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Another Good Looking City ULTRA LONG POST - Broadband Recommended!


Cyburbian Emeritus
Another Good Looking City


This city invites comparison with Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington and Sydney, all of which it approximates in size. Its landmarks are fairly familiar, so I have omitted them. The city looks good almost everywhere in its built-up area.




Buildings date from various eras; the city has a layered look:






Some parts have a real big-city feel, in the Haussmann mold, entirely without skyscrapers:






Other parts are smaller-scaled, placid havens, like some parts of Greenwich Village or Hampstead:






This city never had parking lots, and probably never will. Therefore it is not gap-toothed, and the spatial experience is coherent and intentional throughout.

The quality of the building stock is generally pretty high because it is old, and the Modernists didn’t mess up too much of it. A lot of it is Beaux-Arts:




The Opera House looks the part:


Post Modern buildings are whatever they are anywhere:






Center-city shopping mall

Artists abound, and they are held in high regard. One artist dreamed up this building’s cornice. You can imagine what it does when the sun shines:


A hovering installation in a museum:


The city is well stocked with churches:





Other monuments include one that Mad King Ludwig would have liked, along with Walt Disney:


And baroque extravaganzas filled with cobbles and inscriptions:



At the edge of the city proper, there is a large park with a nice lake. The park contains monumental buildings: four museums, an aquatic center, a circus, a small amusement park, and other public facilities:


Not exactly Central Park, this is more like the Bois de Boulogne or Golden Gate Park in its location near the edge of the center city. Like Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, a grand Beaux-Arts boulevard leads to the park’s gateway, a vast square fronted by (of course) a Greek temple (actually, two):



In the photo above the approach from the center of town is from the lower right via a ritzy boulevard. The district through which it passes consists of detached buildings on small lots. If you look closely at them they look like mansions, in the same fanciful variety of styles that you will find in Washington on Massachusetts Avenue out from Dupont Circle. Mansions they were, but as in Washington, they were converted to institutional and multi-family use. More recently, a new wave of plutocrats has started reconverting them to single-family use.

Here is the view looking back towards town:


The extravagant aquatic center takes opulence to a new plateau. The Romans would be envious. Behind it lurks a round structure that houses a permanent circus. Obviously the swimmers arrive by subway:


Stadiums and arenas galore:


Where are the parking lots?

Some areas of the city center are pedestrianized:











If you want to move a little faster, try one of the circumferential boulevards, like growth rings:





There are three principal train stations. A famous bridge engineer designed this one. He also devised the structure for the Statue of Liberty and a famous tower in Paris. The building is amazingly glassy, an exercise in minimalist engineering:


Arriving passengers can transfer here to streetcar or subway:


The transportation system is outstandingly efficient and dirt cheap, so everyone uses it. Streetcars are the most visible component:


In San Francisco, buses are either articulated or electric. Here they are articulated and electric:


Newer subway lines are deep-bore. Really deep. The upshot is amazingly fast escalators. Step lively:


The newer subway lines are clean, fast, efficient and soulless. Rush hour headway is 50 seconds, same as Paris, but the trains are faster.



There is an old subway line that dates waaay back to 1896, a year before Boston’s ancient Tremont Street Subway. The trains are tiny and the riveted, column-filled cut-and-cover stations are reminiscent of New York’s, but in miniature. The trains are charmingly leisurely, make all the right sounds, and the stations are nicely close-spaced. Unlike New York’s, they are also clean:




Suburban rail lines really function as city transit, like Sydney’s. They often run at intervals of less than ten minutes, and don’t always have a separated right-of-way. They seem a little like elongated light rail, like the Docklands line in London. They fan out to suburban bedroom communities and absorbed towns, including one that is popular with artists, and consequently tourists. Comparable places include Burano, Sausalito, Grinzing, Marblehead, and perhaps Alexandria, Va.:






Another station with an amazingly gossamer structure. I wonder if you could get away with so little structure under today’s code:


Parts of this city are hilly. As in Montmartre, steps and funiculars yield access to quiet residential districts with sweeping vistas and in some places, hordes of tourists. This is a city of Belvederes:








Later I will post some of those vistas.

Meanwhile, here is a rooftop view. The small increment of development yields an intimate scale:


Shopping is done mostly at street level with sidewalk access. Centers of shopping include covered markets, malls and public squares.

