Hidden Budapest – The Abandoned Párizsi Udvar
One of the thrills of travel is that wide-eyed gasp that inevitably follows after stumbling across something spectacular. I’ve felt this in the past walking into cathedrals, gazing down into valleys, or taking in the beautiful commotion of a market. Quite unexpectedly, I experienced this pure amazement while in Budapest. After stepping curiously through a dark doorway, I discovered the haunting elegance of an abandoned, century old shopping gallery, known as Párizsi Udvar. Exploring this unbelievable ghost was as close to time-traveling as it gets.
Budapest in 1900 was a flourishing metropolis of artists, writers, and political thinkers. Their exquisite architecture, a fascinating mix of Neo-Gothic, neo-Renaissance, Art Nouveau and Oriental elements, created Budapest’s beautiful and unique look. While these artistic wonders were neglected during the later half of the century, they are now being successfully renovated. The Parisi Udvar (or Párizsi Udvar in modern Hungarian) has so far escaped restoration and is an evocative treasure from the past.
From the outside, the Brudern-ház building is one of several elegant late 19th century buildings surrounding the Elizabeth Bridge in Pest. Inside however is a massive, covered indoor shopping gallery arranged in a long “L” shape. The building was designed by Henrik Schmahl, a student of Budapest’s greatest architect Miklós Ybl, and fits seamlessly into an oddly shaped city plot. The building was completed in 1913 and originally housed shops and offices. Following World War II, the upper floors were converted into apartments. The tenants and shops began leaving the building in the 1970’s and 1980’s because the structure wasn’t being kept up. Today where there are only a couple stores remaining in the exterior, street facing commercial spaces.
While the exterior of the building is lovely but muted, the covered shopping gallery inside is beautifully decorated with a mix of Neo-Gothic and Moorish elements. There is a glass and metal dome shortly after you enter at the “L”-bend, and then a much larger full glass dome halfway down the long hallway.
The enclosed boulevard is eerily quiet and dimly lit by sky lights and a couple spotlights. I ran into a local office worker smoking and texting under the glass dome who quickly left after seeing me, but otherwise it was completely empty mid-day. The building deafens all the busy street noise along Lajos Kossuth street outside. You can hear your own footsteps on the tiled floor echoing off the massive vaults.
All things considered, I thought the interior was in good shape. Although they were covered with a layer of ancient grime, you could still see the red marble, brown wood, yellow tile, green mosaic, and gold painted elements. The neo-Gothic tracery along the upper windows still seemed intact The pressed metal decorative columns were only a little dinged up. Some of the ceiling glass seemed yellowed, but maybe they just needed to be washed?
The entrance to the Párizsi Udvar is not at all obvious. As you can see below, you enter through a small open door in a large gate located a few meters from the entrance to the Ferenciek tere metro station. If I hadn’t stopped to check my map, then I might have missed that there was an odd door into a hidden, cavernous architectural space.
While wandering the shopping boulevard, I kept thinking, “Someone needs to take care of this place. Someone should restore this.” As you can see (maybe) in the picture above, the black banner states that the property has been recently purchased by a developer and is going to be converted into a luxury hotel with high-end shops.
Budapest is rich with restored architectural beauties. (Really, really rich as I’ll show you soon.) But Budapest doesn’t have many architectural ghost anymore. While I’m happy the Párizsi Udvar is getting the care it deserves, I will miss that thrilling moment when I stumbled into a magnificent, lost place with dusty decorations and patched up glass windows. I can only hope it retains that magic in its future renovated state. But just to be safe and to get the full effect of discovering something spectacular, you better go see the Párizsi Udvar now.