Discover the still intact landmarks of the Ottoman era in Budapest – right in the heart of the Hungarian capital!
Almost 500 years after the end of the Ottoman occupation, Budapest still has plenty of sights reminiscent of the era. Apart from Turkish baths, there are a couple of landmarks that are less-known but are definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in taking a trip down memory lane to discover a piece of Budapest’s fascinating history.
After decades of fighting the Ottomans, 1526 marked a significant and sad moment in Hungarian history: the battle of Mohács crushed the defenders, allowing Ottoman forces to press deep into Hungarian territory. Shortly after, in 1541, the castle of Buda, and with that, the capital itself, was lost and the era of Ottoman Hungary began. For the following 150 years, most of modern-day Hungary was occupied – even though the Ottoman rulers did practice religious tolerance, ethnic Hungarian population dwindled, with many migrating to the surrounding Christian countries. It was a turbulent period in Hungarian history, but the positive effects of the Ottoman occupation are undeniable: with numerous landmarks dotted around the capital to this day, you can visit most of these places in a single day.
Gül Baba (Father of Roses in Turkish), a renowned dervish close to Suleiman I, was one of the many nobles who were there during the occupation of the castle of Buda in 1541. Upon his death, a closed tomb was erected upon a hill, which, to this day, is called Rózsadomb (or Rose Hill).
The tomb itself became an important pilgrimage site for Muslims – despite the reoccupation of Buda in 1686 and being transformed into a Catholic chapel, most of the building and its surroundings were unchanged and undisturbed. Fast forward to 2018: thanks to a bilateral agreement between the Hungarian and the Turkish governments, the tomb received a major facelift, with a complex cultural center, a café, and a gorgeous garden added to the already impressive structure of the octagonal building.
Get off tram line 4-6 at Margit híd, budai hídfő. From there, it’s a 10-minute stroll – but beware, it’s a pretty steep climb if you approach it from the east side. Alternatively, you can access the tomb from the west if you’re arriving by car.
If you can’t spell Budapest without mentioning baths, then you most probably can’t spell baths without mentioning Ottoman-built thermal spas. Throughout Hungary, these baths can be found in mint condition everywhere: from Pécs to Eger, there’s at least one thermal spa that was built around an Ottoman bath as a basis.
As for the capital, there are two that you can visit: Rudas bath and Veli Bej. Rudas offers an incomparable view from its rooftop pools: nestled right between Gellért Hill and the bank of Danube, visitors can chill in the Ottoman-built pools while marveling at the most iconic buildings of the capital. Veli Bej isn’t as fancy as Rudas, but thanks to its healing waters, it’s been a popular spot for Europeans through centuries. If you’d like a more quiet but equally refreshing spa experience, Veli Bej is the Turkish bath you’re looking for. We’ve also written extensively about each bath – find our piece on Rudas here and on Veli Bej here.
Thanks to the efforts of the Hungarian and Turkish governments, the preservation of Ottoman-era landmarks is just one part of the picture. In 2013, the Yunus Emre Cultural Institute opened its gates in Budapest with the goal of popularizing Turkish culture, customs, and the language itself. With temporary exhibits, courses, and various cultural events, you can learn about the Ottoman heritage as well as present-day Turkish values. Check out their page here to get the latest programs while you’re in town.
The institute is located pretty close to Oktogon: just get off Metro line 1 or Tram 4-6, and you’ll get to the entrance in 5 minutes on foot. Alternatively, you can also rent a scooter to cruise to the location.
While a lot of landmarks have survived for centuries and are still standing today, a few were not so lucky. During the Ottoman era, the Castle of Buda blew up twice as it was used as an ammunition storage, devastating most of the palace and the majority of the buildings, leaving nothing but a smoking pile of rubble behind. If you’re strolling through the Castle District nowadays, every single building and most of the walls were rebuilt over the span of almost a century, starting in 1686.
- How long did the Ottoman rule last in Budapest?
- It lasted for almost 150 years.
- What are some of the main Ottoman attractions in Budapest?
- The tomb of Gül Baba, and the baths of Rudas and Veli Bej are the most well-known ones.
- Is Turkish culture popular in Budapest?
- Thanks to the Yunus Emre Cultural Institute, Turkish culture has been popularized in the past couple of years.