In 1873 the cities of Buda, Obuda and Pest were united to give us for the first time Budapest. At the time of unification the population was 296,000, by 1900 it had exploded two and a half fold to 733,000.
The seeds of this growth had been laid in 1867 with the historic compromise between the Austrian led Habsburg Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary to form the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy. The Habsburg emperor of Austria, Franz Josef became the King of Hungary as well.
Hungary was given virtual freedom in its domestic affairs. The result was an incredible blossoming of economic, cultural and intellectual life. Budapest became a magnet for people all over the Hungarian ruled half of the empire.
With such a large population moving into the city and new wealth being created by the Industrial Revolution, grand building and transport projects were conceived. One of these projects is not so easily seen, but you will almost certainly experience it, Line One of the Metro.
Amazingly it was continental Europe’s first underground subway system when completed in 1896. It is basically a tunnel in the shape of a box running just beneath Andrassy Avenue, Budapest’s grandest boulevard and what many have termed the city’s Champs Elysees. Originally known as the Franz Josef Underground Line, it was dedicated that historic year by the Habsburg Emperor of the same name.
Today it is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an experience that shouldn’t be missed. Its small stations are only a short flight of stairs below the surface. A ride along Line One transports the rider back into an elegant past, to a time when the city was bustling with optimism. The yellow train cars are compact, but rarely crowded.
A feeling of the Golden Age pervades each stop. On the tiled walls station names are elegantly rendered. These names a harbinger of both the exotic and historic: Opera, Oktogon, Vorosmarty, Szechenyi.
Then there is Hosok, a station as well as the Hungarian word for hero. If there was ever a stop not to be missed it is Hosok tere (Hero’s Square). The name truly matches it meaning. Walk up and out from the underground into the daylight to be confronted by a grand expanse.
This spectacular urban space is delimited most fittingly by a semicircle of statuary celebrating Hungary’s greatest heroes. An incredible finale to a ride along Line One, Budapest’s historic line that takes you to its most historic place!
written by CHRIS WILKINSON
edited by CHRIS KOVACS
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