Queen Consort Elizabeth and the most beautiful lookout tower in Budapest
Hungarian version of the article: Erzsébet királynénak köszönhetjük Budapest legszebb kilátóját
September 8, 2020 at 9:00 AM
János Hill and the nearby Normafa has drawn those looking for rest since the early 1800s, and it quickly became one of the capital's favourite day-trip destinations, especially on Sundays. a wooden lookout likely stood on the site of the present lookout tower, as early as the 1870s and 1880s. The current Elizabeth Lookout Tower has now been shining above the city for 110 years and is well worth a visit.
The Elizabeth Lookout Tower today (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
The spacious first observation deck (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
A stunning panorama unfolds from the lookout tower (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
It was from this wooden lookout that the Hill's most famous visitor, Queen Consort Elizabeth would have looked down from during her three visits to Budapest and János Hill in 1882. A surviving quote reflects summarises her opinion: I am surprised that people travel so far to go on holiday when these hills and this view holds up to the most beautiful parts of the world."
The capital erected a memorial stone in honour of 'Queen Sisi' (a nickname often used in Hungary) in 1883; however, as it disappeared, a restored stone can be seen since 2006.
Portrait of Queen Consort Elizabeth (1837-1898) (Source: Museum of Zemplén / Hungaricana)
Queen Consort Elizabeth visited the Buda hills several times; the photograph shows her final visit in 1897 (Source: Kis Újság, 17 October 1897.)
In 1847 the Hill was still known as Pozsony Hill, as legend had it that in clear weather one could see all the way to Bratislava (called Pozsony in Hungarian) from its. Nevertheless, by 1900, everyone referred to it as János hill. In 1885 the structural integrity of the wooden lookout tower was compromised; thus, instead of renovations, visitors demanded a more lasting stone lookout.
Following the assassination of Queen Consort Elizabeth in 1898 the Hungarian Hiking Association again raised the idea of a new lookout, which would have also served as a memorial to the late Queen Consort. However, the expected costs exceeded the budget of the capital.
The wooden lookout called the Pozsony-János Hill Lookout on a postcard from the turn-of-the-century Source: Hegyvidék Local History Collection)
The old wooden lookout which as replaced by the one known today (Source: Élet, 18 September 1910.)
Pupils of the Murányi Steet primary school on the János Hill Lookout in 1906 (Source: Tolnai Világlapja, 10 June 1906.)
The initial push was given by the hotel owner Frgyes Glück and his associates, who visited János Hill during a trip to Budapest and fell in love with the site. They offered a larger donation toward the construction o a lookout and secured the support of the mayor, János Halmos; thus, negotiations and planning began.
A design tender was announced, which was one by Pál Kluzinger with a pointed lookout tower. However, the chairman of the judging panel redesigned the plans to ensure a better view. The originally two-terraced building was re-imagined with four tiers and the shape seen today.
One of the plans presented to Mayor János Halmos in 1904. Not the winning entry (Source OSZK/Hungarian)
Visual design by Pál Klunzinger, later modified by Frigyes Schulek (Source: Hegvidék Local History Collection)
The winning entry was submitted by Pál Klunzinger but heavily modified (Source: Építő Ipar, 21 June 1908.)
Construction began on 7 June 1908, and the lookout was inaugurated after nearly two years of work. Every detail of the building was designed with great care. The Romanesque revival building is decorated with several carvings: rosettes, gargoyles and even stone frogs and bats.
Construction works were severely hampered by the fact that no road led to the top of the Hill. The existing road only ran to the top of the modern-day chair-lift. Eventually, tracks were lain on the hillside and building materials moved by light rail.
