Buda Castle’s Restored St Stephen’s Hall Opens Doors to Hungarian National Day

Buda Castle’s Saint Stephen Hall restored to its former glory

The ornate hall opens to visitors on August 20, the Hungarian National Day

St. Stephen’s Hall in the Royal Palace in Budapest‘s Castle District, which had been undergoing a complete reconstruction for six years, was officially opened in a ceremony on Wednesday. The ornate hall in the south wing of the restored part of the palace will open to visitors on August 20, when Hungary honors its first king and patron saint.

Entrance in the first days will be free. Unique installations in five Hungarian cities will also draw attention to the hall’s revival, local media reports.

Like a phoenix rising from its ashes

Showcasing the best of Hungarian craftsmanship, St. Stephen’s Hall was destroyed and looted during World War II during the Siege of Budapest. Thanks to the National Hauszmann Program, the hall has been restored to its former glory after six years of painstaking reconstruction work led by architect Tibor Angyal and art historian Tibor Rostás.

When François-Joseph (1867-1916), Emperor of Austria-Hungary, commissioned the renovation of Buda Castle from Alajos Hauszmann, the great architect visited the most beautiful castles in Europe for inspiration. He succeeded in convincing the emperor, who had initially contented himself with cheaply furnishing the hall, to loosen the purse strings.

Hauszmann’s efforts paid off so much that a replica of the original room won the Grand Prix at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair.

king and saint

Saint Etienne (Szent Istvanlisten)) was the first King of Hungary to convert the Magyar people to Christianity, becoming the founding father of the Hungarian state. Having received the “holy crown” from Pope Sylvester II on Christmas Day in the year 1000, King Stephen ruled over Hungary until his death on August 15, 1038. Five days later he was canonized and named patron saint from Hungary.

Stephen was buried in St. Mary’s Church in Székesfehérvár but, as part of the canonization process, his remains were exhumed and then moved to Buda. His right hand, miraculously preserved according to legend, is still on display in St. Stephen’s Basilica on the Pest side of the capital. His Holy Crown, too, has remained intact over the centuries and is treasured as Hungary’s most precious treasure.

St. Stephen’s Day was first celebrated in 1092. The church holiday of August 20 was made a national holiday in 1771 by Queen Maria Theresia.

In 1945, communist authorities banned religious festivities and in 1950 renamed the holiday Constitution Day. After the collapse of the communist regime, St. Stephen’s Day was reinstated as a national holiday in 1990 by an act of the new Hungarian Parliament.

New bread and birthday cake

The St. Stephen’s Day celebration ends with a spectacular fireworks display on the Danube bank in the evening, in Budapest and across the country.

A tradition dating back to pagan times commands the cutting of bread on this day to celebrate the new harvest. But it’s not just the bread that marks Saint-Étienne. Since 2007, an annual competition among the best pastry chefs in the country selects “Hungary’s Birthday Cake”. Contest rules require that recipes have never previously been used in cakes for sale.

Traffic changes

Fireworks and other festive programs across Budapest will force some traffic changes. Therefore, the Budapest Transport Center (BKK) recommends the use of fixed track means of transport, in particular the metro lines M1, M2 and M4.

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