Long before the city of Budapest was unified in 1873, the twin towns of Buda and Pest faced each other across the Danube. And long before King Béla IV built his castle on Buda Hill in the 13th Century, prehistoric people lived in the caves beneath.
And when I say long before, I mean looooong before. As in around half a million years before!
Over the centuries following the construction of Buda Castle, the natural cave system was enlarged by artificial tunnels and cellars to form a network extending several miles. These underground rooms and passages have been put to all sorts of uses, both ordinary and sinister. They’ve provided shelter and springs, been storage and wine cellars, and of course, torture chambers and dungeons. In medieval times, they were used to hide riches from the eyes of tax collectors and during World War II they housed a military hospital.
There are at least three ways of exploring the cave system beneath Buda Castle: the Castle Cave, the Hospital In The Rock, and the Labyrinth of Buda Castle. I visited the latter, a 1200-yard-long section of caves and tunnels accessible from the within the castle itself. If you’re interested in visiting yourself, the address of the main entrance is Úri utca 9.
There is apparently some controversy concerning the running of this attraction, which I’m not going to get into. Suffice to say that, although at least one website claims the Labyrinth was closed to the public in 2011, visitors can nonetheless still tour its passages.
Included in the entry are a number of exhibitions, including some architectural relics, a feature on spectacular caves from around the world, mannequins in period costume, and a black and white movie. (Don’t ask me!)
However, the star of the show is without doubt the Labyrinth itself. Spooky doesn’t even begin to cover it. Especially the bit where you can walk through a stretch in the pitch black, guided only by a rope.
Unsurprisingly, this subterranean world has more than its fair share of myths, legends and horror stories. These include women bricked up in walls during the 16th Century when one of the Turkish rulers bored of them (apparently several female skeletons from this period have been found within the walls or thrown into wells). Then there’s the ghost of the Black Count, who is claimed to have terrorised the living during the 19th Century.
The Labyrinth’s most infamous occupant is said to be Vlad III of Wallachia, aka Vlad Tepes, allegedly imprisoned there during the 15th Century. The English translation of Vlad Tepes is Vlad the Impaler… Yes, the Vald the Impaler, believed by many to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
There’s no doubt that Vlad Tepes was a real person, who was indeed imprisoned on King Matthias’s orders in the mid 1400s. That said, I’ve read conflicting accounts on whether or not he spent any of this time confined within the caves beneath Buda Castle. But why let that spoil a good story, right?
On a more serious theme, UNESCO placed Budapest’s Castle District (including the Labyrinths beneath) and Danube Embankment on its list of World Heritage Sites in 1987.
This post was inspired by this week’s Cee’s Which Way Challenge.
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