Turkish Baths in Budapest: Kiraly, Rac, Rudas Furdo

Turkish Baths in Budapest are inviting you to soak in the steaming water, relax and marvel at the mysteriously lit domes with half closed eyes. Just recall that engulfing feeling when you dissolve in your home tub after a tiring day.

Now multiply it with the strange radiation of medieval centuries and a sense of freedom holidays give you (plus the bigger bath and extras, of course). If you like relaxing in water, Budapest, the City of Spas is a must have on your travel list. Just remember, Turkish baths in Hungary are quite different from Turkish baths in Turkey: no people with buckets of water and bubble baths sitting on marble slabs, no harsh rubbing massages. Instead, the focus is on the water, and smoother massages.

Currently the only Turkish bath in Budapest that is also part of a spa hotel is Rac Bath, which still has not opened its gates, although the bath complex and the luxury hotel is ready to be used, completely finished, but losing millions each month due to legal issues. Until they sort out the legal mess, here is a list of Budapest spa hotels.

Turkish Baths in Budapest Kiraly Rudas Rac Csaszar Furdo

Most tourists will know the non-Turkish Szechenyi Baths and Gellert Baths, the two most popular & family-friendly spa baths in Budapest. In Szechenyi bath you don’t need to check if the bath is for men or for women only. But if you want to make your spa experience culturally spicy, and architecturally unique, try one of the few Turkish baths in Budapest, which were built in the 16th-17th century – and are still functioning.

Budapest Turkish Baths

In Budapest, you will find the following Turkish baths:

  • Rudas Furdo/ Rudas Bath built in 1550. Turkish name: Jesil direkli iligesi
  • Kiraly Furdo/ Kiraly Baths) built in 1565. Turkish name: Horoz kapi iligesi
  • Rác Furdo/ Rac Bath built in the 16th century on the previously flourishing bath used by Hungarian kings (King Matthias accessed the bath from his palace through a direct corridor). It is to re-open in about 2009 (coming complete with a luxurious hotel & a deep garage, plus expanded with an elevator to the Citadel). Turkish name: Debagghane/ Kücük iligesi
  • Csaszar Furdo/ Emperor Spa Bath, now known as Veli Bej Bath after its Turkish equivalent built in the 16th century. It’s the odd one out as the bath is closed for the general public (is owned by the Order of Hospitallers). The spa bath is originally from the Roman times. It was one of the most lavishly built baths, directly connected with corridors to the monastery of dervishes. Turkish name: Veli bej iliges

Not all existing baths were used by the Ottoman Turks as Turkish baths: most notably, Lukács Spa Bath was used “to produce gunpowder and for grinding wheat.” Although Lukács bath was founded in the 12th century by the Knights of St. John.

See Budapest Spa Baths (including the Turkish baths) in the Budapest Tourist Map (blue wave sign):


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But let’s have a look at the history of Turkish baths in Budapest, Hungary.

Why are there Turkish Baths in Hungary at all?

No, not out of free will or economic consideration, nor out of fad like in Victorian England. The truth is that Hungary did not want to have Turkish baths at all – especially not in the 16th century, when the ‘Muslim Turkish meant a great threat to the Christian Europe’. But as the Hungarian armies led by King Louis II were defeated by the Turks led by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in a very decisive battle at Mohács in 1526, the Ottoman Turkish took over (the remainder of) Hungary. (I mean remainder as the previous Hungarian Kingdom was divided into 3 big chunks, one for the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy, one for Sultan Suleiman and one for the autonomous princes of Transylvania).

During the 150 years of Ottoman Turkish rule (from 1526 to 1699), more and more Turkish people (janissary, dervish, pasha, etc.) settled down in Hungary, so more and more Turkish baths were needed as part of the everyday social and religious life. Some of the Turkish baths were built on former baths built by the Romans (mixing the steam-based Turkish with the water-based Roman style), while others were made from scratch. The Turks have built at least 40 spa baths (or hamam) on the medicinal water springs they have found in Hungary. In his Seyahatname (Book of Travels), Evliya Çelebi Turkish traveler mentions 70 baths of 42 places, but as far as we know today, his work is to taken with a pinch of salt.

