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Budapest, Hungary

The Citadella

From Austrians to Nazis to Soviets, this historic Budapest fortress has a history as complex as the city itself. 

Built in 1851 by the Hapsburgs as part of their strategy to take over Hungary and form the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Citadella remains a symbol of oppression as well as liberty.

A massive structure 220 meters long, 60 meters wide, and 4 meters tall, the Citadella was occupied by the Austrians until 1897. Two years later, the locals, still angered by that symbol of foreign oppression started the demolition of the walls, however, most of the citadel structure still stands, and was subsequently used by both Nazis and Communists as a surveillance position, taking advantage of its amazing view over the city.

The Nazis used the Citadella mainly as an anti-aircraft position and bunker. Today it is possible to see how it looked back in those days thanks to the antique weapons near the exterior walls as well as wax figure dioramas depicting the life of Nazi soldiers in the compound. Once the Red Army advanced to the city and recovered the territory, the Citadella was used by the Communists as well. After the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the mounted weapons were pointed not to the skies but to the civilian population below.

The Communists also took advantage of the high position of the structure and decided to erect a monument that would remind the locals of the sacrifice made by the Eastern liberators who freed the city from the German invaders. The monument was originally planned to honor a certain Itsván Horthy, son of a founding father of the modern Hungarian state, but the Soviet commander appointed by Stalin to oversee the establishment of the regime, Marshall Kliment Voroshilov, decided to honor the Soviet army instead.

Once the monument was finished, it displayed four statues: A woman carrying a torch, representing progress; a man fighting a five-headed dragon symbolizing the struggle against the forces of evil (the Axis powers probably); a Red Army soldier, representing the liberators; and atop the monument, a 14-meter statue of a woman holding a palm leaf with both hands up to the sky, representing liberty. Once the Communist influence vanished after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the statue of the Red Army soldier was removed and taken to the Statue Park along with the remaining works of art honoring the invaders of an occupation that lasted four decades.

Nowadays the Citadella remains a popular tourist destination. It is a fascinating site where one can see all the wonders of a city that has been called the Paris of Central Europe, as well as explore its troubled history.

Know Before You Go

The Citadel can be reached by bus 27 from Móricz Zsigmond körtér. It is atop Gellert Hill.

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