Sunday, June 18, 2006

Fishermans Bastion and St. Matthias Church

As I was wandering from the video store to return some DVDs, it dawned on me that I rarely do some of the touristy things without having friends in tow. Therefore, it is rare that I get to spend the time at any one place that really fulfills me since I am on someone else’s time schedule. This prompted me to stroll to the castle district.

Initially, it seemed I would traipse all over the area and perhaps visit the museum there as I sat on the number 16 bus from Deák. When reaching the top, St. Matthias Church called out to me and that became my destination. First walking all around Fisherman’s Bastion, exploring parts that I had never been before, it occurred to me there were areas where I had never dragged guests due to time constraints. This was my opportunity to reward myself with as much time as I wanted. There was no reason to rush home, no one waiting there for me, no obligations.

Built in the combined styles of neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque in 1895, Fisherman's Bastion is a walled terrace built on the Buda side of the Danube on Castle hill. It is behind the St. Matthias Church. It has seven towers that look like castle turrets of fairytales, which represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896. It earned its name from the guild of fishermen responsible for defending this portion of the city in the Middle Ages. For a fee, you can climb the stairs to view the city from the top, which is said to have a spectacular view. I chose not to spend the money, believing the view from the Citadella was equal or superior to this one.

There are many stairs and walking paths around the area. The view from the free area is just as impressive, though it has been
partially invaded by a restaurant, thus causing obstacles of tables and chairs to climb over to see all views or the purchase of a coffee to have a seat. I was told that the viewing area is free in the evening, which could afford magnificent views when the sun is setting.

Placed in front of the Bastion is a bronze statue of King St. Stephen I, the first king of a unified Hungary, mounted on a horse. It was erected in 1906. The pedestal was made by Alajos Stróbl, a famous Hungarian sculptor at the turn of the century, known for his realistic modeling. The statue is done in Neo-Romanesque style, with experiences illustrating the King's life.

The day was hot and humid, but I refused to allow myself to be gouged 500 Huf for a small bottle water that was four times the price off of the hill. There are water fountains around to quench one’s thirst. The area was filled with tourist groups and commentaries were provided in many languages enriching various nationalities with the history of their surroundings. The group that fascinated me the most was the group of Japanese since they each held an umbrella to protect themselves from the sun. I ambled around, then sat in the shade, and observed people, debating on the righteousness of having to spend 600 Huf to enter St. Matthias Church.

Coming to the realization that this was Sunday and still a small outlay for spending time in a magnificent church that I had only been in once before, I left frugality behind and handed over my cash. Before entering, I found some history of the church written in English. The church is officially called Church of Our Lady. Its popular name is attributed to the greatest Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus ("Matthias the Just") who ordered the construction of its original southern tower. The church was the site for several royal coronations including that of Charles IV in 1916. He was the last of the Hapsburg Kings. It was also where King Mátyás' two wedding were held and King Bela and his queen are entombed there in a chapel. During the Turkish occupation, many of the religious treasures were sent elsewhere and in 1541, the church served as a mosque.

What many people miss is the Ecclesiastical Art museum, which is upstairs starting with a medieval crypt, but leading up to the St. Stephen Chapel. There one will find a gallery containing a number of sacred relics and medieval stone carvings. I especially enjoy the history and the replicas of the Hungarian royal crown and coronation jewels. This was a relaxing duality combination time of being quietly reflective and being a tourist.

By this time, I had spent about four hours meandering this part of castle hill and it had already approached 4:00 pm. It was too late to peruse the castle area, so that part will be saved for another time.

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