Budapest's Palace District
Budapest's Palotanegyed (Palace District) forms a central district of Pest, the eastern half of Budapest. It consists of the inner part of the city's Eighth District, or Józsefváros (Joseph Town), which was named in 1777 after the heir to the Austrian throne, Joseph, the later Emperor Joseph II (after whom Vienna's Eighth District, the Josefstadt, was also named in 1850). Józsefváros was earlier called the Alsó-Külváros ("Lower Suburb"). The Palotanegyed's borders are the Múzeum körút to the west, Rákóczi út to the north, the József körút to the east and Üllői út to the south.
The great flood of 1838 destroyed most of the Palotanegyed's then-buildings. The few buildings in the Palotanegyed which survive from before 1838 include the Chapel of St Roch Szent Rókus-kápolna, the patron saint of plague sufferers, built in 1711 in the hope of warding off the plague then devastating Pest, on the site of an early Christian, possibly 4th century, chapel. It was rebuilt in 1945 after being destroyed in World War II. The St Roch Hospital next door was built in 1796 or 1797
A major impetus for the area's development after the great flood was the construction at its western end of the magnificent neo-classical Hungarian National Museum between 1837 and 1847, designed by the Viennese-born architect Mihály Pollack, after whom the square behind the museum is named. Meetings of the upper house of the Hungarian parliament, established as part of the compromise which founded the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867, were held in the National Museum until the opening of the new Hungarian parliament building in 1904. The rest of Hungary's original parliament was established next door to the museum at Főherceg Sándor utca (Archduke Alexander Street) (today Bródy Sándor utca) 8. This street was named in honour of Hungary's Habsburg Palatine, or Viceroy, during the years 1790-95, Archduke Alexander Leopold of Austria, in 1840. The building, completed in 1866, was designed by one of 19th century Budapest's great architects, Miklós Ybl, who also designed the Opera House and the Basilica, as well as five of the Palotanegyed's palaces (Festetics, Pálffy, Károlyi, Bókay and Odescalchi/Degenfeld-Schomburg). Today the old parliament building houses the Italian Cultural Institute.
Between 1860 and the outbreak of the First World War, members of the dual monarchy's aristocratic and mercantile elite - many of whom were members of parliament - built more than city palaces or mansions in the same area. The Károlyi and Zichy families alone each built four palaces in the district, while the Bánffy and Wenckheim families each built two. The district's palaces were mostly constructed in the streets surrounding the Museum (today's Bródy Sándor utca, Pollack Mihály tér, Muzeum utca, Reviczky utca and Ötpacsirta utca. But a number were also built further east, including on today's Lőrinc pap tér, Gyulai Pál utca, Horánszky utca, Szentkirályi utca and Trefort utca. The other residential buildings constructed in the Palace District around the same time were designed mainly for middle or upper-middle class occupants. The term 'palota' ('palace') is used more elastically in Hungarian compared to English. In the Palotanegyed it refers to everything from genuine palaces (such as the Wenckeim Palace now Szabó Ervin Library) for aristocratic families, to buildings with generously-proportioned apartments for the wealthy upper-middle classes (such as the Emich Palace on Horánszky utca).
Still bullet-marked buildings show that the Palace District, like the rest of Budapest, was left scarred by the fighting at the end of the Second World War, during the 1956 uprising and during the subsequent Soviet attack. The communist regime neglected the district's buildings and committed some great acts of vandalism, especially the demolition in 1965 the city's Népszínház (People's Theatre - or Volkstheater) on Blaha Lujza tér. This building, much loved by Budapesters, had been constructed in 1875 to the design of the Austrian theatre architects Helmer and Fellner, who left a fine legacy of theatres around the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. The loss of the Népszínház still seems to leave a gap on Blaha Lujza tér. A street on the eastern side of the József körút which led to the Népszínház is still called Népszínház utca. In 1948 the regime also demolished the National Stables behind the Museum in 1948, replacing them in 1969 with a modern office block unsympathetic to its grand surroundings.
As the post-war communist regime consolidated its grip, the names of a number of streets and institutions in the Palotanegyed were changed. In 1946 Főherceg Sándor utca (Archduke Alexander Street) was renamed Bródy Sándor utca.  Sándor Bródy (1863-1924) was a Jewish-born novelist, dramatist, and short-story writer who was 'among the first in Hungarian literature to focus attention on the urban proletariat, and the first to introduce the coarse and pungent vernacular of the big city into literary works'. In the same year the metropolitan library in the former Wenckheim Palace was named the Szabó Ervin Library in honour of Ervin Szabó, a revolutionary socialist who translated the works of Marx and Engels into Hungarian and who in 1911 had been appointed the library's director. In 1949, Eszterházy utca and Ötpacsirta utca were renamed Puskin utca. Two years later, in 1948, the section of Baross utca in front of the library was renamed Szabó Ervin tér Surprisingly, the communist regime did not rename the József körút (Joseph ringroad), named after the Austrian emperor Joseph II, as it did the Teréz and Erzsébet stretches of the ringroad, named after female Habsburg monarchs.