Building Turkish Baths was an excellent financial investment for the Turkish aristocracy as there was a steadily growing market demand for hygienic Turkish baths in the 1550’s. In addition, building a bath was a good deed that increased the believer’s chances to get a good final judgment. Over time, not only Turkish but many other (Christian and Jewish) residents frequented these baths. Hungarian historians don’t fail to point out that Hungary benefited from the Turkish occupation through taking over its widespread bathing culture, and in fact learning everyday hygienics, which was not very well observed in Europe in the middle ages. But it’s equally important to point out that it was not the Ottoman Turks who brought baths as a novelty in the conquered Hungarian kingdom: the first findings of baths go back to the Celtics, then to the Roman Emperor Claudius (relief saying “aquae calidae superiores et inferiores” i.e. “better and worse warm waters”), then to the 12th century, etc.

According to Katalin Kéri Dr., “men, women and children filled the baths of the Islamic empire in those centuries when in the medieval Europe little care was paid to personal hygiene.” Ritual bathing, at least once a week, also meant that the world made by Allah is taken care of, including your own body, beauty and health. Beauty and health reflected the creator’s perfection. And as everything is related, the Ottoman Turkish placed special emphasis on the individual responsibility for preserving one’s own health. The number of baths was an indicator of the richness of a city. But these numbers were many times exaggerated (e.g. Baghdad in the 9-10th century was said to have had between 60,000 and 200,000 Turkish baths…).

The most entrepreneurial Turkish bath-builder was the Bosnian Sokollu Mehmet Pasha who alone had 16 Turkish baths built in Hungary. The beautiful baths in Buda bear the Turkish architectural features: the central dome studded with small eyelet windows, niches with fountains, etc. After the Turkish rule of 150 years, most steam baths (e.g. in Siklós, Pécs, Szeged, Tata, etc.) were turned into churches, schools, saltpeter-makers, and so on. In contrast, several thermal baths remained functional as baths for many many years.

Fast forward to the 21st century: four of the Turkish baths were well preserved, and in the last couple of years considerable investments have been made to reconstruct and even expand them.

Turkish travelogues as sources

Besides architectural features, historical Ottoman administrative documents, and Christian travelogues (e.g. the Tzech Vratislav Vencel or Auer Ferdinand from Bratislava) researchers have used several old travelogues written by Turkish travelers: e.g.

Menázir’l-aválim made by Âşık Mehmet bin Háfiz Ömer er-rúmí (?-1598),
Tergüme-i Coğrafya-ı Kebîr made by Ebu Bekir bin Behram ed-Dimiscinec (?-1690/1691)
manuscript of Süleymâniye Kütüphânesi
Seyahatname (Book of Travels) made by Evliya Çelebi
The biography of Sokollu Mustafa made by anonymous author in 1591 in Buda

Sources: (in Hungarian) Terebess: The history of Turkish baths in Hungary

Hungary the Land of Spas and Budapest the City of Spas

Visiting Budapest can not be complete without visiting one of the Budapest baths. There are thermal baths, open air spa baths, lidos and pools in big green parks all over the city. How come?

Gellert Bath

Gellert Bath – Joe Mabel Photography

Why is Budapest the City of Spas?

Hungary is full of wonderful spas, thermal waters, and both Budapest and the countryside (e.g. Zalakaros, Hévíz) can boast about superb thermal baths (at truly affordable prices). Little wonder that in 1937 Budapest officially became the City of Spas at the first World Federation of Hydrotherapy and Climatotherapy, for short FEMTEC conference held in Budapest with the participation of 37 countries.

Even the first president of the World Federation of Hydrotherapy was a Hungarian man (József Ferenc) Unfortunately, during the communist era, spa baths were very hard to be accessed for western travelers daring through the iron curtain. But since 1989, Hungary has been open to everybody who wishes to relax in its thermal baths, and huge investments are being made into the versatile utilization of geothermal energies.

As the old Roman proverb says:

“Balnea, vina, Venus corrumpunt corpora sana,
Corpora sana dabunt balnea, vina, Venus.”

“Baths, wine and love spoils healthy bodies;
but baths, wine and love make up healthy bodies.”

