The plans for the construction of Budapest National Theatre have been going on since the first half of 1800. It had to be great, it had to be impressive, it had to be perfect. At least, this was how Count Szechenyi envisaged it to be when he proposed to the City his plan, with his pamphlet “On the Hungarian Theatre.”
After that, a first theatre was built (1837) on the Pest side of the city, but unfortunately it didn’t last for long. After it was destroyed in 1913, a second building was temporarily rented out in the 1960s to serve as National Theatre but, again, it had a short life. Demolished to make space for a new metro station, several buildings were used to host shows and performances until 2000, when a new project for a permanent National Theatre was submitted. In less than two years the new, incredible building was erected on the banks of the river Danube.
Taking advantage of this year’s Easter Holidays, we went to Budapest on a more strategic visit than last time, as we had already did almost all the “must-see, must-do” touristy things. We loved it, of course, but it was time to explore some other sights, less visited but definitely awesome, and the National Theatre is surely one of these!
The architecture is a weird, though charming in its own peculiar way, fusion of a futuristic glass structure with decorative elements of the classical era. On the façade there are reproductions of the nine muses, the roof should remind that of a dome and the courtyard, for some mysterious reasons, is in the form of a ship, half submerged in a huge pool/fountain in which there’s a beautiful, as much as impressive, sinking façade of what looks like a Greek temple (it’s actually a copy of the old façade of the People’s Theatre, now demolished, so it’s kind of a memorial pool…).
The gardens are large, there’s a maze and a tall ziggurat that offers a great panoramic view of the area and of the Danube. All around the park there are many bronze statues of the greatest Hungarian actors “at work.” I remember a Richard III somewhere around the main entrance.
Is it worth a visit? Sure! It’s cool, it’s impressive, the park is lovely and the “ship-courtyard-pool” is awesome. Taken singularly, all elements are fantastic, plus the location along the river is very nice. However, on the whole, for the more sphisticated, it might simply look like a mix of every style, epoch and stuff only vaguely related to the idea of theatre. I like weird, I love expensive tackiness, the more showy, the better. To me, it’s a definitely must-go!
How to get there: the National Theatre is far from the city centre. After a nice 40-min walk on the Danube banks from the Liberty Bridge, it’s right in front of Petofi Bridge. You can also take the suburban train from Boraros tér to Lagymanyosi tér (Boraros – Csepel route), or special bus N°2 to Milleniumi Kulturalis Kozpont station.