The city of Budapest was founded in 1873 by the unification of three smaller ones: Buda, Pest and Obuda. 20% of Hungary’s population currently resides in the capital, and their customs have been influenced by other nations over many centuries. The written history of the area extends as far back as 35BC, when it was under the leadership of the Romans. In 1526, the Turks invaded Hungary and beat their army at the battle of Mohacs. This was the beginning of 150 years of Turkish rule in the country, and their influence on the culture in Budapest can be seen throughout the city.
One of the things that the Turks introduced to Hungary was coffee, and by the early 1900s cafes had become a big part of the city’s social scene. There were over 500 coffee houses and the majority of the population would meet here to socialise, and update each other on current affairs. Artists and writers had reserved tables, where they could spend most of the day working in the warm environment. Owners would provide them with stationery essentials so that they would remain as long as possible, as their presence was welcoming for other customers.
In 1948, communist party leaders decided that this environment was too friendly and closed down many coffee houses in the city, in order to keep the citizens in line. In recent years, many of them have been revived in an effort to restore the city’s early 20th century café culture. A few have even managed to retain their original elegance and charm, in spite of years of being locked up. The most famous of them, Gerbeaud, is a recurring scene in my thriller, THE SEX TOURIST.
Budapest has 123 thermal springs that bring over 70 million litres of water to the surface daily, making the city very hot. The water is used for both its relaxation and medicinal properties at its four Turkish baths, which date back to the 16th century. All the buildings have a similar structure with a large, warm central pool, surrounded by smaller hot and cold plunge ones. In addition each bath has a steam room and a sauna. The bathing halls are all domed, in the original Turkish structure, and create the perfect combination of beautiful architecture and history. The Turkish baths that can still be found in the city are:
1. The Rudas – This bath has 6 pools of varying temperatures, and offers a unique after dark experience by staying open later on Friday and Saturday nights.
2. The Kiraly – Males and females bathe together in these 4 pools during the day.
3. The Veli Bej Spa – This is the oldest and biggest Turkish bath in Budapest and it was recently completely renovated, but still retains much of its original style.
4. The Racz Bath – A thermal hotel was built beside this bath, giving its visitors the opportunity to relax completely after their bathing experience.
Budapest continues to embrace its own unique cultures, as well as embody the diversity that it has received from others in the past. This makes the city an interesting place for anyone to visit, and the tourists continue to flood it daily.