In 1950, Horánszky utca, named after Dual Monarchy-era Hungarian politician member of parliament and trade minister Nándor Horánszky, was renamed Makarenko utca, in honour of Soviet educational theorist Anton Makarenko.
Despite the occasional acts of disdain shown by the communist regime towards the Budapest's historical fabric, the vast majority of the Palotanegyed's pre-World War II buildings survived war, revolution, Soviet occupation and the socialist decades. At the same time, by the early post-communist period, the Józsefváros had acquired a reputation amongst Hungarians as the poorest and most crime-ridden of the Pest districts. This reputation reflected the dilapidation and poverty especially of the outer part of the district (i.e. east of the Józsefkörút) and the proportionately high population of typically poor gypsies in that area. This reputation coloured perceptions of the whole of Józsefváros, including, probably unfairly, the Palotanegyed.
Since the mid-1990s, the Palotanegyed's fortunes have steadily recovered. Many of the district's palaces have been restored, and slowly but surely other buildings are following suit. Local and international investors have seen the charm and potential in the area. And the Józsefváros local government has made huge progress rebuilding the district's streets to make pedestrian-only areas, widen footpaths, rationalise parking, plant more trees and generally smarten the area up. As of July 2018, areas completed include Reviczky utca, Ötpacsirta utca, Mikszáth Kálmán tér, the area between the Szabó Ervin library and Calvin tér, Lőrinc pap tér, Maria utca, Kőfaragó utca, Gyulai Pál utca, Horánszky utca, much of Krúdy Gyula utca and Gutenberg tér and the stretch of Bródy Sándor utca between Pollack Mihály tér and Múzeum körút. The mainly pedestrian area along Krúdy Gyula utca between Mikszáth Kálmán tér and Lőrinc pap tér thrives with restaurants and cafes in a way that wouldn't have been imagined before the 1989 changes.
In January 2017 it was announced that the Hungarian National Museum’s gardens would get a facelift and that 'the historical houses of Pollack Mihály Square in the Palotanegyed will be renovated, while two other buildings belonging to the Hungarian state radio headquarters will be demolished.'
In April 2018 it was announced that Blaha Lujza tér would undergo a major renovation with green spaces replacing the current car-park area. At the same time, the 1926 Corvin Áruház (department store) would get a facelift with its communist-era aluminium layer removed and the original façade restored. Works are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019.
In May 2018 the Józsefváros council announced that funds had been allocated for reconstruction of a further section of Bródy Sándor utca, of sections of Szentkirályi utca and Rökk Szilárd utca, and that Puskin utca, Trefort utca and Somogyi Béla utca would also be renovated.
In July 2018 the council also announced that 13 thirteen Palotanegyed apartment buildings would be renovated alongside the reconstruction of sections of Bródy Sándor utca, Rökk Szilárd utca and Szentkirályi utca. The works are due for completion by the end of 2019.
The Palotanegyed Palaces
The Festetics Palace (Miklós Ybl, 1862), Pollack Mihály tér 3. Today the Andrássy Gyula Budapest German-language University.
The Károlyi Palace (Miklós Ybl,1865), Pollack Mihály tér 10. On the left of the building are the National Stables, demolished after the war and replaced with a five-story building in 1969.
The Palffy Palace Budapest, Miklós Ybl, 1867), Ötpacsirta utca 4/Reviczky utca 2. Built for Count János Palffy. Today the Metropolitan Szabó Ervin Library Music Collection.
The Fechtig House (Antal Skalnitzky, 1873) at Bródy Sándor utca 2. Built for Baron Nándor Fechtig. The ground floor houses the Múzeum Café and Restaurant, which has been in business (initially under the name Schodl) since the 1870s.
The Törley Palace (Rezső Ray, 1895), Bródy Sándor utca 16. Built for József Törley, champagne magnate.
One of the district's three Zichy Palaces (Lipót Havel), 1897), Lőrinc pap tér 2. Built for Count Nándor Zichy. Today the Hotel Palazzo Zichy .
The Hadik-Barkóczy Palace (Ede Lux, 1912), Múzeum utca 5. Built for Count Endré Hadik-Barkóczy.
- Maja and Reuben Fowkes, "Eighth District Seeks its Aristocratic Roots", Time Out Budapest April 2009, http://beyondbudapest.hu/kepek/TimeOut.pdf.
- https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Budapest/Central_Pest; https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Budapest/Central_Pest; Annabel Barber, Blue Guide Budapest, Gyula, 2018, pp.239-40
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2010-10-10.
- See, for example, the descriptions of József körút 37-39 and Krúdy Gyula utca 12 in Lajos Csordás, Walks Along the Great Boulevard, Budapest, Vince Books, 2008, pp. 166 and 170
- National Theatre (Budapest)
- Ferdinand Fellner
- http://jozsefvaros.hu/hir/5795/Tovabbi_250_millio_forint_jut_ut-_es_jardarekonstrukciora/; http://jozsefvaros.hu/hir/3866/folytatodhat-az-europa-belvarosa-program
- hu:Palotanegyed; name="mszp8.hu">"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2010-10-10.
- hu:Emich Gusztáv (zoológus)