The Hungarian National Museum, the oldest museum in Budapest, is also one of the city’s most interesting. It traces the history of Hungary from the early days of the Árpád dynasty up to the end of Communism.
The Hungarian National Museum is housed in one of Budapest’s grandest neoclassical edifices. It was built between 1837 and 1847 after a design by Mihály Pollack, one of Hungary’s great nineteenth-century architects. Pollack, who was schooled in Vienna, created a temple-like building with a wide staircase leading to a monumental portico supported by ten colossal Corinthian columns. The tympanum is decorated with sculptures created by Raffaelo Monti. They show Pannonia – an allegorical personification of the province of the Roman Empire – at the center surrounded by figures representing the arts and science.
The interior is equally impressive with a grand staircase leading to a central rotunda designed after the Pantheon in Rome. The interior is richly decorated with paintings by the hands of Mór Than and Károly Lotz.
The museum was founded in 1802 with a donation of Count Ferenc Széchényi whose rich collection formed the basis of the museum’s exhibitions. Today the museum has over one million items that illustrate the history of Hungary throughout the ages.
The main collection is displayed on the second floor of the museum and covers the period from the tenth century – the start of the Arpád dynasty – to the end of Communism in the twentieth century.
Some of the most impressive artifacts can be seen in the first eight rooms. One of the highlights is the crown of Constantine IX Monomachos, created in the eleventh century. Also worth mentioning are an ivory saddle, the child-armour of king Sigismund II, sculpted wooden choir benches from the Late Gothic and Renaissance periods and finely crafted Turkish weapons.
The following rooms cover the period from the Habsburg occupation to the Communist era.
Here you can see a press from the nineteenth century that was used to print revolutionary propaganda. Film fragments show the remarkable resemblance between fascist and communist propaganda from the twentieth century.
One of the highlights of the museum is the coronation robe, displayed on the first floor of the museum. On the ground floor you can see stonework from the Middle Ages while the basement holds a Roman lapidary. Unfortunately not all rooms may be open at all times, so check first if the rooms you want to visit are open.
János Arany Monument
The Hungarian National Museum is set in a garden adorned with statues of prominent Hungarians who made contributions to the arts, science and literature.
The most impressive monument is that of writer János Arany, who is best known for his Toldi trilogy. The monument, created by Alajos Stróbl, is located right in front of the museum. It shows Arany seated atop a pedestal which is flanked by two main characters of his trilogy: Rozgonyi Piros on his right hand side and Miklós Toldi to his left.