The Central Market will remind some of Seattle’s Pike Place and Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market or Philadelphia’s Reading Market and even San Francisco’s Ferry Building Market. It isn’t really a food court; many people shop there for the things you might buy in a supermarket. The selection is dazzling, and it’s a great place to hang out and watch people, like Washington’s Eastern Market, but much bigger:



Shopping malls are pretty much the same everywhere, city and suburb alike:


Ad hoc markets appear periodically all over town:


Households were large when these houses were built, consisting of an extended family, servants, employees and hangers-on:


The houses are built around courtyards accessible by carriage through big archways (note the curb cuts):



Commerce occupied many ground floors, then as now. I wonder if this restaurant’s owner lives above his establishment:



Perched atop its hill, this town was absorbed into the larger city:


A gatehouse and some sections of wall survive. The road is obviously a modern contribution. In olden times you passed through the archway so the security guys could take a good look at you:


A bosky island bifurcates the river:


On it sits the resort-like Grand Hotel:


About Boston’s size, this city’s population is differently distributed. City limit population is about 3-1/2 times Boston’s, but its metropolitan population is about half of Boston’s. Almost everyone in its conurbation lives inside the city limits. This means:

1. It has not much in the way of suburbs and does not sprawl. City limit area is a bit over 200 square miles to Boston’s 48, while metropolitan area is about 400 square miles to Greater Boston’s roughly two thousand.
2. The built-up urban center of this city is much bigger than Boston’s, and almost everyone lives in it. To a casual observer it seems a bigger city though it lacks skyscrapers.

As in San Francisco, you can cross a suspension bridge and find a reasonable approximation of nature. The city’s density is obvious. Not a high-rise or parking lot to be seen.


As in Paris and Rome, many buildings are built around courtyards, the city’s nostrils.

An old military installation guarded the city’s approach, as in San Francisco:


Eclectic architecture:






Looking good:



A Request:

Many of you can positively identify this city from a personal visit or pictures. If you are one of those people, please leave identification to someone’s educated guess.

Rumpy Tunanator

Stockholm, Sweden? I'm just glad to know that no matter what city I travel to in the world, a mcdonalds or burger king will be there;) Nice pictures.


Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
I love European cities. They know how to do urbanism. Few of no highrises, and amazing parks

Dang this is hard to figure out! I know it is some city on the continental European city, it's left-hand drive.

I want to say this is a northern Italian city. I want to say Turin, because of some of the architecture and the narrow ped. lanes and that pic of the staicase. And the train station shot. I swear that is the main Turin station when I was there in 1999.

But some signs are in english. Argh, please tell us what city this is. It's driving me nuts.

EDIT: Never mind - it is a northern european city Sockholm? eh beautiful.
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Staff member
I do not believe that it is Stockholm. I'm with Tranplanner: der est eine deutsche stadt, but Berlin was too badly bombed during WWII to have so much historic fabric remaining. I'm more inclined to Munchen or Stuttgart.


Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
I was obsessed with knowing this city.

It is Budapest, Hungary.

I used the text 'ego sum via veritas et vita' from the pediment of one of the church pics to google the location.

Now, I really want to visit Hungary.



It reminds me a bit of Montpellier, France, but more in the general layout and some of the public buildings than the domestic architecture. More stone there, less brightly-colored walls. Also, no river with an island. Very elegant, both cities.


I'm not sure. To have a river like that, the city would probably have to be in northern germany, and most of those cities were hit really hard by bombings. Maybe in Austria? It could be Vienna. Or, further down the Danube, Budapest. Hungarian is such a weird language that I the amount of english in the pictures would seem to make sense. It was ruled by Germans (Austrians) for a while, so the germanic character people seem to be picking up on would be there.

EDIT: OOPS, I got beaten on the post. Curse my slow typing!

The Irish One

Ablarc, you're a credit to this site, your post' are great, Thank you!!!

UHH, Monte Carlo, no, they have skyscrapers.


Wow....beautiful pictures and a seemingly beautiful city as well. Ill put it on my list of places to visit (once we know for sure where it is).

I tried to guess the country by reading the signs...but I saw English, Spanish, Italian, French, and German.

The only thing I can say (and I still might be wrong) is that that isnt a German city. Theres too much along the lines of Romantic architecture and if those "greek" structures are actually greek or roman...well...neither of those civilizations spent much time in Germany as far as I know.

Plus, Ive never seen that city come up in my German classes....aber es ist ein schoene Stadt!


The Irish One said:
Ablarc, you're a credit to this site, your post' are great, Thank you!!!


