It is not only we Hungarians that agree our capital is one of the most beautifully situated cities in the world. Budapest, this bustling metropolis of two million divided by the Danube into flat and hilly sides, displays a unique panorama. All of this would not have been enough for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to raise it to the rank of World Heritage in 1987, at the same time as Hollókő. According to their justification, the banks of the Danube at Budapest also illustrate the various periods of the capital's history, and furthermore the city has one of the world's outstandingly beautiful urban cityscapes. The city's numerous historic monuments - from the Roman era town of Aquincum to the countless, culturally significant public and private buildings of the Buda Castle - had an important influence on the architecture of their periods.
The World Heritage site inscribed in 1987 stretched from the Chain Bridge (Clark Ádám Square) to the Technical University on the Buda side - an area containing the Gellért Baths, Mt. Gellért with its Freedom Monument and the Citadella, and also the building ensemble of the Buda Castle. On the Pest side the Parliament, Roosevelt Square at the foot of the Chain Bridge, and the Vigadó Concert Hall enjoy protection. In this stretch one can find four bridges over the Danube (the Margaret, Chain, Elizabeth, and Freedom Bridges) that are also part of the world heritage. The Committee extended this "first" site at their 2002 conference in Budapest; added onto the existing site were, Andrássy Avenue and Heroes' Square with its Millennium Memorial, Fine Arts Museum and Art Gallery, as well as the Millennium Underground Railway, the first of its type on the continent.
The town of Buda is equal in age with the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin, but it only began developing and became important during the reign of King Béla IV (1235-1270) after the Mongol Invasion. Since Béla IV realized that the Mongols were not able to capture fortresses built on hills, he built castles throughout the country, and in 1241the first structure of the Buda Castle was constructed. During his reign Germans, Jews, Italians and French, among others, found a home in the Buda Castle District. These peoples brought their cultures along with them, which clearly influenced the city's art and handicrafts. In 1347, during the time of the Anjous the court moved to Buda. At this time the castle's extension into a Gothic style palace began, and Buda became the capital of the country. During the reign of King Matthias, Buda's fortified palace was reconstructed in the Renaissance style and it was considered one of Europe's most beautiful royal residences.
Buda also maintained its role as the leading city of Hungary during the period of Turkish occupation, as the Muslims' seat of power in central-eastern Europe. During this time its churches were remodeled into mosques. In 1686 the city was freed after nearly a century and a half of Turkish rule, but the three month long siege caused significant damage to the castle and the city alike. The reconstruction was undertaken with the use of the medieval ruins, but in the spirit of the Baroque style. The Buda Castle's Royal Palace and Castle District finally received its current face during the millennial construction projects after the unification of the cities of Buda, Óbuda and Pest in 1873. Although the Castle Hill suffered serious damage during World War II, shortly thereafter projects began, such as the clearance of ruins and archeological excavations, as well as the reconstruction of remains from the Middle Ages and later periods.
The majority of the Castle's residential and public buildings are now protected historic properties. One of the capital's most famous buildings stands at the middle of the Castle District, the Church of the Virgin Mary, which is commonly referred to as the Matthias Church. This structure was the scene of many significant events; several Hungarian kings were crowned there, and it is where King Matthias, who also enlarged the church, held his wedding ceremony. Later it was reconstructed in the Baroque style, and then at the end of the 19th century in the Neo-Gothic style. In 1903 the Romanesque Revival Fisherman's Bastion was erected upon the medieval castle walls, which has - together with the Matthias Church behind it -become one of the symbols of the city.
Buda Castle's Palace is one of the most important cultural centers in the country; its buildings provide a home for the Budapest Historical Museum, which occupies parts of the medieval castle, the National Széchenyi Library, the Hungarian National Gallery and the Ludwig Museum. The country's first theater building constructed in stone, the Castle Theater is also part of this architectural ensemble.
Facing the Fisherman's Bastion on the Pest side of the Danube stands the imposing Neo-Gothic Parliament building dreamt up by Imre Steindl. It practically rises out of the Danube, and is perhaps one of the world's most beautiful parliament buildings. The first stone bridge erected over the Danube, the Chain Bridge, represents a similarly outstanding attraction. At the foot of the bridge one finds the Gresham Palace, a masterpiece of Hungarian Art Nouveau, as well as the Neo-Renaissance headquarters of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Traveling further south, we must highlight the Vigadó Concert Hall as a representative of Romantic architecture in Hungary.
Andrássy Avenue - upon which construction began in 1872 and which was ceremoniously opened in 1885 - and its historic surroundings were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2002. The Avenue is the pinnacle of eclectic architecture from a time when Budapest was becoming a metropolis; it is a virtual gallery of architectural styles from the second half of the 19th century. The Neo-Renaissance style dominates, but one may find examples of Neo-Baroque, Classicist, Art Nouveau and Romantic buildings as well. Andrássy Avenue represents the link between the city's dynamic downtown and the greenery of the City Park. The connection is suggested by the Avenue's three sections: it begins as a wide downtown thoroughfare bounded by apartment blocks; then gradually becomes wider, more peaceful and greener; and finally leads into Heroes' Square as an allée of trees bordered by villas. The pride of the Avenue is the Millennium Underground Railway, the first subway on the continent and the second in the world.