The majestic Citadel with ambivalent emotions

Vivi Bencze | Live the World

November 23, 2022

The situation is given: you are in Budapest, where you came here because you have heard about its beauty, and you are wondering where to go to observe its miracle from above, to get a bird’s-eye view of the city. You have the following choices: hop in the Budapest Eye, a giant wheel at Deák Square; check out one of the rooftop bars of Budapest; go up to the fabulous Buda Castle to look down the city; or visit the Gellért-hill, the highest point of Budapest, in the proximity of the downtown. At this place, you can have a chance to admire the full panorama of the Hungarian capital at the foot of the city’s majestic Citadel handled with ambivalent emotions by the locals. Here is why.

For some reason, back in school, I didn’t really fancy history classes, but somehow as time goes by, I like to immerse myself into the stories of the past more and more. Back in time, the Citadel for me was nothing else but a wonderful viewpoint of Budapest, where my parents and teachers took me to admire the unique beauty of our capital. But after a while, I realized that it has a dark origin, what most of the youngsters, tourists and often Hungarian adults are not aware of. The name of citadel comes from the Italian word - cittadella. Its meaning refers to a strong castle in or near the city, where people can shelter from the danger, especially during a war. Well, the Citadel of Budapest actually was built driven by the opposite target 164 years ago – to intimidate the ridden Hungarians.

It’s not what it seems

To give you an approximate image of the relating part of Hungary’s history, you have to know, that we were partly under the control of the Habsburg Empire for roughly three centuries, with multiple battles and wars of independence. The direct antecedent of the Citadel’s construction was the most famous war conflict of the Hungarian nation: the War of Independence in 1848 and 1849, when the Hungarian youth, patriotic statesmen and thousands of loyal people picked up the gloves against the Habsburg power. Although it was eventually struck down, with the intervention of the Russian Empire, the War of Independence had a considerable significance and consequences later on, by which even the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was able to be established. Anyhow, the reigning power of the Habsburgs remained and Baron Julius Jacob von Haynau, the Austrian Imperial General, got a 220-meter-long fort, built with 12-16-meter-high walls, onto the Gellért-hill, today known as Citadel or Citadella. He even got two cannons put ahead of the fort, staring down the city of Budapest to, as I mentioned, intimidate the inhabitants. Luckily, they were used only for the saluting shots after all. By the way, it’s really not what it seems, is it?

The hated Austrian fort lost its military purpose with the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867, but the army left its walls only in 1899. At that time, after the pressure of the enthusiastic population of Budapest, symbolic demolitions were carried out on the wall above the entrance, but there was no enough financial resources to dismantle the entire hated fortress. Its last military use was during the World War II, in defence of Budapest in 1944 and 1945, against the attacking Red Army. The Citadel then served as the air-defence base of the German and Hungarian troops, while in its casemates the warehouses were created, as well as the places for the wounded. The ramparts of the fort damaged in the combat can still be seen until this very day. The Budapest’s Statue of Liberty was set up two years later in 1947, by the wall of the fortress facing the city. Even a memorial of a Soviet soldier in front of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal had been standing there, but it was removed in 1992, three years after the Hungarian regime's change.

Its character has completely changed by now

Today, beyond being a perfect viewpoint, the monumental Citadel fortress has many more functions. On the top of it, several radio stations are broadcasting, while its thick walls give a home to a restaurant and a hotel. Those who are interested in military history can take a look at the wartime panoptic, installed in its casemates, commemorating the siege of 1944. A more peaceful era is reminiscent of a photo exhibition called Budapest Anno, which recalls the pictures of the rapidly developing big city until the end of the 19th century. Even some Soviet weapons can be observed as an outdoor exhibition at the foot of the majestic Citadel, that true Hungarians will always look at with ambivalent emotions, even though its character has completely changed by now.

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