I second that! Your posts are always fascinating. I always look forward to seeing new ones.


Great Post!
Makes me really want to visit.

Except for the fact that I didn't recognize any landmarks, and the subway system didn't look as modern, I was pretty much convienced that we were looking at photos of Vienna. The colorful houses, narrow streets, numerous platz, and the large architecture and statues have a definite Hapsburg look to them - all very Viennese in character. But I suppose it would look that way considering that the Hapsburgs ruled Hungary as well.

My parents were in Budapest a few years ago and they remarked that it was one of the most beautiful cities they had ever seen. In fact, pretty much everyone I know who's been has said the same thing.


Great photos of Budapest!
What used to be 2 separate cities, Buda and Peszt on the banks of the Dunabe River became one great city, Budapest. Similar to when Wars and Sawa in Poland, on the banks of Vistula river, became Warszawa (Warsaw). What the pictures don't show is the amount of pollution visible and felt in Budapest and many of the mega expressway projects ripping the area apart right outside the city. In my opinion, Gyor has even nicer architecture and pedestrianized streets, even smaller scale, and it's definitely easier to breathe there. Another beautiful city in that area, the city of contrasts, is Bratislava, Slovakia.


On my last tour of Europe I got to spend a few days in Budapest. Unfortunately I was incredibly sick and I only got out for a few hours each day. I wandered around the hills and also took a bus to the main (only?) English bookstore to replenish my reading materials. I was very impressed with the city and I hope to go back again someday and see it when I'm not under the weather.


Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
When you go to Budapest, be sure not bring this guy's phrase book ;-)



Cyburbian Emeritus
Veritas et Vita

"Ego sum via veritas et vita"

mendelman, I admire your ingenuity.


Cyburbian Emeritus


Population:1,906,800 (1995)
Area: 202.8 sq. mi.
Density: 9,403/sq. mi.

Here are the tourist shots.

The river would have been a dead giveaway; I left it out of the previous post.

Budapest’s river is as essential to its character as London’s, and it’s about the same width.

It is crossed by less than a dozen bridges.

It divides the city in two unequal parts which were separate municipalities until the 19th Century.

Buda is on the right (west) bank, foreground, shaped like a ham. It sits perched atop a bluff commanding a view for miles over huge, flat Pest, across the Danube. Most of Buda’s fortifications were removed and replaced with a narrow green belt, so where the walls used to be is pretty obvious in the photo. The greenbelt outlines the ham:

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This view looks downstream, southeast toward Pest.

Buda is small, old, surprisingly sleepy, and comprised of pastel houses built around courtyards and sometimes dating back as far as the Middle Ages:

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Huge, flat Pest: view looking northeast:

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Looking north again, Buda at left, Pest at right:

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The river is the drainage ditch at the base of the hills, which are the last ripple of the Alps. The Hungarian Plain begins at Pest and extends east across the rest of Hungary to the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, once Hungary and now Romania.

Views from Pest towards Buda. Two buildings stand out in photos of Buda: the spired Gothic Matthias Church and the domed Palace:

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The bridge is the truly ancient suspension bridge known as the Chain Bridge (1246 ft. main span), opened in 1849. When this was being designed in 1836 by the British engineers, William Clark and Adam Clark (both disciples of Telford, but not relatives), Jackson was President, Brahms was three, and the Brooklyn Bridge (1865-83) was nothing more than a gleam in Roebling’s eye. This bridge made feasible the unification of Buda and Pest.

You can get up to Buda on a funicular that departs from the foot of the Bridge at Adam Clark Square:

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Looking the other way, toward Pest, upstream to the left:

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The disruptive modernist building to the left of the bridge is a legacy of goulash communism, liberal communist Hungary’s attempt to emulate western capitalism’s ways. They succeeded all too well. The building is widely regarded as an abomination. It is grotesquely out of scale not because it is particularly big, but because its banal monotony and brutalist cantilevers engender a familiar weariness of soul. The sixties and seventies specialized in this kind of building, and every American city has a few. Any number is too many.

After decades of debate, the bomb-damaged palace, symbol of monarchical power, was finally rebuilt by… the Communists[!] Here occasionally resided the Emperor of Austria, who was also the King of Hungary. Many Hungarians think of this as the good old days:

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The Palace puts on a pretty good show, in the Habsburg manner, with maybe a tad more excess (this is, after all, Hungary):

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Is one of those dogs real?

