Shooting Locations

The Architecture of Budapest

The Evolution of Styles Over the Centuries

Budapest’s architecture can be described as stylish, diverse and characteristic. There are four starkly separable historical periods and each period contains multiple styles. This means that Budapest has a large variety of faces, which is why the city enchants filmmakers. Many monumental sights or even hidden corners are able to play the roles of all sorts of cities and towns in various historical periods. Previously, Hungary’s capital city has acted perfectly many times as Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Rome and even Buenos Aires! In the following article we offer an insight into the history of how this beautiful city became what it is today.

Budapest’s architecture can be described as stylish, diverse and characteristic. There are four starkly separable historical periods and each period contains multiple styles. This means that Budapest has a large variety of faces, which is why the city enchants filmmakers. Many monumental sights or even hidden corners are able to play the roles of all sorts of cities and towns in various historical periods. Previously, Hungary’s capital city has acted perfectly many times as Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Rome and even Buenos Aires! In the following article we offer an insight into the history of how this beautiful city became what it is today.

The Historical Budapest

Since the Hungarian tribes settled down in the Carpathian Basin around the end of the 9th century AD, Hungarians inhabited the areas that we now call Budapest. But even before the Hungarians arrived Romans and other ethnic groups lived there, in a settlement founded in the 1st century BC. Therefore, this is a truly historical city with reminders of the historical past, that range from antique ruins and medieval buildings to ones made before the 19th century. Such can be found around the Buda Castle and on the colourful, beautiful streets leading from there down to the Danube.

Most people know that Budapest became such a large city due to unifying Buda and Pest in 1872, but only a few people know that actually there was a third component, and that was Óbuda. In Óbuda, which means Old Buda, there are a few baroque houses, with sweet, winding cobblestone roads. The small amount of these houses is a result of Second World War bombings. One could say it has the atmosphere of a historic German village. There are also quite a few baroque churches in the city, typically decorated with yellow walls, twin church towers and elaborate stone statues.

The Buda Castle

The foundations of Buda Castle were laid in 1243. Since the castle was the main symbol of the rulers of Hungary, the biggest battles were fought in order to conquer it, so it has been partially destroyed multiple times over the centuries, either by foreigners, or by Hungarians. During the Second World War the riches of the royal house and the pompous interior was destroyed by bombings. Today, it has a Soviet interior, whose most recognisable element is the red marble paneling. It now houses the National Gallery and the National Library in Hungary.

The Golden Age of Budapest

This flourishing period started with the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, after this Hungary was not simply suppressed by the Austrian Empire. The Hungarian politicians got the chance to develope the country more freely, allowing a period of investment and quickly evolving industry to begin. This led to an infrastructural and urban boom with a huge amount of building projects in the capital. These buildings are the most dominant in Budapest, because they are the most beautiful and grandiose ones in city, due to their generous scales, as well as their spacious streets and monumental squares. This was able to happen thanks to Hungary being part of the powerful Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (right up to the end of the First World War in 1918).

The Octogon Square on Andrassy Avenue in 1897 Photo: FORTEPAN / courtesy of Tibor Somlai

In this period Hungarians became very self-conscious, wanting to exceed Vienna by making Budapest grand, cultured and sophisticated. This cultural and urban bloom was so drastic that after Chicago, Budapest was the most dynamic and fastest developing city in the world. For example, Budapest was the third city in the world to have a telephone center established. During this period its population tripled. There was a large scale scheme of city-planning, for which they took Paris as their main example. Andrássy was the main avenue, connecting the city center with the Városliget - a large park. Also there are two, parallel circuit boulevards, circling around the center.

Western Europe was what they looked up to, so they even hired the best architects of the period. For example the iconic Chain bridge was designed by the English Adam Clark and the large steel and glass Nyugati train station was planned by the world famous Gustave Eiffel company. The big businesses, who were gaining huge profits from their successful enterprises, spent a lot of money investing in building their factories and civil buildings with the best technology and tastle that the period could provide. As a result of this there are some Art-deco factories on the outskirts of Budapest, like the stunningly geometric and futuristic Kelenföldi Power Plant. The Keleti station’s elegant style and scale is exceptional for such a functional building. The extent of its grandiose Historic style (built from renaissance and classicist elements) with its gold decoration and wall paintings is astonishing. Just like that station, the whole period is defined by its beautiful wrought iron decorations. Next to iron, they used astonishingly high standard building materials; for example, it is quite common to find tenement house foyers made out of marble. These buildings form Budapest’s main character - even today!

The iconic Chain bridge was designed by Adam Clark

The Many Faces of Budapest

Due to this big boom, they built in many different styles at the same time, which gives the feel that Budapest has a great history of architecture, but actually, they were just very good at building authentic neo-gothic, neo-renaissance and neo-classicists buildings.

