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Saint Stephen Hall in Buda Castle restored to former splendour

Saint Stephen Hall in Buda Castle restored to former splendour

The ornate room opens to visitors on 20 August, Hungary’s national holiday

St Stephen Hall of the Royal Palace in Budapest’s Castle District, which had been undergoing comprehensive reconstruction for the last six years, was officially inaugurated in a ceremony on Wednesday. The ornate room in the southern wing of the restored part of the palace building will open its doors to visitors on 20 August when Hungary honours its first king and patron saint.

Admission in the first days will be free. Unique installations in five Hungarian cities will also be drawing attention to the reborn hall, local media report.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes

Showcasing Hungarian craftsmanship at its best, Saint Stephen Hall was destroyed and looted in the Second World War during the siege of Budapest. Thanks to the National Hauszmann Programme, the Hall was restored to its former splendour following six years of painstaking reconstruction works managed by architect Tibor Angyal and art historian Tibor Rostás.

When Franz Joseph (1867-1916), emperor of Austria-Hungary commissioned the remodelling of Buda Castle to Alajos Hauszmann, the great architect toured the most beautiful castles in Europe to draw inspiration. He managed to convince the emperor who initially had been content with cheap furnishing of the Hall, to loosen the purse strings.

Hauszmann’s efforts came to such fruition that a replica of the original hall won the Grand Prix at the 1900 Paris World Exposition. 

King and Saint

St. Stephen (Szent István) was the first king of Hungary who converted the Magyar people to Christianity, becoming the founding father of the Hungarian state. Having received the "Sacred Crown" from Pope Sylvester II on Christmas Day in 1000 AD, King Stephen ruled Hungary until his death on 15 August 1038. Five days later he was canonized and made a patron saint of Hungary.

Stephen was buried in St. Mary’s Church in Székesfehérvár but, as part of the canonization process, his remains were exhumed and later transferred 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 cherished as Hungary's most precious treasure.

St. Stephen's Day was first celebrated in 1092. The church feast on 20 August was upgraded to a national holiday in 1771 by Queen Maria Theresia.

In 1945 the Communist authorities banned the religious festivities and in 1950 renamed the holiday to Constitution Day. After the collapse of the Communist regime, St. Stephen’s Day was reinstated as National Holiday in 1990 with an act of the new Hungarian Parliament.

New bread and birthday cake   

St. Stephen's Day celebration culminates in a spectacular fireworks display on the bank of the Danube in the evening, in Budapest and across the country.

A tradition harking back to pagan times ordains cutting of bread on this day to celebrate the new harvest. But it is not just bread that marks St. Stephen's Day. Since 2007, an annual competition among the country’s finest confectioners picks "Hungary's Birthday Cake". The rules of the contest require the recipes to have never been used before in cakes on sale.   

Traffic changes

The fireworks display and other festive programmes across Budapest will force some traffic changes. Therefore, Budapest Transport Centre (BKK) recommends the use of fixed-track means of transport, in particular the M1, M2 and M4 metro lines.

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