Did you know that Óbuda is the oldest part of Budapest, a city of queens and a fascinating district of monuments and museums? That 2,000 years ago it belonged to the Roman Empire and it was the crossroads of two main routes, the Via Principalis leading from North to South and the Via Praetoria leading from East to West? That it’s fusion of old and new inspired many artists throughout the years? Óbuda offers many hidden treasures and you can easily spend an afternoon discovering the roots of Budapest in this historic district.
According to archeological finds Óbuda’s history dates back to the Stone Age, however Aquincum, built by the Romans around 50 AD, is the oldest, visible historical site in the district. Aquincum, the capital of Pannonia, covered a significant part of the area known as Óbuda. It consisted of two key districts: a military camp and a civilian settlement. Today it takes four stops on the Suburban Railway (HÉV) to travel between these two areas of the former city of Aquincum. The civilian settlement in the North, with its ruins of an amphitheatre, mosaic floors, tombstones, statues and a reconstructed water-organ, is part of the open-air exhibit at the Museum of Aquincum. The ruins of the Roman military camp were discovered to the south of Flórian tér. Also of interest are the remains of a hot air floor-heating system, a former Roman bath complex (Thermae Maiores) and a second amphitheatre, built for the military camp. A noteworthy feature of this huge amphitheatre is its arena, which is larger than the arena of the Colosseum in Rome. With a total diameter of 90 meters, the amphitheatre was designed to hold up to 12,000 spectators.
After the Roman era the Hungarian tribes arrived in the 9th century and Óbuda started to flourish once again. A castle and several churches were built on top of the Roman ruins. The first church, named after St. Peter, was built here in 1015. At the time Óbuda was significantly more developed than Buda, which only became popular in the wake of the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, when King Bela IV moved his royal seat to higher ground. The name Óbuda, which means Old Buda, has been used ever since. Still, Óbuda remained an important town, as it became the seat of the Queen consort. Founded by King Sigmund in 1395, the first university in current day Budapest also dates back to these times.
Turkish and German influence
During the Turkish occupation Óbuda fell into a state of decay, as a result of the increased importance of the neighboring royal city of Buda. Many of the churches built in the Middle Ages were demolished and their building materials reused elsewhere. We know that Óbuda’s first church shared the same fate, as its stones were later discovered in the Tabán and in the Király and Rudas Turkish baths.
The influx of German settlers in the 17th century helped Óbuda regain some of its vitality and in the 17th and 18th centuries, under the ownership of the Zichy family Óbuda flourished once again. The family’s Baroque palace, commissioned in the mid 18th century by Count Nicholas Zichy helped Óbuda emerge from anonymity. Today, it houses several museums, including the Museum of Óbuda dedicated to Lajos Kassák (1887-1967), a painter, poet and all-around representative of the Hungarian avant-garde and the Vasarely Museum dedicated to the renowned Hungarian born pop artist, Victor Vasarely. The baroque-style buildings in Fő tér were also commissioned in this era, as was the baroque-style St. Peter and Paul Parish Church nearby.
Óbuda also has some fine examples of Classicist-style buildings, including the synagogue, built between 1820 and 1825. Six pillars and a tympanum with the tablets of the law enhance the main façade. In the 1960’s the building was sold to the Hungarian state-run television and converted into studios. In September of 2010 the Óbuda synagogue opened its doors for services once again.
From 1873 to the present
1873 is an important milestone in Óbuda’s history. This is the year when Óbuda was united with Buda and Pest to form Budapest. These cheerful and peaceful times, including the beginning of the 20th century are reflected in many of Gyula Krúdy’s works. Krúdy (1878–1933) was a Hungarian writer and journalist who lived and worked in Óbuda.
The housing projects, built after World War II, are gloomy reflections of significant changes in urban planning. The main objective for city planners was to create homes as quickly and efficiently as possible without respect for the surroundings. Whether we like it or not these housing projects have become an integral part of Óbuda’s landscape and further emphasize the many layers this historic district has given birth to.
Óbuda has attracted many artists over the years, including the likes of Imre Varga, a contemporary sculptor, whose studio is located close to Fő tér. His bronze figures of women holding umbrellas at the intersection of Fő tér and Laktanya utca pay tribute to Gyula Krúdy, who wrote about abused women. The sculptures, called ‘Those waiting’ (Várakozók), are often misinterpreted by many, as women waiting for the bus. Instead, they portray the indignity of women standing around and waiting in the rain for clients. Prostitutes in Paris’ red light district inspired Varga’s work.
Today, Óbuda hosts one of the largest international music festivals in the world, the Sziget Festival. Every summer hundreds of thousands of people flock to Óbuda’s Hajógyári sziget (Shipyard Island) to partake in the week-long event.
Óbuda walking tour
Take a walking tour to experience the many layers of Óbuda. This multifaceted extension of Buda has some unexpected surprises for everyone and in spite of considerable rebuilding and modernization Óbuda has managed to retain its charm and small-town atmosphere amidst the metropolis.