The lower levels are ancient and Gothic.

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They are remnants of the fortified castle, and peep out, crenellated, beneath the palatial bulk:

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The other prominent Buda monument is religious:

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Sunday services come with full orchestra, chorus and catchy tunes by Haydn. Lord Nelson would approve:

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The newish building to the right of the church is the Hilton. This also is a product of goulash communism (early seventies), but everyone agrees it makes a surprisingly good neighbor:

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The Hilton was inserted into the ruins of a medieval cloister:

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Borrowing glory, the Hilton truly reflects its surroundings, in this case a Romanesque revival belvedere called Fisherman’s Bastion:

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Here there are no fishermen but plenty of tourists (along with panders and touts) and at slow times there are lovers, for the view is dynamite. No wonder they made a building for you to enjoy it:

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You might have caught a glimpse of a domed building across the river in Pest, all a-bristle with spires. This is the Parliament, and was obviously inspired by Pugin and Barry on their river in London. The architect was Imre Steindl, and the building does not fail to astonish:

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Note how much the urban fabric of Pest resembles that of Paris: unbroken street walls to five or so stories, but gable roofs in place of mansards. The streets are like canyons with walls of uniform height:

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How this fabric looked at street level when it was new and before we bombed much of it into oblivion to help save the world from fascism:

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These photos offer a glimpse into a period –the late Austro-Hungarian monarchy—that many Hungarians view as the Golden Age.

Budapest has much of the legibility of Paris, where the monuments (“high architecture”) literally tower over run-of-the-mill buildings (“low architecture”). Thus Parliament makes a big to-do on the skyline:

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A century and a half of grime comes off to reveal a startlingly white building beneath:

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Gothic with a dome! Only other examples I can think of are Pisa and if you wish, maybe the Florence Duomo.

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Interiors are as opulent as you could want:

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Shades of Tiepolo.

The spire atop the dome was once incongruously crowned with a red star.

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Looking westward over Parliament from Pest toward Buda. Different waves of the affluent have for a century sprawled their way up the hills in big, substantial, suburban villas generally in the direction of Austria, a bit over a hundred miles away:

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You could say the sprawl is pretty benign because the houses in it are not much deterred by zoning from making the most of their setting. Design of these villas is varied and site specific, rather than lock-stepped into regimented uniformity by the idiotic setbacks and formulas of conventional suburban zoning. Starting at the city’s edge, the Buda hills are the very image of upper bourgeois prosperity, even luxury. They start out dense…

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Look at the increment of development!

…and gradually thin out…

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…until you are in the country:

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If, instead of heading for the hills, you travel upstream (north) out of town, you will find the conurbation’s last gasp at the charming town of Szentendre (St. Andrew), full of artists, galleries and of course, tourists, but retaining a base population of ordinary folk:

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Skylights are evidence of gentrification:

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The welcome mat is out for the touristos:

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But some parts look pretty much as always:

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You can get to this charming destination, part bedroom community, by commuter rail that connects with the subway; or as with Sausalito, you can access it by ferry. If you choose the latter you may be passed by one of the speedy hydrofoils to Vienna:

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Looking downstream from Buda, additional bridges span the Danube. In the foreground, the roughly thirty-year-old Elizabeth Bridge replaced the ruins of its eponymous predecessor, blown up by the Germans in the closing years of World War II. Ruined piers jutted for years out of the water, reminders of the horrors of war.

Here you can see how closely the river hugs those foothills, sinuously marking the line where piedmont meets plain.

High above the river atop its bluff at upper right stands Budapest’s statue of liberty, the Freedom Statue:

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All-purpose totalitarian sculpture, or idealistic effigy? This inspiring monument was erected by the relatively mild-mannered fascist regime of Nicholas Horthy, but it just as smoothly served the artistico-propagandistic aspirations of the far left. When the Russians arrived to liberate ungrateful Hungary they added a gigantic bronze Soviet soldier on the lower pedestal of the base, and it seamlessly converted to socialist realism:

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When communism collapsed and Hungarians got their freedom they promptly removed the liberator. He languishes now in suburban exile at the Sculpture Park, a museum of obsolete sculpture where visitors go to snicker at the atmospheric excesses of communist propaganda:

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Marx and Engels patiently await their future rehabilitation amid graffiti. Maybe they should ship them to Cuba.

