Kossuth Lajos Ter is the center of Budapest and a standing memorial to its turbulent history. Buildings on the square are riddled with bullet holes from the 1956 uprising (or as Hungarians are wont to say, “Revolution”). This part of the city is undergoing massive renovation. As it begins to come together, a vision of the future unfolds: the shining face of a freshly scrubbed Parliament building; a square of newly placed stone and recently planted gardens; and a museum which lives up to the moniker “Palace”. I can’t wait to see the finished product.
In the meantime, reaching the Palace of the Ethnographic Museum requires skirting the edge of the messy work. But the effort will be rewarded. Constructed at the very end of the 1800s, the building is indicative of the late 19th century urban development which resulted in the waterfront of Budapest receiving the UNESCO World Heritage designation. The Roman Baroque building, with a façade of stone columns and a carved frieze, is a worthwhile destination even if you do not venture inside. But please, do venture inside.
We toured the Palace recently, primarily to view the World Press Photo special exhibit in the grand hall. Our nine dollar ticket enabled us to view the photographs along with the permanent museum exhibits. The great hall is simple stunning:marble Corinthian columns topped in gold wash; matching dramatic staircases; geometric tiled floor; decorative statues and painted ceiling. What a fantastic setting.
This exhibit ends shortly, October 27, 2013. But it is an annual affair and part of the European season of photography. All of the photos garnered press awards. Many graphically depict the underbelly of a world in conflict. The grand prize winner, Gaza Burial, is of two young brothers, small children, swaddled in death and carried by grieving relatives. Middle Eastern war photography dominated the news photos section of the exhibit but was interspersed with winners in categories of sports, family life, and nature.
On the upper floor are two additional photo exhibits: one of European nature – largely from Austria and Ireland – and the other an expose of life in rural China. We spent perhaps an hour or more browsing through the three photo exhibits and another hour touring the museum. The permanent displays depict Hungarian traditional life. On display are the tools, clothing, religious objects and artifacts of historic rural Hungary. What a colorful and rich tradition and so well captured in the permanent part of the museum. We left committed to exploring the rural reaches of the country.
If you elect to visit one museum in Hungary, the Ethnographic Museum is a great choice. And if you are fortunate to visit in October during the annual World Press Photo exhibit, I wouldn’t miss it.