Gellért Hill is one of the most popular tourist sights in Budapest – the gem of the capital. No wonder since it hides several interesting places, e.g. the Citadella, the Statue of Liberty overlooking the city, Cave Church, the Great Falls, just to name a few. Gellért Hill is an integral part of the Budapest scenery. If it is missing from a photo of Budapest, it had to be taken from there being one of the most beautiful lookouts of the city.
Due to its geographical and historic sights, e.g. the Citadella on the top and the view over both banks of the Danube, the 235 meters high hill was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987.
Its name is spelled differently to refer to it as a geographical name (Gellért-hegy) or an area of town (Gellérhegy).
Gellér Hill as a geographical feature is a part of South Buda Mountains bordered by the Danube from the east, Castle Hill from the north, Naphegy (Sun Hill) from north-west and Sas Hill from south-west. The hill lies in District 11 and spreads over District 1. It is under the supervision of Duna-Ipoly National Park Management.
Gellért Hill is a protected area and its slope facing the Danube still preserves its natural character. Although the botanical value of the hill has decreased considerably by today, fragments of native fauna are still present. Hollowroots and fumeworts almost fully cover the slopes in spring. The eastern slope is the only habitat in Hungary for the yellow sophora and the southern slope is home to mountain alyssum.
The base of Gellért Hill is a dolomite rock formed 5 million years ago that got fragmented around 2.5 million years ago. As a result, Buda Mountains elevated and hot springs of Buda, such as Mátyás, Rákóczi and Árpád Springs appeared serving as sources of water for spas built during the Turkish rule. Today there are three spas around Gellért Hill: Gellért Spa, Rudas Spa and Rác Spa. Similarly to Sas Hill, grapes were also grown on the slopes of Gellért Hill, however, the Phylloxera epidemic at the end of the 19th century put an end to it.
Human presence on Gellért Hill can be traced back thousands of years. Archeological researches found remains of a celtic-eravisci tribal settlement with potteries and bronze foundries. Due to fears of rebellion the tribe was deported from the hill by ancient Roman conquerors and were organized into an administrative unit called Civitas Eraviscorum.
The hill formerly called Kelen Hill was named after Bishop St Gellért, who, after being locked in a barrel, was tossed from the top by pagan rebels in 1046.
The hill also used to be called as Pest Hill in the Árpád period originating from the Slavic word “pest” meaning cave or hole. It was probably named after St István Cave where Cave Church was founded later. Although this name is no longer used for the hill, the town opposite also got this name. During the Turkish rule the hill was renamed to Gürz Eliász, a muslim priest respected as a saint and buried on the hill. After expelling the Turkish, German locals called it “Blocksberg” meaning Witch Hill. This name refers to the hill’s reputation for Witches Sabbath and also to its similarity to the highest peak of Harz Mountains in Germany, a centerpiece of German witch beliefs in the 17th century. Other speculations suggest that the hill was named after the fort on the top.
The Turkish replaced the chapel on the hilltop with a stockade fort, which was burnt down after they were expelled. Later Palatine József established an observatory for the University of Nagyszombat at the end of the 18th century. It was devastated during the siege of Buda in 1849. It was only after WW2 when astronomy returned to the hill and Uránia Observatory was founded in an abandoned house on the northern side.
In 1851, upon Austrian General Haynau’s order the Citadella was built functioning as a fort until the Compromise of 1867. When construction works of Ferenc József Bridge, currently known as Liberty Bridge began in 1894 slopes rising directly from the river bed were carved to build the road leading from the bridge.
Revitalization of the slopes and construction of trails began at the beginning of 1900s. On the side of the hill the Gruber József Cistern was built in 1902-1903, which is the largest water storage basin in Budapest. In 1923 even a floatplane station was built at the base of Gellért Hill to grant easier access for wealthy guests to the famous Gellért Spa.
Inspired by the Sanctuary of Lourdes in France the St Ivan Cave on the southern slope was transformed into the Our Grand Lady of Hungarians Cave Church in 1931.
Soon after the siege of Budapest ended in 1945, Zsigmond Kisfaludy Strobl was assigned to construct the Monument of Liberation, which was completed in two years. Today the female figure holding a palm branch is known as the Statue of Liberty , however, it was not only the name that changed a lot but the composition also.
On the south-western side of the hill the Anniversary Park opened in 1965 for the 20th anniversary of the Liberation by the Soviets. The northern side has been home to Nándor Wagner’s sculptures of philosophers in the Garden of Philosophy. It is just a short walk from here to visit the sculpture composition of Lookout Rock Scupltures of Kilátókő, the symbolic sculptures of Prince Buda and Princess Pest unveiled in 1982 to commemorate uniting Buda and Pest in 1873.
While extending green areas more and more residential buildings appeared on the southern slopes at the beginning of the 20th century. Villas of the area were inhabited by representatives of high society, such as aristocrats, high ranking military officers, wholesalers, university professors, lawyers and high ranking government officials. One of them in Ménesi Street, the former Schmidt Villa was replaced by a new building in 1977 where the University of National Public Administration was established. In 1911, the Eötvös József Collegium founded in 1895 also moved to Ménesi Street.
At the beginning of the 1900s the House of Artists was constructed in Kelenhegyi Street designed by Gyula Kann in Secessionist style. The wavy ridge, the Zsolnay ceramic ridge tiles, the ceramic floral ornaments of József Huszka and pillars reaching beyond the walls give it an exceptional appearance. The House of Artists used to function as the home and studio of famous Hungarian artists, such as Viktor Madarász, Béla Czóbel and József Rippl-Rónai.
Hardly distinguishable the 168 meter high Little Gellért Hill is situated on the western side of Gellért Hill.
The development of Gellért Hill continued in the 21st century, too. Playgrounds and parks were built and even a brainstorming session open to anybody started in 2016 to encourage initiatives.
Our Grand Lady of Hungarians Cave Church and St Stephen Statue The Cave Church on Gellért Hill played an important role in more historic and religious events. The church was built for the Pauline Order and their most important relic, a bone fragment of St. Paul is kept here. At the entrance a sculpture of King St. Stephen is displayed.
Citadella The top of Gellért Hill had been used for military purposes for thousands of years. The Citadella as the last representative of this function was built by 1854. Although it had been the symbol of repression for a long time, it has been a popular tourist sight since the 1950s.
Liberty Statue Th Statue of Liberty atop Gellért Hill towers over the Citadella and visible from nearly every point of downtown. The sculpture group was made to commemorate Soviet heroes, however, after the political change its image was transformed. By today it has become one of the landmarks of the capital.
Gruber József Cistern Gubern József Cistern is the biggest cistern of Budapest on the northern side of Gellért Hill. It plays a key role in the water supply of Budapest. Sculptures of Kilátókő in the park above the cistern offer a scenic view over the city also.
Garden of Philosophy On the less visited western part of Gellért Hill, not far from the Statue of Liberty you can find a sculpture group called the Garden of Philosophy. Nándor Wagner’s sculpture composition is well-worth a visit not only as a visual experience but because of its thought-provoking message also.
Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd) Liberty Bridge, the green bridge of Budapest has linked St Gellért Square in Buda and Fővám Square in Pest since 1896. It could not survive WW2. Its center span was demolished, however, it was the first bridge to be restored.
A scenic walk on Gellért Hill A World Heritage Site, a landmark of Budapest, cradle of hot springs, a witness of our history, the best date location and a place with the greatest view over Budapest. A scenic walk from top to bottom from St Gellért Square through the Arboretum of Buda to the Lake Feneketlen.