Header for the inaugural celebration of the construction of the Elizabeth Lookout Tower, also designed by Pál Klunzinger (Source: Építő Ipar, 28 June 1908)
Construction of the Elizabeth Lookout Tower, a few days after work began (Source: Ország-Világ, 16 August 1908)
Finishing touches before the grand opening (Source: Élet 24 July 1910)
The lookout named in honour of Queen Consort Elizabeth was finally opened on 8 September 1910. The Budapest Hírlap reported on the events in its 9 September 1910 issue: "The ceremony was to begin at eleven o'clock, but the area was already full half an hour before it began. On the hilltop, the hussars of the capital held a barrier, within which official guests gathered. [...] At exactly eleven o'clock, a gun salute marked the beginning of the ceremony. Following opening chords from the horns of the Budapest Opera House, the Buda Choir sang the national anthem, conducted by Jeno Sztojanovits."
First Dr Tivadar Bódy city councilman and chairman of the construction committee, addressed the crowd, followed by Dr István Bárczy, the mayor of the capital. Viktor Molnár spoke representing the government and said: May this memorial proclaim our everlasting love and respect for Queen Consort Elizabeth, who was beloved by the Hungarian people and the whole world because she loved God in almighty nature, loved her husband, and her homeland, and loved all of humankind."
Finally, Frigyes Glück also said a few words: I wish to my sweet Hungarian homeland that all its work be lead by wisdom, carried out with strength, decorated with beauty, and blessed by God. So be it!"
The Elizabeth Lookout Tower at the Opening Ceremony (Source: Élet, 19 September 1910)
The crowd seen from the third observation terrace on the day of the opening (Source: Élet, 18 September 1910)
Representatives of the government, the capital and the army at the opening (Source: Vasárnapi Ujság, 18 September 1910)
The crowd explores the lookout tower (Source: Vasárnapi Ujság, 18 September 1910)
Following the ceremonial opening further work to beautify the area was carried out. Several well-known figures visited the lookout – in part due to its proximity to the famous János Hill Restaurant – among others Charles IV and Queen Consort Zita, Ágoston Trefort, Count István Bethen, Sándor Wekerle and Count Albert Apponyi visited, as did the Prince of Wales.
At first, a tower guard lived in the tower, but a separate hut was constructed for them in 1923. The move was allegedly due to the fact that the smell of food during lunchtime often bothered visitors to the tower, as the guard ate his lunch. A bust of Queen Consort Elizabeth from Carrarra Marble also decorated an alcove in the foyer on the ground floor but was removed in 1945 and can today be seen in the Kiscelli Museum.
The Elizabeth Lookout Tower and its surroundings in the late 1920-s on a postcard (Source: Hegyvidék Local History Collection)
The Elizabeth Lookout Tower in the 1930-s (Source: Hegyvidék Local History Collection)
The János Hill Restaurant with the lookout tower in the 1920s (Source: Hegyvidék Local History Collection)
Interestingly, the building was also the first to be illuminated at night in 1926, ahead of Fisherman's Bastion, Matthias Church and even the Houses of Parliament, which only received floodlighting later. In 1945 a restaurant was opened on the lower level of the lookout, lead by Balázs Antal the younger, but was closed in 1950 due to forced nationalisation.
The Elizabeth Lookout Tower was the first building to be illuminated at night in Hungary. (Source: Hegyvidék Local History Collection)
The restaurant owned by Antal balázs Jr. operated on the ground floor of the lookout (Source: Hegyvidék Local History Collection)
Following nationalisation in 1950 a massive Red Star was placed atop the lookout tower, which severely damaged the structure. The lookout was closed in 1981, and after being opened several times was eventually adopted by the 12th district in 2001.
A massive red star was placed atop the tower in the 1950s (Source: Hegyvidék Local History Collection)
The lookout tower in 1959 (Photo: Fortepan/ ID: 177447)
The lookout was closed several times as its structure was compromised by the weight of the red star (Source: Ország-Világ, 28 August 1985)
The renovated tower today (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
In clear weather, one can see up to 80 km away (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
Renovation of the building was completed in 2005, and the stunning lookout and panorama are again open to the public.
Cover photo: The renovated Elizabeth Lookout Tower (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu