The largest church in Hungary is on Castle Hill, and its 72m-high central dome can be seen for many kilometres around. The building of the present neoclassical church was begun in 1822 on the site of its 12th-century counterpart, which was destroyed by the Turks. József Hild, who designed the cathedral at Eger, was involved in the final stages, and the basilica was consecrated in 1856 with a sung Mass composed by Franz Liszt. Highlights include the dome, treasury and crypt.
The grey church is colossal, measuring 114m long and 47m wide. Its highlight is the red-and-white marble Bakócz Chapel on the southwest side, which is a splendid example of Italian Renaissance stone carving and sculpture. The chapel escaped most – though not all – of the Turks’ vandalism; note the smashed-in face of Gabriel and the missing heads of other angels above the altar. The altar painting by Michelangelo Grigoletti (1854) is said to be the world’s largest painting on a single canvas.
On the northwest side of the church is the entrance to the basilica’s treasury, an Aladdin’s cave of vestments and church plate in gold and silver, studded with jewels. It is the richest ecclesiastical collection in Hungary.
The door to the right as you enter the basilica leads to the crypt, a series of eerie vaults down 50 steps with tombs guarded by monoliths representing Mourning and Eternity. Among those at rest here are Cardinal József Mindszenty and Csernoch János, the Archbishiop of Esztergom. It’s worth making the tortuous climb up to the dome for the outstanding views over the city. The 400 steps leading up to it are to the left of the crypt entrance and on the way you pass through the new Panorama Hall and cafe.