Public sculpture abounds in this city, in such venues as vast Heroes’ Square, a beaux-arts extravaganza:

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Dynamic and slightly sinister images abound:

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Oops, that last one is from the museum of obsolete sculpture. These folks know exactly where they are going; they have someone to point the way. Also here in the suburbs, Comrade Lenin, self-assuredly regales the curious:

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And an enthusiastic proletarian rushes into the future:

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(Some of this stuff is actually pretty good.)

But some of the old stuff seems to have a certain dignity and peace:

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King Stephen was the Dark Age saint who christianized unruly Magyars in 1001, and thereby founded Hungary. Naturally, he is the patron saint:

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His Byzantine crown languished covertly in U.S. government hands until the collapse of communism, at which time it was returned as a gesture of goodwill. It is the Hungarian nation’s greatest treasure:

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Some beaux-arts monuments have a slightly bizarre edge:

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But so does some post-modern work:

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Freshly rehabilitated and re-interred with honors, Imre Nagy gazes from the grounds toward Parliament:

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Nagy, a man of some principle, unwittingly found himself leader of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against Soviet oppression. After Russian troops quelled the rebellion, Nagy was executed. The bouquet is someone’s spontaneous little token of esteem:

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Also recent, the Holocaust Memorial mourns Hungary’s deported Jews:

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An exuberant new sculpture adorns a hotel:

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And lions stand watch everywhere, like eagles in Washington:

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The Elizabeth Bridge and flat-as-a-board Pest with hot-air balloon. To the left of the bridge, the L-shaped Marriott provides another lamentable example of goulash communism’s out-of-scale predilections:

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A curious structural hybrid is the Freedom Bridge (Originally Franz Joseph Bridge, 1896), shaped like a suspension structure but really almost a cantilever bridge, like New York’s Queensboro:

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The bridges in relation to each other:

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In recent years, entrepreneurial impulses, long dormant under the Commies, have burst into bloom:

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Everyday life in the city:

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Black-and-white photographs emphasize the Parisian look of Budapest:

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As in Barcelona, a great flowering of Art Nouveau occurred at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Budapest’s version is perhaps less flamboyant than Gaudi, but only by a little:

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There’s that Gaudi parabolic arch.

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The Vigado Theatre, sort of the Comedie Hongroise:

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Somewhat reminiscent of Rudolf Steiner’s expressionistic Goetheanum and therefore Fritz Lang’s Metropolis:

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And the tradition survives as the kind of Gaudi-meets-Bruce-Goff organic expressionism—not entirely pleasing to the eye—of this new house in Buda:

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The city’s definitive Art Nouveau monument, however, is the Gellert Hotel and Thermal Spa, seen in this fin-de-siecle fantasia with the Freedom Bridge:

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Beside this spa is a chapel carved into the cliff in honor of St. Gellert (St. Gerard), who was martyred here in the Dark Ages by recalcitrant pagans:

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From a dictionary of saints:

September 24th - Saint Gerhardus
[Gerard in English /Gellert in Hungarian/Gerhard in German]

Born possibly in 993 at Venice in the noble Sagredo family.

First bishop [1038?] of Cenad, philosopher and teacher. Founded the first school on territory of what is now Romania. He was also a scholar, and wrote an unfinished dissertation on Daniel 3, as well as other works. unfortunately lost.

Died as martyr on 24 September 1046--during a pagan revolt--at a crossing place on the Danube in Budapest.

During the celebration of Mass, Gerard had a vision of his impending martyrdom, and shortly afterward pagans stoned
him and almost all his companions. Bishop Gerard showed the sign of the cross constantly to those who stoned him, which angered them even more. They overturned the cart of the bishop, put him on a trundle and hurled him down
the cliffs. Since he was still breathing, the pagans thrust a spear through his chest and dashed his brain on a stone.

Many times the Danube overflowed its banks and covered the stone on which St. Gerard’s head was crushed; but not even after seven years could its waters wash off the blood.

His beatification took place in 1068 under the Pope Alexander II and his canonization was confirmed by Pope Gregory VII in 1083.

In 1333 the Republic of Venice obtained the greater part of his relics from the king of Hungary, and with great solemnity translated them to the church of Our Lady of Murano, where St. Gerard was venerated as the martyr of Venice, the place of his birth.

The bones of St. Gerard were returned to Budapest on January 25, 2002, as a gift from the San Donato Basilica in Murano, Italy.

NOTE: The year of the bishop’s death is not known for sure; this event could have occurred between 980 and 998.

