27 December 2012
Some of our best walk are generated by our fantastic pool of local scholars and experts, as themes and ideas are often batted about over coffee and drinks. When in Budapest to finalize programming in spring 2012, owner Paul Bennett and I were pleasantly surprised when what we thought was a straightforward meeting with docent over coffee turned into an incredible run through of a walk idea. Art historian and Budapest docent Enikő Békés whisked us through Budapest’s Palace District and unfolded the rich, and sometimes hidden, history of Budapest’s aristocrats at the turn of the 20th century.
With some advance planning, access to the spectacular homes of these powerful families was granted, and gave us a glimpse of Budapest that we would have otherwise missed. There was no doubt that this itinerary holds a powerful story that must be told and so after a docent workshop this autumn, we have proudly launched our Barons of Budapest walking tour.
It seemed only fitting to sit down with Enikő and get further insight into what makes this walk so special and how it can help visitors gain a new understanding of Budapest’s role in European history during the 19th and early 20th century.
EB: One of the oldest and wealthiest Hungarian noble families was the Esterházy family, who owned palaces in the district. They gained their wealth mostly through fortunate weddings. The family was always loyal to the Habsburg court, which is why members of the family held important offices, like the position of the palatine, a kind of a vice-king in the Kingdom of Hungary. Among the Hungarian noble families only they received the title of the “imperial prince”, the others remained “only” counts. From the 18th century onwards they began to collect paintings, and other works of art. This huge art collection later became part of public museums, like of the Museum of Fine Arts. Their richly decorated castles in Fertőd, Eisenstadt, and Forchtenstein (Austria) can be still visited as museums. The last descendant of the family was Esterházy Pál, who was imprisoned after the Second World War. After his release he emigrated to Switzerland, like many other heirs of noble families who survived that period. This prince married a ballerina, but they didn’t have child, so the Esterházy-castles now belong to the property of the wife’s family.
CT: Are there particular characteristics of the architecture that make these palaces uniquely Hungarian or are the styles we’re viewing more pan-European?
EB: The time period it discusses is mostly the second half of the XIXth century, which was the beginning of a golden age in the Hungarian history, in terms of education, culture and also economy, within the frame of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The inhabitants of the palaces we visit were protagonists of contemporary political and cultural life. The architecture of this quarter is special, since you can visit only here in Budapest free-standing private palaces of old Hungarian noble families. The present public function of these buildings is a good example for how these historical palaces can be renovated and filled again with life, while walking on the streets and small squares of this quarter clients can experience one of the most livable parts of Budapest.