The haunting beauty of the deep labyrinth of Buda

Mysterious Labyrinth of Buda: Enigmatic Ancient Caves beneath Palace Suddenly and Inexplicably Evacuated by Police

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Deep under the imposing stone walls of a 13 th century palace, the Labyrinth of Buda contains, in its twisting paths and pitch-black corridors, the dark history of the ancient castle district of Budapest. Here, the skeletons of the dead reveal violent deeds, but in more recent times the caverns have been open to the public, showcasing their haunting beauty. Suddenly, in 2011 police raided the labyrinth and locked the doors for reasons unexplained.  What prompted this strange closure? What was being hidden beneath the streets of Budapest?

Arpadian vaults with the baptismal font - Labyrinth of Buda Castle.

Arpadian vaults with the baptismal font - Labyrinth of Buda Castle. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Dark History of the Caves

The complex of underground caves and passages were carved out of solid rock by rushing thermal waters long before prehistoric man used them as shelter and hunting more than half a million years ago.  Archaeological evidence of 350,000-years-old stone tools belonging to Homo erectus were reportedly located in the caves.

The passages and chambers stretch out over 1200 meters (4000 feet) and are nearly 16 meters (53 feet) beneath the ancient castle district of what is now Budapest, the largest city in Hungary. So historic and unique are the caves that they were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 as an outstanding urban landscape. The caves have been a part of the history of mankind and the culture of Budapest since prehistory, and have seen many changes over the eons. 

Prehistoric-style art decorates the walls of the labyrinth.

Prehistoric-style art decorates the walls of the labyrinth. CC BY-SA 3.0

This was the site of the ancient Roman city of Aquincum, settled right between Buda on the right bank of the Danube River, and Pest on the left bank. Pest was an important economic center, but was devastated in 1241 with the Mongol invasion of Hungary. It was rebuilt once again, and in the following years the formidable castle of Buda was built by King Bela IV above the ancient chambers.

The incredible, sprawling Buda Castle in Budapest, on the Danube River.

The incredible, sprawling Buda Castle in Budapest, on the Danube River. CC BY 2.0

Early residents used the caves as food storage and for water supply. The deep tunnels were also refuge in times of war or fires, and were used for hundreds of years by people of Buda Castle. They were eventually forgotten in time.

The winding caves were rediscovered and investigated in the 1930s with city development, and bones were discovered, leading to an exhibition of artifacts and remains. Cellars were opened up, and a winding, maze-like path was revealed.

The mournful “Lost Horseman” carving deep within the chambers of the labyrinth.

The mournful “Lost Horseman” carving deep within the chambers of the labyrinth. CC BY-SA 3.0

Haunted Halls

It’s easy to believe the worst legends of the subterranean labyrinth, as the damp, dimly-lit stone walls and bones of the dead harken back to violent times.

Evidence of a Turkish Harem was found at a cave entrance, and it is reported that several female skeletons were found in the depths of the tunnels, dating back to the Ottoman occupation. It is believed they were tragic victims, thrown down a well as the Turks were forced out of the castle.

The labyrinth served as a prison, and a torture chamber, and one of the more chilling stories involves the notorious Vlad Tepes—Vlad the Impaler, later popularized as “Dracula”.

It is said that Vlad Tepes, the Voivod of Wallachia, was betrayed by his ally, the Hungarian King Matthias. Local legend has it Vlad was imprisoned and left to rot in the dark bowels under the Castle of Buda around 1462. How many years he languished is not known, but it is suspected he was brutally tortured, for when he was released he had morphed into the man who became infamous for his heinous acts of torture, murder, cruelty, and his specialty—impaling countless victims on spikes.

Legend also has it Vlad Tepes is buried in the cold, stone floor of the caves, and a tomb now marks the spot.

Doorway to the “Inner Circle” marked with the symbol of labyrinth and flanked by grim heads.

Doorway to the “Inner Circle” marked with the symbol of labyrinth and flanked by grim heads. CC BY-SA 3.0

Further legends speak of the Turks burying their treasures in the labyrinth, tax collectors from the Middle Ages hiding their wealth in and around the palace and in the tunnels and wells, but none has been uncovered as yet.

The Axis of the World Shrine in the Labyrinth of Buda Castle.

The Axis of the World Shrine in the Labyrinth of Buda Castle. CC BY-SA 3.0

Strange figures, ancient art, symbols, wells and fountains, and stone humanoids greet visitors to the mysterious labyrinth, invoking the very ancient history of the caves.

Comments

If one is intrested in the caves of Budapest, there is a film about it: Cities of the Underworld: City of Caves

Also I suggest to visit Sziklakórház (Hospital in the Rock). Currently it is open as a museum.

This article is definitely interesting. I looked up this site on google maps and noticed that it's right next to a Roman Catholic Church. I wonder if part of the labyrinth lies underneath the church, or is connected to it in some way?

There are lots of caves under the hill. They used to be connected, but later they were separated by walls. When I was there 8 years ago, the guide didn’t tell about any connection between the cave and church.

But there is a chapel in a cave within Gellért Hill which is connected to other caves with thermal water.

I was in this place few months ago. It is a incredible place to know about the local history.

lizleafloor's picture

Thanks for the comment! That’s really interesting Michael – perhaps you can tell us more about it. It’s such an intriguing place, but there’s not a lot of firsthand information about the site.

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