The Bishop angering pagans with his cross:

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The Gellert Hotel’s Art Nouveau style might be said to be mixed with a little Turkish orientalism, possibly reflecting the fact that Turks occupied Budapest for several centuries. Being bathing aficionados, they left Budapest several Turkish Baths, one of which operates to this day.

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People come here to luxuriate in the waters which, being both warm and mildly radioactive, relieve arthritis and other forms of stress:

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Does it remind you somewhat of San Diego’s Coronado?

Thermal spas and swimming pools abound in Budapest. Here is another:

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The Romans prized such things; they founded Budapest as Aquincum, site of the present-day district of Obuda. The foundations of a Roman amphitheater that seated 15,000:

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Some images of urban architecture:





There is a lot of drivel spoken about cities. For example, we are constantly bombarded with this sage nonsense: European cities are more attractive than American cities because they have had centuries and centuries to accumulate their architectural treasures and their character. This may be true of Venice or Rome, but it is certainly not true of Budapest. It is worth taking note of the fact that with the exception of some pastel-colored houses and churches, all images in this post date from the 19th or 20th Centuries. The average age of buildings is probably greater in Baltimore than in Budapest, where whole neighborhoods were pulverized in 1944 and 1945.

Even the Gothic-looking extravagances of Budapest are largely products of 19th or even 20th Century architects and restorers, as is the case with many medieval monuments of France.

When the enthusiasts got hold of it, Matthias Church was a mosque sitting on a Gothic foundation. The building you now see is the product of shrewd speculation based on those foundations, surviving fragments, local stylistic predilections, documents and written descriptions. The restorers, like Viollet-le-Duc at Notre Dame, freely invented their own details:




Romanesque, castellated Gothic and Rococo were all fair game. All three of the following images are by the same architect, Ignac Alpar-- in fact they are parts of the same building, and opened to the public in 1904. Somehow they manage to avoid kitsch:




European cities are more attractive than American cities, but not because their building stock is older. The real reason has to do with demolition: the conscious decision to tear down a building. This decision comes in two flavors.

The first flavor is easy to exemplify. In 1965 and 1966, New Yorkers in their wisdom demolished the following much-lamented masterpieces:

1. Pennsylvania Station. The two grandest rooms in America replaced by a banal Madison Square Garden, an even more banal office tower, and a sterile plaza.
2. Singer Building. Once the world’s tallest office tower and a highlight of the Downtown skyline replaced by a flat-top International Style brown box.
3. Hotel Astor. Times Square’s stupendous, elephantine Second Empire extravaganza replaced by a kitschy high-rise with a boomerang-style roof crown.
4. New York Times Building. Times Square’s beaux arts landmark re-clothed by Peter Max emulating Edward Durrell Stone’s kitchiest marble neoclassicism.
5. Savoy Plaza Hotel. Grand Army Plaza’s grandest Second Empire confection and big brother to the Plaza Hotel replaced by Stone’s inane flat-top GM Building.
6. Water Street. Rows of 18th Century and early 19th Century maritime buildings replaced by fat, vapid, big box, flat-top warehouses of office space.

Any one of these transplanted to Tulsa would be lionized as that city’s greatest architectural treasure, yet they were heedlessly discarded and replaced by inferior buildings.

But it could have been much worse: at least every single one of these buildings was replaced. Imagine for a moment how much worse it would have been if they had not been replaced, but had turned into parking lots instead. This is the second flavor of demolition, much more malignant than the first, and it is unique to North America. With it we have arrived at the real reason why European cities are superior to American cities: European cities, whatever faults they may have: at least they are all there.

Intact. Complete. Not damaged.

And now here comes the drivel: “You can’t stop parking lots in America.”


You can’t stop bank robbery and you can’t stop drug dealing and you can’t stop abortions; but you sure as hell can stop the construction of new parking lots.

With zoning, they can keep you from putting in a porno palace, which is much less harmful than a parking lot. With zoning, they can make you put in a parking lot. If they can make you put it in, they can make you keep it out.

Parking lot developers may be engaged in an activity that should be illegal, but they do not have criminal mentalities. Like the rest of us, they comply with whatever laws the authorities cook up, even moronic nonsense like tree ordinances. Can you think of an easier law to enforce? How do you hide a parking lot?

