Lonely Planet review
The former Royal Palace has been razed and rebuilt at least a half-dozen times over the past seven centuries. Béla IV established a royal residence here in the mid-13th century, and subsequent kings added to the structure. The palace was levelled in the battle to rout the Turks in 1686; the Habsburgs rebuilt it, but spent very little time here. Today the Royal Palace contains two important museums as well as the National Széchenyi Library .
There are two entrances to the Royal Palace. The first is via the Habsburg Steps , southeast of Szent György tér and through an ornamental gateway dating from 1903. The other way in is via Corvinus Gate , with its big black raven symbolising King Matthias Corvinus, southwest of the square.
The Hungarian National Gallery is an overwhelming collection over four floors that traces Hungarian art from the 11th century to the present. The largest collections include medieval and Renaissance stonework, Gothic wooden sculptures and panel paintings, late-Gothic winged altars, and late-Renaissance and baroque art.
The museum also has an important collection of Hungarian paintings and sculpture from the 19th and 20th centuries. Keep an eye open for the overly wrought Romantic Nationalist ‘heroic’ paintings by Gyula Benczúr, the harrowing depictions of war and the dispossessed by László Mednyánszky, the unique portraits by József Rippl-Rónai, the almost religious canvases by Tivadar Csontváry, the paintings of carnivals by Vilmos Aba-Novák and works by the realist Mihály Munkácsy.
The Budapest History Museum looks at the 2000 years of the city on three floors. Restored palace rooms dating from the 15th century can be entered from the basement, where there are three vaulted halls, one with a magnificent Renaissance door frame in red marble that bears the seal of Queen Beatrix, and tiles with a raven and a ring (the seal of her husband King Matthias Corvinus), leading to the Gothic Hall , the Royal Cellar and the 14th-century Tower Chapel .
On the ground floor exhibits showcase Budapest during the Middle Ages, with important Gothic statues of courtiers, squires and saints discovered during excavations in 1974. There are also artefacts recently recovered from a well dating from Turkish times, most notably a 14th-century tapestry of the Hungarian coat of arms with the fleur-de-lis of the House of Anjou. The exhibit on the 1st floor – ‘Budapest in Modern Times’ – traces the history of the city from the expulsion of the Turks in 1686 to Hungary’s entry into the EU. On the 2nd floor the exhibits reach way back – Budapest from prehistoric times to the arrival of the Avars in the late 6th century.