With the archaeological and historical preservation research subsidized by the Pallas Athéné Domus Sapientiae Foundation and launched in 2014 the former Buda town hall has become one of the most thoroughly excavated historic building of Hungary. The reconstructed building primarily hosts scientific work, and also operates as a venue of doctoral education, but the community spaces, such as the bookstore, the coin exhibition and the local history exhibition on the ground floor are open for the public.
The old City Hall of Buda, with its nearly 800 years of history, is located in the centre of the Castle District, one of Buda’s oldest and most prestigious areas, next to Szentháromság square. The cellared, multi-storey Baroque building, which incorporates the remains of medieval structures, has three facades facing Tárnok, Szentháromság and Úri streets. Each of the two corners on Szentháromság street has a balcony: one with a lion’s head and one with the coat of arms of Buda underneath it.
The Pallas Athéné Domus Sapientiae Foundation (legal predecessor: the Pallas Athéné Domus Animae Foundation) supported reconstruction and exploration that made it possible for archaeologists and art historians to conduct some of the most significant scientific research ever on the civilian quarter of the Buda Castle. The complete mapping of the area and of the archival and museum materials made the former Buda City Hall one of the country’s most thoroughly explored protected buildings. As a result of the archaeological and historical preservation research begun in 2014, numerous interesting details have come to light, including the cellar – closed since the time of the Turks and now reopened – the former prison cells, several medieval building remains, and a medieval alley that now passes through the existing building.
For 160 years the building was functioning as the town hall of Buda, then, for 70 years as the headquarters of the District 1 prefecture. The building also housed a gendarmerie, a school, then in then period following WW2 museums, research institutes operated in it, whereas today a scientific research centre and a doctoral school could find their homes in the House of Wisdom. The reconstructed building primarily hosts scientific work, and also operates as a venue of doctoral education, but the community spaces, such as the bookstore, the coin exhibition and the local history exhibition on the ground floor are open for the public.
King Béla IV had a castle erected on the grape-producing lands of the Castle Hill, which was completed by 1255 following the Mongol invasions. History often transformed the landscape of Buda, and throughout the centuries the castle was sometimes added to and sometimes destroyed. Around 1330, King Charles I of Hungary began building a palace there and moved his court from Visegrád to Buda in 1354, from then on, the castle and the Buda section of the city continually developed and expanded until the Ottoman occupation.
On 2 September 1686, following a bloody siege that lasted three months, the Habsburgs succeeded in recapturing Buda from the Turks, making the city the “treasury holding” of the Habsburgs. Civil administration was assigned to the chamber directorate and it fell to them to arrange for the repopulation of the city and the allotment of houses and land plots to senior officers of the imperial garrison, to soldiers, and to settlers arriving in Buda. In September 1687 the director of the chamber
appointed the members of the Buda city Council and its mayor. Meetings of the Council were initially held in the mayor’s house, but the place quickly became too cramped. In addition to the mayor’s cabinet and council chamber, the city hall also had to accommodate the prison and the bailiff’s quarters. At that time, one of the most important privileges of cities was administering their own justice: detainees were held in the city hall or at the hall of the county seat until they were tried in court. It soon became obvious that to oversee these various functions, a separate building was required. In 1687 the Council, led by the mayor, petitioned the king for assistance in the construction of a city hall. Construction began one year later on the same area of land where today’s building now stands.
Italian imperial master builder Venerio Ceresola arrived to Buda in the autumn of 1686 to lead the reconstruction of the castle. The architect was a member of the Buda city Council, and even acted as deputy mayor for a short time. It was he who, after the expulsion of the Turks, first made use of the courtyards of several medieval houses, located to the left and right of the doorway on Szentháromság street, for functions of the city hall.
Construction spanned several periods and decades. The contract signed by master builder Johann Hölbling in 1702 for the construction of a building section and corner balcony on the corner of Tárnok and Szentháromság streets marked an important milestone in the process. The new section was built in several stages between 1702 and 1718.
In 1714, city leadership purchased the narrow strip of land facing Úri street, where the Jungmayer house once stood, and joined it with the already existing structures. According to several sources, the land included a large tower, probably the remains of a medieval residential tower.
Following the purchase of the Jungmayer plot, the city hall expanded: in 1741, the wings of the building which surrounded the courtyard facing Úri street, as well as the arcaded passages, were constructed under the command of Christoph Hamon, while the main staircase, still visible today in an intact condition, was built between 1770-1772 under the guidance of Matthäus Nöpauer. It was at this time that the building received its uniform external appearance with its stone-framed windows and plastered and sectioned Baroque façade.
The city hall was a venue not only for official functions but also for entertainment. Theatrical performances and balls were held in the grand assembly hall of elected officials, located on the first floor and facing Szentháromság street with its six windows.
