Bence Sóos (PhD Candidate, Eötvös Loránd University and Hungarian National Museum, National Archaeological Institute)

Born and raised in Budapest, I often wonder what it is like to arrive in the city known as the ‘Pearl of the Danube’ for the very first time. Just recently, I discussed this very issue of first impressions with a friend who grew up abroad and has recently moved to the city. According to her, what is most striking about Budapest is the city’s vibrancy. Indeed, Budapest is dynamic and diverse. Given the fact that the city was created from a merger of three towns, Buda, Pest, and Óbuda in 1873, this diversity seems hardly surprising! You can take a direct bus from Liszt Ferenc International Airport to Deák Ferenc Square, and step directly into the beating heart of the city. To dive into the Golden Age of Budapest, a few minutes’ walk will lead you to the fin de siècle avenue Andrássy út. If that is not your cup of tea, you have room to breathe in the woods of the Buda Hills or from the amazing view over the city from Erzsébet-kilátó (Elizabeth Lookout Tower).

But in a sea of options, how is an archaeologist to make heads or tails of what to prioritise? First and foremost, archaeologists should not miss out on a visit to the Hungarian National Museum, which lies a mere fifteen-minute walk from Deák Ferenc Square. Of course, as an attendee of the EAA AM conference, you cannot really miss out on the opportunity to visit the institution that has been preserving, exhibiting and even influencing the history of the nation of Hungary for more than two centuries! The permanent exhibition presents a vast collection of the archaeological and historical heritage of current and historical Hungary, also addressing areas outside of Hungary’s modern borders. One of the highlights of the museum’s panorama across the millennia is the so-called Seuso Treasure, a late Roman Imperial set of silver vessels. The exhibition presenting the Seuso Treasure provides an exceptional glimpse of the splendour and luxury of the provincial elite in Roman Pannonia.

EAA Members in town for the AM have the unique advantage of being able to visit two temporary exhibitions, as well. The richly ornamented metal plates decorating the sabretaches of the Hungarian Conquest Period warrior elite count among some of the most iconic artefacts of the period. Visitors to the museum’s temporary exhibition Sabretache Plates - The Treasures of the Conquering Elite have an unprecedented opportunity to gaze at specimens which have been discovered and restored thus far from 10th century Hungary and to thereby get a true sense of the rank and power the sabretache plates were intended to indicate. In addition, the museum has also provided the opportunity to explore the results of the many efforts and strong determination of the volunteers who have helped the Museum in its mission to investigate and preserve Hungary’s archaeological heritage. Over the last five years, a community of archaeology enthusiasts (c. 200 people) has banded together at the National Museum. Moreover, their work has yielded some truly amazing discoveries, including Late Bronze Age hoards, assemblages related to the Hun Period elite, and the remains of a siege camp from the late 16th century.

Archaeologists should also take the time to cross the Danube River and climb Gellért Hill. In taking this short journey, you follow in the footsteps of the inhabitants of the Celtic oppidum that once occupied the hill which still towers over the city to this day. Though no visible remains of the settlement remain, from the top of the hill it is still possible to get a good look out across the bright tapestry of Budapest spread below. Your eye may be caught by the majestic buildings of Budavári Palota (Buda Castle). Built during the 18th and 19th centuries, this enormous building complex is one of Hungary’s cultural hubs. Among other institutions, it houses the Budapest Történeti Múzeum (Budapest History Museum), where you can get to know the medieval Royal Palace as well as the history of the castle after the Ottoman rule in Hungary. Moreover, in discussing the events of the last millennium, this museum also presents a more recent history of Budapest. In addition, visitors to the interior of Buda Castle will get the chance to get to know the history of the country through the fine art masterpieces at the Nemzeti Galéria (National Gallery).

The essence of Budapest changes depending where one is within the city. It seems as if this may have already been the case during the Roman period, when the Imperial castrum, its surrounding settlement and the civil town were situated in Óbuda (now a northern suburb of Budapest). Large parts of the civil town have been unearthed and restored at Aquincumi Múzeum és Régészeti Park (Aquincum Museum and Archaeological Park). The Aquincum Museum provides deep insights into Budapest’s Roman period by means of the city’s many military camps, villae and urban centres. Archaeologists may also wish to intentionally get lost around the Aquincum; you may be lucky enough to come across parts of the ancient aqueduct, the ruins of the Roman camp fortifications, the two amphitheatres or the so-called ‘Heracles Villa’ hidden among the district’s historic and modern buildings and squares. You might even find yourself at Kobuci kert (Kobuci Garden), where the summer season has some lively concerts lined up.

Figure 1: Budapest’s Néprajzi Múzeum (Museum of Ethnography). Photo by B. Sóos

In addition to Buda Castle, Városliget (the City Park) is another cultural hub. The recently-completed construction of Néprajzi Múzeum (Museum of Ethnography) should be hailed as Budapest’s newest architectural highlight. See Figure 1. Moreover, their exhibitions are another must-see for the archaeologically-inclined visitor. However, if you are looking for a more hands-on experience of Hungarian folk culture, City Park still has you covered! Just at the end of the AM (on the evening of 4th September, to be precise) City Park will host an event celebrating some of the passionate and exhilarating Hungarian folk dances. Together with the (also recently finished) Magyar Zene Háza (House of Music, Hungary), Szépművészeti Múzeum (the Museum of Fine Arts) and Széchenyi Thermal Bath, City Park cannot fail to please.

If you somehow manage to tear yourself away from all that City Park has to offer and to return to the inner city (or if you find yourself in need of a cool-down after the lively discussions at the EAA conference), you should head for Szabadság Square and taste what the Downtown Beer Festival has to offer. If you are more of a wine person, the Budafok Champagne and Wine Festival at Budapest’s southern outskirts may have your name on it instead. This is just a very short taste of all that Budapest has to offer; there is much more to discover in the city, not to mention in some of the nearby villages and towns. One of the best ways to get to know undiscovered or little-known highlights is to have a chat with a Hungarian colleague over coffee or a drink and ask them for their favourites! Találkozunk Budapesten!/See you all in Budapest!

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