Castle Hill, museums and more…
Successfully negotiate public transport back from Statue Park, poking my head into Hotel Gellért in passing. There’s some lovely 30s stained glass decorating the main staircase, a series of illustrations of a folk-tale involving a magic deer. At this point the camera battery runs out – damm!
I slink off to have a look in the famous thermal baths, but am intimidated by a) lack of bathing trunks and b) formidably complicated pricing structure. Plus it’s very hot, and the thought of a hot water, however healthful, is not hugely enticing. You can’t do everything, I tell myself, and wander on, in search of sustenance.
Eventually find a restaurant with an attractive outdoor terrace, half-way up castle hill. In a fit of daring I decide not to go for the ‘all in for 9 euros’ menu. Operating on a purely random basis I make one good (excellent smoked wild boar) and one less good (roast duck’s leg stuffed with prawns – too dry, too many noodles) selection. Sample local beer -Dreher. Very good. This is the one for me for the rest of my stay.
Refreshed, if a little distended around the midriff, I totter slowly up the rest of castle hill and into the palace, which houses several museums (I got a bit confused) and the National Library.
The Hungarian National Gallery, through whose welcoming portals I eventually saunter, houses a comprehensive collection of Hungarian art & artefacts…which I enjoy having a (less than comprehensive, it being only just over an hour ’till closing time) look at. One or two decent 19th and some entertainingly florid 17th & 18th C paintings, lots of good neo-classical sculpture. For my money, though, the real gem is tucked away in a side wing on the first floor – oodles of excellent gothic art and a whole room (used to be the throne room at one point) full of jaw-dropping late Gothic (early 16thC) winged alter-pieces. The smallest of these must be 8ft high, and they mostly have a carved centre-piece with two or three painted figures, then two flat painted side panels (the wings), the whole surmounted with an airy, intricate (an in several cases strangely organic) carved tracery…dripping with gold leaf and rich polychrome oil-colour they are vibrant, splendid…seeing one of these would be quite something, but the effect of a whole room full of them is overwhelming. Sadly, you’re not allowed to take pictures, and they didn’t have any postcards…
The contrast between these lovely things and the communist statuary is striking, almost surreal, as it occurs to me that a historian (or perhaps a sociologist) might argue that they were made to serve not dissimilar ends; the explication of simple, direct messages about power and the ultimate authority to which one should be compliant. Is it just the additional 500 years or so which gilds the gothic works with beauty? Or is it that the alters, whatever other role they may have fulfilled in the scheme of things, were at least ostensibly made to the greater glory of god, and have gained some sense of grace thereby. In contrast to the communist stuff, made to the greater glory of intrinsically corrupt human authority and will/should/may never loose some taint of ugliness, as long as we remember what they were for.
Wandering around the castle hill later, quite a lot of it seems to be being dug up or otherwise undergoing renovations…including the Mátyás Church, swathed in scaff and tarps (drat!) Timing was never my strong point. They’re replacing all the fab coloured roof-tiles as well, and have only finished small sections…double drat! It’s too late to venture a look inside now; I’ll have to come back tomorrow.