The chapel with its decorative stuccoed ceiling is still located on the first floor of the city hall. It was erected to offer a fitting space to house the relics rescued from the Turks and recovered in the 18th century, as well as the vestments and jewellery used for liturgical rites. The chapel, which at that time was located on the ground floor on the corner of Tárnok and Szentháromság streets, was consecrated on 20 September 1714 by the bishop of Belgrade Luca Natali in honour of the True Cross and the bodily relics of Saint John the Merciful. The True Cross was placed on the altar, while the relics of Saint John the Merciful were placed in a silver chest in front of the altar. Following the great construction works of 1741-1742, the liturgical space was moved to the first floor of the Tárnok street wing, into a hall previously used as a corridor which was then converted and closed.
The chapel of the city hall fell victim to the regulations of Emperor Josef II. It was closed at the end of the 1780s and its treasures auctioned off around 1786. Today, the small tower of the former city hall marks the spot where the first-floor chapel once stood, the restored stuccoed ceiling of which bears a small reminder of the fire of 1723. The roof structure of the Tárnok street wing was destroyed by the fire. During its reconstruction, new trusses were erected, which is when the wooden bell tower of the chapel was constructed and the cross on the top of the metal dome of the tower was gilded. Mátyás Bél first mentions the inscription on the Tárnok street corner balcony: DOMVS VTILITATI PVBLICAE RESTAVRATA (“a house repaired for the public good”), which is dated 1724, the year of the reconstruction.
The Buda Council was dissolved in 1873 with the unification of Pest, Buda and Óbuda, and the Buda city hall was occupied by the District 1 prefecture. One year later, in 1874, the Buda city hall was designated by the Capital Council to accommodate the elementary schools, which resulted in further changes. It became necessary to have separate doorways and staircases for the offices and for the police room operating in the building, as well as for a director’s office and quarters and a winter gym. To prevent the students from coming into contact with the police or with people brought in for questioning, a double-door gate was incorporated into the wall on Úri street. This gate was later covered over, then, during the present reconstruction it was reopened to provide a fitting direct entrance between Úri street and the courtyard of the building’s western wing).
The schools operated here until 1881, after which the entire building was once again occupied by the District 1 prefecture and the castle’s police department, which operated there until the Second World War.
The balcony on the corner of Úri and Szentháromság streets, as well as the adjoining windows, were almost completely destroyed during WWII. A part of the first floor along Szentháromság street was completely obliterated, along with its roof trusses and ceiling. Luckily however, most of the stairways and stuccoed ceilings survived.
The damages caused by the war were repaired between 1947-1952. The renovations also included construction of the stone frame of the gate on Úri street. After that, the building first housed the Budapest History Museum, the exhibitions of the Castle Museum until 1967, the Labour Movement Museum until 1974, the Research Institute for Linguistics of Hungarian Academy of Sciences between 1974-1992, and later, the Collegium Budapest Institute for Advanced Study.
The building of the former city hall is currently operated by the Pallas Athéné Domus Sapientiae Foundation. In keeping with the mission of the foundation, the principles of historic preservation and 21st century requirements, the reconstruction was carried out and the spaces were recreated with a view to preserve the historical value of the building. The excavations were conducted by the Budapest History Museum and Hild-Ybl Kft, while reconstruction plans were prepared by Hetedik Műterem Kft. under the leadership of Ybl Prize-winning architect Levente Szabó. The Baroque architecture that ultimately determined the shape and style of the house was used as a frame of reference during the renovations. At the same time, the researchers successfully rendered several medieval artefacts emerging during the exploration visible and discernible, uncovering the architectural history of the old Buda city hall full of invaluable treasures. In addition to carrying out the classical reconstruction of the monument, a number of mechanical and electrical systems were incorporated into the house in accordance with modern requirements, most of which are concealed to minimise disruption to the historical atmosphere. The building was also expanded: two courtyards received glass ceilings, and a previously unused loft, partially destroyed during WWII and constructed using nearly 300-year-old larch beams, was built in.
The building, christened “House of Wisdom, the home of knowledge”, primarily hosts academic and scientific work. The Pallas Athéné Domus Sapientiae Foundation created a scientific workshop with outstanding standards of modern education, providing advanced training to economic and finance professionals. The Transdisciplinary Doctoral Program, an English language program offered jointly with the Széchenyi István University in Győr, is unique in Hungary. In the training, prominent international professors and educators provide additional knowledge, along with the opportunity to acquire a doctorate, to professionals with proven professional and practical experience.
The house of knowledge houses the Pallas Athéné Innovation and Geopolitical Foundation, as well as the Geopolitics Doctoral Programme, launched in cooperation with the University of Pécs.
The goals of the foundation include value creation in addition to value preservation. The House of Wisdom is a venue for topical and novel scientific and educational lectures, workshops and cultural events. The basement and ground floor are open to the public and the cellar houses event halls. There is a reception area in the front courtyard and the bookstore and exhibition space of Pallas Athéné Books are located in the part of building opening to Szentháromság street.
Following the exploration and reconstruction, the building of the former Buda city hall became a new centre for training, education, science and dissemination of knowledge in Buda’s historic quarter.