and ceramics from the turn of the 20th century.

2. A visit to the lobby of the Hilton Budapest Hotel nets a surprising glimpse into antiquity, as it’s built on top of the ruins of a medieval monastery. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is in the heart of the Buda Castle district, beside Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. If it’s time for lunch, the Icon Restaurant offers spectacular views of the Danube River, Chain Bridge and Hungarian Parliament building.

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ABOVE: Zsolnay ceramic vase.

3. Like so much of Hungary’s finest architecture, Matthias Church (Mátyástemplom) is a victim of various invasions. Perhaps the most devastating, a century and a half of Turkish occupation, resulted in the whitewashing of ornate frescoes and confiscation of the church’s ecclesiastical treasures. One of the most striking features from the 19th century restoration is the church’s ornamental roof, covered in pyrogranite ceramic tiles developed by Zsolnay.

Dabble Savvy: Father and son, Hungarian natives Miklós and Vilmos Zsolnay, received worldwide recognition for their porcelain and ceramics. The iridescent, frost-resistant tiles were a popular building material during the city’s prolific Art Nouveau period.

 

Welcome to Budapest

Before politics compromised Hungary’s influence, its capital twin cities—Buda and Pestrivalled Paris as a centre for fine art and artistic and intellectual achievement. Though evidence of Budapest’s post-Nazi, post-Communist restoration is abundant, the process is by no means complete, leaving an opportunity for the curious traveller to witness the past while watching the future emerge.

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ABOVE: Romantically described as the Pearl of the Danube, Budapest is a city of extremes. Pest’s dramatic skyline features St. Stephen’s Basilica at its centre.

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Twin cities, Buda and Pest are divided by the Danube River.

ABOVE: The Gothic spires of the Hungarian Parliament building in Pest.

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ABOVE: Baroque sculpture on Buda’s Castle Hill.

A Guide to Old Town Prague

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Featuring prominently in Old Town Square is the bronze Art Nouveau fountain, a memorial to protestant reformer, Jan Hus. In the background, the shell-pink Kinsky Palace where Czech native Franz Kafka attended prep school.

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While people watching often takes precedence over sightseeing in Prague’s busy main square, Staromestské Námestí is home to a number of worthy sites. The imposing Gothic construction of the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn (Tyn Church) with its not-quite-identical towers dominates Prague’s Old Town Square.

Shop

Hit the shops in nearby Ungelt Square which has a branch of contemporary glassware store Material as well as Botanicus, a Czech institution for lotions and potions. Nearby Dlouh Street is one of my favourite shopping destinations.

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Eat

Toasty warm, this traditional Slovakian treat (trdelnik) is dusted with cinnamon, sugar and nuts. Look for open stalls or bakeries selling this perfect late afternoon pick-me-up.

Passersby are tempted by the cinnamon sweetness of trdelnik, a traditional pastry made daily in bakeries across the city.

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Stay

Four Seasons (Veleslav.nova 2A). If perfection is desired, look no further than this renowned chain where the setting, service and amenities are unsurpassed. Book an evening meal at Allegro to enjoy riverside views and the award-winning cuisine.

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Kimberley takes time out from filming to pose before heading out with CityTV’s CityLine cameraman Patrick Reynolds on the unusual seven-seater bike.

Architecture in New Town, Prague

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Nové Město

 

Architecture enthusiasts are sure to enjoy a trip to Prague, where they’ll find Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Art Nouveau, Cubist and Communist style buildings on display. New Town is ideal location to start the tour.

Cubism

I realize the word unique is grossly overused, but how else to describe a style of architecture that can be found in only one place on earth? In the 20th century, Czech architects and designers expanded the lessons of Picasso and Braque into architecture and decorative arts. While academia is divided on whether or not this style actually exists, we can contemplate its merits at the House of the Black Madonna Dum u Cerné matky boží. Originally constructed as a department store in 1912, its namesake statue is still firmly affixed behind the golden grill at the corner of this New Town destination.

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Art Nouveau

Follow the signs to Republic Square Námestí Republiky and the magnificent Art Nouveau Municipal House Obecní dum (above) is easy to spot. The landmark building, dating from 1905, is capped by a distinctive half-domed roof and intricate mosaics. Inside, there are murals from Prague’s most famous painters including Alfons Mucha whose style is instantly recognizable.

Dabble Savvy

While there is a dedicated Alfons Mucha Museum, it’s out of the way and strictly for those who love his work. Instead, wander into the public areas of Municipal House to see the Art Nouveau painter’s legacy.

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Neo-Classicism

Behind its lyrical green facade is the smallest of the city’s opera houses. With only 600 seats, albeit clad in luxurious blue velvet, The Estates Theatre (above) is a symbol of Prague’s artistic heritage. This New Town theatre is most famous as the venue where Mozart first performed his “Don Giovanni” in 1787.

 

The Castle District in Prague

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It’s unlikely you’ll need directions to Prague’s towering Castle District. Make your way to the well-marked Charles Bridge and follow the upward stare of fellow tourists. A complex of buildings, Prague Castle dates to the 9th century and includes museums, palaces, restaurants and, at its apex, the gothic cathedral of St. Vitus.

An easy 30 minute walk takes you to Hradcany Square Hradcanske namesti and the top of the castle complex. Sweltering hot day? Grab a cab from your hotel and start at the top.

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Once at the top, orient yourself towards the Palace of the President with its behemoth Baroque stone statues of Fighting Giants, and observe the dutifully present uniformed guards.

Dabble Savvy

A full day pass to Prague Castle is pricey but it provides access to many of the castle buildings. To save funds and avoid crowds, visit before 9am or after 6pm when architecture and gardens can be enjoyed for free. Purchase individual tickets to desired buildings.