Here comes not drivel but a tautology: “You have to provide parking in a city or it will suffer economically.” That’s right. But that parking does not have to be in lots. It can be below ground or above, in efficient stacks. Just keep it off the ground floor, which is where there should be shops. This is exactly the kind of stuff that zoning talks about. But if we are to have laws that govern building, please… dear God… let them make sense.

Here is a non sequitur: “Parking lots are a symptom of illness, not a cause.” In fact, they are both cause and symptom, as are so many other things in life. And if it were true, so what?: bank robbery is a symptom of poverty and bad morals. Nobody suggests we cure poverty and bad morals before addressing bank robbery. In the 19th Century, millions died of cholera because no one knew the cure for the disease. Then it was discovered that people were actually dying of the symptom: dehydration. By treating the symptom with lots of drinking water countless lives were saved. (In that century, they never did find the cure.)

Here is something trivial and potentially transient often presented as having the immutability of God’s word: “Americans are married to their cars and cannot be separated from them.” This is as true as you make it. It is true if as a matter of public policy you keep adding lanes to interstates at public expense, if you keep requiring on-site parking at all destinations, if you keep separating places with setbacks and buffers and easements and all the other garbage enshrined in zoning, if you put caps on density, if you keep building half acre subdivisions, and if you keep starving public transport. Switzerland’s population is more prosperous than America’s, but Switzerland has now and forevermore a lower ratio of cars to people; the Swiss spend their money on vacations instead of extra cars. Switzerland has good public transportation and functioning cities: is this cause or effect--or maybe both at the same time?

There are now almost as many cars in Budapest as households. There are no parking lots, hardly anyone drives to work, and transport is superb. A Hungarian would be horrified to hear you propose to tear down a building for a parking lot. For him, a car is a luxury not a necessity. He uses it for dates, big box shopping, excursions into the country and vacations. I don’t know about you, but I feel a twinge of envy.

When you take pictures of most American cities, you have to swivel a bit to avoid shots that contain parking lots, with their unsightly torn party walls, gleaming acres of cars, sidewalk tedium, tawdry attendant shacks, and general aura of decrepitude and ill-health.

They are, they say, temporary. This parking lot or that parking lot is only here for a decade or two or three, until a higher or best use can be found. And when the lot is finally built on, market demand will in turn inspire an adjacent owner to tear down his marginal building for a replacement lot. So this or that lot may be temporary, but the condition of the city is permanent. Like a case of incurable acne, the pimples are never in the same place two weeks running, but there are always pimples.

If this were simply an aesthetic issue, I would say “let it go, I can live with ugliness.” But it is not primarily an aesthetic issue; it is a functional issue. Wherever the parking lot is, the city is not. Parking lots introduce discontinuities in the urban fabric that discourage the most fundamental metabolic function in a living city: pedestrian circulation. Like the flow of blood, this keeps the cells nourished and healthy. But just as blood cells need to be contained by the walls of arteries and veins, so streets need to be continuous to contain pedestrian circulation.

How many holes could I put in you before you stopped working? It’s not just that a typical American city is as full of holes as Fearless Fosdick; it’s also that each hole represents an organ no longer there (maybe you can find it in the suburbs, where it was moved). Now, I know you can function without one of your kidneys, and you can do without your gall bladder, appendix and tonsils. And you may not like it, but you can even get along without your prostate. And come to think of it, you can stay alive without your eyes, your teeth, your eardrums, all of your limbs, your privates and even your colon. But in that condition I can’t ask you to go skating.

That’s the condition of the American city.

You often hear it said that a typical American city is different from a European city. That’s right, it is different. It is different, and it is inferior.

There are many reasons for this, but one stands out: American cities have parking lots and European cities do not. Therefore, American cities are sick and subject to endless remedial tinkering by learned healers, such as those on this forum, who may not always be quacks but who mostly decline to confront the problem (call it a symptom, if you wish).

The American army is different from the Iraqi army, and the American army is better than the Iraqi army.

American cities are different from European cities, and European cities are better.

Until we are able to admit this truth and take action, the future of American cities is…

I posted this on another forum and got this perceptive reply from CzSz:

"I was thinking of how most North American cities might look were they to abolish surface parking lots somehow. They certainly would not resemble Budapest or most other European cities, even if retroactively reconstructing all their lost architecture from the 19th and early 20th centuries. They wouldn't even look like European cities with relatively modern building stocks like Frankfurt or Rotterdam, due to their primarily wide, grid street networks. I think Australian cities are a better example of whatever pinnacle American cities might be able to reach."

Here are some parting pictures:


















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