(this ancient Roman proverb was well-known in the Turkish ruled Hungarian city of Eger in the in the Middle Ages, according to chronicles)

Last time, I have written about Szechenyi Furdo, Budapest, probably the most frequented by tourists due to its charm, location, architecture, treatments, etc. This time I will give a short overview of Hungarian spa baths.

How many spa baths are there in Hungary?

Currently there are about 140 registered thermal baths in Hungary, out of which about 10 spa baths are located in Budapest (Csepel Bath and Lido, Dagaly Bath and Lido, Dandar Bath and Lido, Gellert Baths, Kiraly Baths, Lukacs Baths, Paskal Lido and Baths, Palatinus LidoRac Bath, Rudas Bath, Szechenyi Baths, Ujpest Bath) – some are using the same thermal springs. However, according to estimates (sources differ widely), there are about 1300 thermal springs in Hungary (620 wells) – many of which are not simply mineral waters containing magnesium or calcium, etc., but they are proven medicinal waters with various healing properties.

You can see some of the spa baths in Budapest in this nice video:

Why are there so many spa baths in Hungary?

First the Romans, then the Turks have discovered that the area where Hungary is now located is abundant with warm or hot healing waters – some are muddier, others are cleaner, some are good for your legs, arms and joints, others for your lungs, kidney, stomach, etc. Spa waters were recognized by their heat and smell, and soldiers, dervishes, pashas, etc. liked this special luxury – not just for religious but for medical reasons too. But why are there so many of these healing waters? The answer is geothermal energy, i.e. the energy given by the heat of the Earth. This heat preserved in the inner parts of the planet, under the crust, gets to the surface more easily in Hungary as the crust under the country has become thinner over the thousands of years. So much thinner that the average geothermal heat coming from beneath is twice of the European average. Hungary has several geothermal reservoirs, hot springs, more readily available, well before geothermal drilling became a practice. You can find thermal waters under 80% of the Hungarian territory. No wonder, 2008 has been announced as the Year of Waters by the Hungarian Tourism Co.

What are Hungarian spa waters good for?

Of course, over the last 1000-1500 years in the Carpathian basin, people who inhabited these regions have got to know what these waters are best used for to preserve your health. Treating locomotor diseases, stomach complaints are the most typical, but some of the water springs are recommended for gynaecological problems, skin diseases, etc. As thermal waters are not black or white magic, you may wish to check with your doctor if spa baths are recommended for you or not (usually they are not suggested for chronic high-blood pressure, anaemia, during pregnancy, right after heart attacks, etc.).

Remains of the old Spa Culture

Excavations have revealed Celtic and Roman ruins of bath houses, mosaics, remains of frescoes, which show that the Romans used the available spa water resources for heating and bathing alike. Aquincum (literally: Water-city) a military city also inhabited by wine-growers, tradesmen, etc. had bath houses, palaces, amphitheatres, aqueducts, sewers, and it is the most well-known aquacultural memento of the Roman times in Hungary. Originally it served as a border city to protect the outermost territories of the Roman empire. See its location on this reconstructed map (red letter in the upper right part):

Aquincum map in the Roman times now located in Budapest Óbuda

Here’s a photo of the mosaics of the Roman bath (made by khoogheem)

Aquincum Budapest Museum the Roman bath house mosaics

Turkish occupation, Turkish Baths

During the Ottoman Turkish occupation (from 1526 to 1699), the Turks have built at least 40 spa baths (or hamam) on the medicinal water springs they have found in Hungary. It was an excellent financial investment – not just today but already in the 16th century. Turkish architectural features (impressive dome, small windows, niches with fountains, etc.) were well preserved, and in the last couple of years considerable investments have been made to reconstruct the beautiful and mysteriously lit Turkish baths. Alas, only a handful of them are operational these days. In Budapest, you will find Rudas Gyógyfürdő (Rudas Spa Bath from the 1550s), Rác Gyógyfürdő (Rác Spa Bath – formerly known in King Matthias time as the Royal Spa – under construction!), Király Fürdő (Király Spa Bath – built in 1565), as well as the historical Császár Fürdő (Csaszar Spa Bath). In the countryside, you can visit the Turkish Bath in Eger (built in 1610-17), or the Turkish Bath (now only functioning as a Bath Museum) in Pécs.

