On a bronze plaque, high above the Danube where you have a grand view of the bridges, the Hungarian parliament buildings and the beautiful 19th century buildings which line the river there is a bronze plaque, which many tourists stop to read. It says:
The banks of the Danube and the Buda castle quarter considering that it is one of the world’s outstanding urban landscapes and illustrates the great period in the history of the Hungarian capital was inscribed in 1987 on the – ‘World Heritage List’ – in accordance with the convention concerning the protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
The site was extended in 2002 to include Andrassy avenue and its surroundings as a representative example of late 19th century social development and civil urban planning.
It is spectacular as a view and wonderful to visit. The first subway in Europe was built under Andrassy Avenue. It’s still working away very efficiently and many still use it both locals and tourists alike. The little stations are beautifully tiled and it’s surprisingly close to the surface, just a brief walk down a single flight of stairs and you’re there. Within a minute, the little subway train arrives and we rode it to the western end where it deposited us in a gorgeous park with one of Budapest’s large ‘belle époque’ bathing establishments.
The bathing house has interior hot pools and exterior hot pools with cascading water from fountains and a large swimming pool. It is a delight to visit and as I watched an Hungarian man with one foot in the hot pool and one foot on shore, doing business on his cel phone, I couldn’t help but think the only thing missing was the toga.
The bathing complex also made me wonder about all the money we invest in North America in swimming pools. At least half of this Budapest bathing complex is an Olympic sized pool with about a dozen people doing laps in it. The rest is the hot baths had hundreds of users. It seemed pretty clear that given a choice between lounging around in a hot pool and swimming vigorously in cool water, 95 % of the population will choose the hot water and lounge option. Yet, we invest 95% of our tax dollars in cool, large pools for lap exercise.
The other thing that surprised me very much is Budapest is not that old. Yes, there has been settlements here since Roman times and even older into the Neolithic but very little remains of these settlements and cities. Almost everything you see of Budapest from the UNESCO plaque, high above the river is the same age or younger than the the City of Ottawa. Most of modern Budapest was built between 1878 and 1918. Ottawa UNESCO World Heritage site, the Rideau Canal is older being completed in 1833, well before Budapest had built a single, permanent bridge across the Danube. The Hungarian Parliament Parliament buildings weren’t started until 1884 and completed until 1904 and so on.
The 20th century was not kind to Budapest. Hungary suffered from the devastation of the Versailles treaty after the First War and forty years of dictators local and Russian after the Second, yet in just 20 years the city has rebounded magnificently. It has because the buildings and infrastructure built between 1878 and 1918 were wonderful and if I’ve learned anything on my travels beauty counts. Beautiful cities have a way of recovering when other cities don’t because their citizens care about them.
I couldn’t help but wonder about the banks of the Rideau Canal and a plaque that city council might erect there one day. How might it read?
“In 2011 in celebration of the Rideau Canal and its banks receiving a UNESCO World Heritage designation as the world’s only 19th century canal operating with its original fittings, Ottawa sold its largest and oldest Park on the Canal between the historic Bank and Pretoria Bridges to a group of real estate developers for a condominium and commercial development.”
photo by Daniel Stockman