The Secret Passage - A Journey Through Time

I must confess that I'm in love with Budapest and of course there are a whole lot of buildings I love. Some of these mean more to me, some mean less but there is one particular edifice I am in almost intimate relation with. Once it was a big and proud home of an illustrious family, now it stands humble, scuffed and worn, among its even bigger neighbours. Still, it has charm and unmistakable style. Sure it has I should say, because it was designed by the most famous architect of Hungary, Ybl Miklós. It was one of his first masterpieces in his long carreer including the Opera, the Basilica and the Royal Palace.

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It stands on three plots on both sides of the city walls that once stood here, and it is unique because – unlike the majority of the Budapest houses – it is open to the public all day. It is a regular apartman building but it opens to two streets: the wide and busy Múzeum Circle which is one of the main streets of the city, and Magyar Street, a narrow and quiet alley. It is called Unger Building, and since it is open you can walk in and see the courtyard of the house, buy some candies in the shop, have a coffee or a tea in the small café, or you can visit us, because our company office is in this building, too – this is why it is so special to us. The building has gates to both streets and since it is open it serves as a small passage between the two streets through the small patio where time stopped a hundred years ago.

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The Ungers were a wealthy family of the reform era Pest. The first member, Unger Benedek arrived in the city almost 300 years ago from the west of Hungary. He opened a blacksmith's shop just next to the city wall that still stood at the time, near Hatvani Gate, where Hotel Astoria stands now. He was hard-working and lucky and soon he became a wealthy and influential citizen. Later he opened a second shop in the small lane near the first shop. Soon the Unger family became so powerful and important that the street was named after them: in 1804 it was called Ungergasse, meaning Unger Street in German. At the time German was the official language in Hungary, but soon, in early 19th century Hungarian language became official and all streets were renamed. As it usually happens in such revolutionary times the task was overdone and the city council translated not only common nouns but some proper names as well. The street got its name from the family but they translated it to Magyar Street (meaning 'Hungarian'). Anyway, I guess it must be great to live in a street that was named after your family.

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In 1847 Unger Henrik (the family wasn't renamed of course) already had two adjoining plots, and later that year he bought the third one. The 1848-49 revolution halted the project but finally in 1851 he assigned the young architect, Ybl Miklós to design a house. Building works started the next year, 160 years ago. Contemporary press watched the process in excitement and mostly praised the finished building and its architect.

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Clearly, the building has seen better days. The last renovation was done 50 years ago. However, the current condition of the house is good for one thing: just last week it served as a location for a big feature film starring Jessica Lange, plays in 19th century Paris...

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According to the plans a full renovation will be started later this year. National Office for Cultural Heritage included the building on the List of Protected Historical Monuments which means the restoration must meet their very strict standards so we hope in one or two years the Unger Building will be brought back to its former glory.

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