On Saturday, June 21, Hungary celebrated the Night at the Museums. Once again, this country proved that it knows how to organize a festival.
More than 320 museums, galleries, and other sites participated across the country—over 100 in Budapest alone. A 1,500 HUF ticket (that’s about US$6.60) provided access to all participating museums from 6:00 pm until 2:30 am. Many museums even offered special programs, such as concerts. To help everyone get around, special bus lines were created, and the ticket covered this transportation.
My first stop was the Museum of the Applied Arts, offering contemporary and historical applied works of art and a close up view of Hungarian architect Ödön Lechner’s spectacular work. I was able to take pictures of items that were hundreds of years old, but a guard promptly stopped me when I tried to take a picture of some propaganda posters on display.
From there, I headed to the Buda side. The line for the Hospital in the Rock was incredibly long, so I ventured to the Labyrinth instead. The Labyrinth is a complex of caves underneath the Buda castle district that were used throughout thousands of years for water, storage, hiding, and more.
Although not shared on the website, at the entrance and in one section of the caves, there are signs telling the story of a famous prisoner held in the caves. Vlad the Impaler, better known as Count Dracula, was supposedly held in captivity by Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus. You must venture off the circular path of the Labyrinth to learn more of the story.
In one section of the Labyrinth, there are no lights whatsoever. Thank goodness there were a number of people around me, or else it would have been creepy. The only guiding lights came from the brief flashes of smart phone screens.
My next stop in the castle district was the Museum of Music History, a small but charming museum. There were even some instruments you could touch and play, including a clavichord, cimbalom, and zither.
After this, I ventured back to Pest, and the House of Terror. There was a line, but it wasn’t very long, so I waited. The House of Terror not only tells the story about Hungary during WWII and the Holocaust, but also about the days of Communist rule. It also serves as a memorial to the victims of the Nazi and Communist regimes. The building was the headquarters for the Nazi-backed Arrow Cross Party and the Soviet-backed secret police. Some of the spaces have been preserved as they were during the Communist times, including the director’s office and the basement level prison.
Overall, the exhibits are well organized and dramatic. I think some of the impact was lost on me due to the sheer number of people sharing the exhibit space with me. But highlights, if you can call them that, are the real military tank in the atrium and the prisoners’ cells.
I finished with the two museums on Heroes’ Square: the Hall of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts. The Hall of Art is a gorgeous building outside, but really just an open space inside for rotating exhibits. There was an architecture exhibition on display, which was not particularly interesting to me, until I found a few wineries featured. Some bands played, so I sat and listened for a bit before moving on.
The Museum of Fine Arts was a bit disappointing as well. I definitely enjoyed the Egyptian exhibit, including the mummified alligator. I never found any Impressionist art, which I enjoy and thought was in the museum. One gallery was closed, which may have held those works. Otherwise, the majority of the paintings were portraits, which aren’t my favorite. Plus, the museum wasn’t staying open until 2:30 am, so I didn’t have a lot of time to view everything.
Overall, it was a fantastic evening. I explored museums I may have never visited and learned a lot more about Hungarian history and culture. Night at the Museums: 1,500 HUF. Overall experience: priceless.