Monday, August 29, 2011

Caves in Budapest

Sights to be Seen – Caves Edition by Funzine


Formed by the movement of thermal waters, and already in use over half a million years ago, the extensive cave system stretches nearly ten kilometers under the belly of Castle Hill. When the city was under Ottoman rule, the system was expanded for military purposes and it has proved useful many times throughout history, most notably during World War II, when thousands used it as a shelter – there is even an urban legend that post used to be delivered to families who were taking refuge in the caves during this period. Now you’re more likely to find tourists than postal staff roaming the caves, trying to cool off or soak up some moist, mineral-rich air. It’s is a great place for an only-in-Budapest afternoon of exploring.

Úri utca 9.


It is a lesser known fact that Budapest boasts approximately 200 caves, which were created by the same springs that supply the city’s medicinal thermal waters. The stunning and highly protected Pálvölgyi Cave was discovered in 1904, thanks to a hungry sheep under which the nearby quarry caved in. Famous for its beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, Pálvölgyi is Hungary’s second longest cave with its length exceeding 19 kilometers, 500 meters of which is open to the public (from Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m.). The temperature is around 10 degrees, so wrap up warm, leave your high heels at home and be prepared to climb ladders. To get there, take bus 65 at Kolosy tér and get off at Pálvölgyi Cseppkőbarlang.

Szépvölgyi út 162.


Located on the side of Gellért Hill and accessible from Gellért tér (famous for its charming spa bath and hotel), this little chapel is actually built in a cave in the underbelly of the hill itself. The traditional church elements and the natural beauty of the rocks complement each other perfectly. Founded by Pauline monks in the 1920s, it only reopened in 1989 after having been closed for almost 50 years as part of an unsuccessful attempt by the Communist leadership to eliminate the Catholic Church (the Secret Police raided the chapel in 1951 and arrested the entire order sentencing the superior Ferenc Vezér to death!). Today, it can be visited by tourists, but be sure to check that it’s open on the day to save yourself a steep uphill walk. The tranquility of the tiny chapel makes it an ideal place for contemplation.

Gellért tér


A little sibling of Pálvölgy Cave, the gorgeous Szemlőhegy Cave inside the Buda Hills is well worth a visit for its spacious passages, dotted with dazzling pea grit formations (unique in Europe!), rock and crystal formations of various sizes. However, not only is the cave pleasing for your eyes but thanks to its cool, humid and wonderfully clear air, it does wonders for your health, particularly for your respiratory system! Presently, a 300m section of the 2km long cave passage is open to the public (Tue.-Sun. 9 a.m.-4 p.m., the tour takes about 40 minutes). And since it is a less challenging stroll than the one in Pálvölgy Cave, feel free to bring your little ones. English language guided tours are available, just make sure to book ahead.

Pusztaszeri út 35.


You don’t have to leave the city for a bit of an underground dive – just go the 2nd district to find the largest active thermal water cave system in the whole world. Named after the pharmacist who analyzed the chemical components of the water in the passages above ground level in 1856, the cave provides the thermal water for Lukács Thermal Bath. The average 20-23 °C temperature of the water (thanks to the combination of cold karstic and hot thermal water) would be ideal for a swim, but you need special permits for visiting and diving. Should you be a trained scuba diver, you might explore parts of the 62 m deep and 2.5 km long passages – though the exact parameters of the cave are still unknown. And it’s all just a few steps away from the Buda side of Margaret Bridge…

Frankel Leó út


The 5600 m long cave is considered the most exciting in the city for its intertwining, labyrinthine passageways. Like all the Buda caves, this was also formed on the tectonic plate borders. You need to make an appointment to visit the protected cave, but it’s worth it if you’re into narrow passageways and getting down and dirty. The cave is also used for a preventive and therapeutic alternative in the treatment of children with asthma. There are several routes to explore, the easiest one is recommended for five-year olds and motivated adults who aren’t familiar with the term ‘claustrophobia’. Entering through an iron trapdoor, you’ll get to see flat and smooth surfaces, stalagmites (very rare in the Buda caves), and a refreshing average temperature of 9.9°C.

Törökvész u. 70.


It might come as a surprise to many that in the middle of the 20th century over 1000 poverty-stricken people lived in 300 wretched cave-homes, hollowed out of limestone in Budafok. Living in a cave sounded a very romantic and cheap (costing only 400 forints) idea in the 19th century, but by the 20th, the reality of sometimes ten people living in a dark, dank hole with no electricity and filled with nasty smells hit home. Realizing the serious health risks, the communist government relocated the cave-dwellers – the last family moved out in 1967. Opened in 1971, this one-of-its-kind museum is the only cave that was left intact, storing its original furniture. Open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Veréb utca 2-4.


You can trust us to show you some hidden treasures of Budapest – now it’s a hole in the ground, boasting the title of “gateway”. You could easily walk past the János Hill Gateway, but if you follow the red signs leading to János Hill from Szépjuhászné, turn left at third junction and look to your right, you’ll find the entrance to the 17 meter-long tiny cave, the János Hill Gateway. The passage doesn’t require any climbing skills, it’s at least 1.5 m wide in all directions. It doesn’t offer a great selection of geological wonders, but towards the exit, the upper section of the cave forms a dome, with two smallish windows to the top of János Hill. How’s that for art (or, in this instance, architecture) imitating nature?


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