The Many Nostalgic Styles of the Turn of the Century

With the end of Romanticism, the last prominent and unified style ended. From this point onward a period of fragmentation started. During this next period in the history of architecture, instead of another century long style developing, many smaller artistic movements evolved. Some look towards the unknown future for inspiration, while others took the past as inspiration. This is how the following styles evolved, simultaneously and sometimes even merging.

Neo-gothic buildings took the medieval art between the 12th and 15th century. They typically were remarkably vertical buildings, which’s effect was reinforced by its rich decorations. This verticality was to express God’s sublimity. This tendency of building in a neo-gothic style started in England to express the culture and riches of centuries old nations. A good example of this is the English Parliament, which is what inspired Hungarians to build their own parliament in this style.

A Neo-renaissance tendency in architecture started in the 19th  century, a style inspired by humanist, geometric and harmonious renaissance taste of Italy in the 16th and 17th century. The difference is that the 19th century architects combined it with mannerist and baroque elements in order to express the elegance and riches that their age demanded.

The Hungarian Parliament is a fine example of Neo-gothic architecture

Neo-classicist on the other took the rationality and good-measure of the age of the enlightenment which was mainly based on the architecture of the ancient Greek and Roman temples.

 

They also asked the top architects to create the capital’s most important buildings. The Andrássy avenue is full of eclectic neo-renaissance buildings. The citizens who moved into these palaces were rich even according to global standards. The most important of these is the Hungarian State Opera House. Apart from it being a cultural centre, it is extremely ornate with countless statues, frescos and wrought iron decorations. Above the auditorium hangs a stunning 2 ton chandelier. Also the pedestrianised streets around this building with its archetypical European or Parisian atmosphere, attracts many because it is so quaint with its little designer shops, cafés and cobbled roads.

The grand hall of the Museum of Applied Arts features a unique orientalist type of Art-Nouveau

Next to their nostalgic renewal of past styles, Hungarians also took part in creating the latest style, the Art-Nouveau. Also, the architect of the Museum of Applied Arts developed it further into his own personal style combining hindi and other far-east motifs creating an orientalist approach with lace-like, extremely ornate frottage wall decorations, but they are not at all over the top, because with great taste he chose to paint the whole interior white. So inside the building’s wall radiates the light which shines in via the roofed inner courtyard’s vast glass roof. The exterior on the other hand is covered with ceramics of ochre yellow, dark green and white colours, forming organic shapes. Another astonishing building is the Párizsi Nagyáruház. It’s facade is dominated by a typically Art-Nouveau shaped arch. On the top floor there is a café with live piano music and glorious ceilings with gold decorations.

To Celebrate a Thousand Years of Hungary

The extremely fast urban development was in preparation for the celebration of the millennium of the foundation of Hungary in 1896. There were huge investments, for example this was when they built the M1 underground line, which was the first on the European Continent. Its interior design has been kept untouched (only renovated) to this day with its elegant white and dark green tiles, as well as its wrought-iron ochre yellow signs.

The beautiful Neo-Classicist building of Museum of Fine Arts was built on the Heroes square as part of a huge development for the celebration of the millennium of the foundation of Hungary

This is when they started to work on the Heroes square. In the center there is a monumental column on which Gabriel archangel stands, under which are the seven founding tribe leaders on horseback. Behind this stand the prominent leaders and kings of Hungary among more columns. It is a truly grand space, because on each side of the monument there are two grandiose neo-classical museums, which were also made in this period. They both have beautiful tympanum and huge columns. Behind this square is the Városliget park and among its lush trees is a lake, which is used as an ice skating ring with a historical feel due to the turn-of-the-century buildings where the changing rooms are. Also, there is a reconstructed castle by the lake, with a gothic, fairytale touch. This whole area is exceptional, because it is pretty much untouched; there aren’t any other buildings around that do not fit this historic and natural feel.

Soviet Budapest

Pop-Art strongly influenced the designers of the M3 underground line

The Soviet era in Hungary started in 1945, when the Second World War came to a close. During this period due to political aims, the goal was to present the country at least as modern as the West. They wanted to visually separate this period from the previous empirical, capitalist one, so they got rid of the material use and ornamentation of the past. To make it financially feasible, especially after the poverty due to the aftermath of the Second World War, they used modern and cheaper materials like concrete, plastic and continued to use iron. Visually, the forms of the buildings became more abstract, more geometrical and more overtly repetitive. Although they were actively isolating themselves from the West, still they kept their eye of its fashion; this is why the Pop-Art had strongly influenced the architects of the time. This influence is easy to spot on pretty much any piece of the era. Apart from creating new buildings, they also redecorated interiors of older buildings, for example the Nyugati station now has a waiting room full of colourful and well designed fiberglass yellow chairs. In this period, in contrast with the subtle colours of the previous era, the turned more to strong, pure primary colours, this can be noticed when looking at the strong colours of the M3 underground line.


This is when they let go of the model of the European tenement house of the turn of the century and started to build large houses made from panels of concrete. These could house a lot more people for a lot less money, making the most of space. This changed the atmosphere of the parts of Budapest where they built these housing estates. The designers got rid of any pointless decorations; it is the height of Hungarian functionalism, done in hope of reaching an utopian, futuristic dream, but sadly most of these have become worn by time and are not at all as representational anymore as they were envisaged them to be. But there are exceptions, like Dunaújváros’s Green Hospital.

A constant memento of this period are the reliefs still present on buildings scattered around the city. Their typical subjects are the workers, as well as their wives and children. Often one can find small scale ones above the entrances of the social housing of the period, and large scale ones on the sides of buildings. Also, there are many social-realist statues scattered around parks and gardens, which once were a tool for state propaganda, but today are no more than empty, abandoned figures. The squares of Hungary used to be full of statues of the soviet leaders, but were removed when the political change happen between 1989 and 1991.

A square where a huge statue of Stalin used to stand, now gives place to a contemporary monument commemorating the victims of the 1956 revolution. It is an astonishing piece, a steel form, that disintegrates into rusting pillars creating a wood-like space. This brings us to our fourth period of today’s architecture.

Contemporary Budapest

The Bálna, built on the shore of the River Danube combines contemporary architecture with historical

The capital city of Hungary has many gems of Contemporary architecture, which is quite a wide term, so here are some examples of the types that are present in Budapest today. Some are futuristic, deconstructionist and organic glass buildings. The Bálna is like this with the exception that this modernity is combined with a historical, ornate brick building, which makes it truly unique and site-specific; a perfect symbol of Budapest’s architectural diversity. Also, it is interesting to analyze Budapest of today’s relationship to its buildings of the past. There are drastic renovations, which in some cases even means rebuilding completely destroyed buildings, or even ones that were never actually built, only planned. And yet, in stark contrast, next to these perfectly renovated ones, there are also a lot of buildings in an extremely bad state, some pretty much a ruin. But what is captivating in these buildings, is that you can find bullet holes on their halls, from the Second World War and the 1956 Revolution, making history always present.

Cultural Center By The River

By the Danube there is a Cultural Center consisting of the National Theatre and the Müpa (The Palace of Arts), in which one can also find the Ludwig Contemporary Art Museum. The National Theatre’s building is a perfect example of the elaborate, ornate and eclectic branch of Postmodern architecture. It also has a dramatic monument in front of the building with a classicist building’s facade sinking into a pool. Next to it, the Müpa is a more monumental and reserved representational building. Although on the outside it looks quite minimalist, when the sun goes down, the building gives a stunning light show with various lights built into the facade and others projected onto it. Inside there are huge glass window walls, stylish red carpets and typically postmodern dynamic and asymmetrical spaces, complete with a bar designed to look like a large piano. In the heart of the building there is an enormous, state of the art concert room with dynamic and slick wood paneling as well as perfect acoustics.

The Diverse Budapest of Today

In the center of Budapest, next to the historic Nyugati station and a top design glass building, there is a minimalist modern park, with playful terraces divided by stylish rusty panels. In and around the city some innovative companies have had experimental and colourful offices built, which present all sorts of combinations of metal and glass.


There are many hidden gems around the city, like the entrance of the Vision Tower Office, which has an elegant white, lace or fan like, geometric structure hovering above the visitors. On the other hand, there is also a monumental building that must not be forgotten; there is a minimalist, organic shaped football stadium, unique due to its rib-like metallic structure.

Szimpla kert (2nd floor) ruin pub Ruin pub, typically located in old tenement buildings are popular places of the nightlife of Budapest

Regardless of there being many modern buildings in Budapest, this does not really affect the skyline, since there aren’t any large skyscrapers. This enables the rooftops to appear as ones a hundred years ago without any complications, that would not occur in any other capital around the world. Next to all of this, there is also a thriving street sub-culture, especially around the VII. district, with many works of street-art, graffiti and Budapest’s own creation; ruin pubs.

So as you see, architecture in Hungary today is just as diverse and ever-changing, as it has always been. Progressive Productions has spent years collecting, documenting and systemising the best places for shooting in Budapest. Our Location Database offers an easy and straightforward way for you to navigate among the large variety of buildings and sights that Budapest can offer.

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