This is a photo of Rudas Fürdő (Rudas Turkish Bath)

Rudas Fürdő Turkish Spa Bath in Budapest

and a picture of Király Fürdő (Király Turkish Bath)

Király Fürdő Turkish Spa Bath in Budapest

Searching For Oil, Finding Water

In the course of the 18-19th century, there were several attempts made to find oil in Hungary, the liquid gold to make profits everyone was hoping for, which often resulted in finding good quality thermal medicinal waters. Hungarians enjoyed them tremendously, but it took many decades to recognize that the thermal baths and geo thermal energies are the golden mines of Hungary. Not only in Budapest, but all over the country of Hungary new spa and medicinal baths were built, e.g. in Zalakaros, Hajdúszoboszló, Sárvár, Hévíz. Needless to say, the most visited thermal bath houses are in Budapest, so if you take a visit in the Hungarian capital, do not miss the “Baths Budapest” item on the itinerary.

Budapest: Vaci Utca the Shopping Street

Váci utca (say Vaatsy ootsaa), which is not to be confused with Váci út (Váci Road) has been a pedestrian only, shopping street for decades. It is well worth taking a leisurely stroll along the street, where one end runs into Vörösmarty tér, the elegant square where Café Gerbeaud is located, while the other end of the street leads you to the Central Market Hall in Fővám tér.

Suggested Tours:

Start in Café Gerbeaud (you may try the Hungarian cake called Dobos), walk through Vörösmarty square (Mihály Vörösmarty, after whom the square was named has his marble statue in the middle of the square). It takes about 20 minutes to walk through Váci street flanked by many 19th century residential and commercial buildings, banks, trendy and classic boutiques, souvenir and antique shops, bars, etc. (interestingly enough, restaurants in Váci utca are not really highlighted in guest or professional reviews). Peep into side streets. Cross to the other side of Váci street (after the white bridge, Elisabeth Bridge). Do some shopping in the Central Market Hall (closed on Sundays, end closes early on Saturdays).

See Vaci utca indicated with a blue line.


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Art Gallery Tour

Buying arts and crafts: zoom in on the map by double clicking, check the purple balloons for art galleries, antique shops. You may find the following places of interest in Váci utca:

  • Auction House, City Center (Belvárosi Aukciósház). Address: Váci utca 36. Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10am – 6 pm, Sat-Sun 10am- 4pm
  • Arten Galéria/Arten Gallery fine art studio (mostly Hungarian contemporary art works). Address: Váci utca 25. Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10am – 6:30 pm, Sat 10am- 6pm
  • Abigeil Galéria/ Abigeil Gallery (auctions, exhibitions). Address: Váci utca 19-21.
  • Sziget Galéria/ Sziget Gallery (exhibitions, sales from 19th to 21st century art). Address: Váci utca 63.

Have a look at this video on Váci utca made by Tamás Kulcsár and a Hungarian girl, Gyöngyi:

During the communist era, Vaci utca was The Shopping Street with luxury boutiques tagged with unavailable prices for most Hungarians (even the Hungarian version of the board game Capitaly had Vaci street as one of the most expensive lots to buy). These days, real high-end boutiques are not only in Váci utca, they are either scattered or in malls too, or simply not represented in Budapest. Is the street touristy? Sure, it is, but you will still enjoy its beauty, the chic boutiques, the good cafés with terraces to people-watch, etc. When looking at the prices, keep in mind that VAT is included in the price, so what you see is what you pay. Opening hours for non-food stores are generally from 10 am to 6 pm or even up to 8-9 pm (especially in malls).


History of Váci street

The story of Váci utca goes back to the Romans (“what have the Romans ever done for us? The aqueduct?”). They have built Contra Aquincum in the 3rd century, which was opposite – surprise, surprise – Aquincum on the other side of the river. As the River Danube was strategically quite good for the then Roman ruled Pannonia, they needed fortresses, baths, places for the soldiers, etc.Later on the ruins of these fortresses were used by the Magyars who conquered the area and settled down in the 9-10th century after years of wandering, nonstop horse-riding and backward shooting with their fierce arrows. Chief Árpád brought Muslim tradesmen and Bulgarian plus Slav ferrymen in this area who co-habited with the local Hungarian ad Slav agricultural workers. Between 1218 and 1225 German craftsmen and tradesmen arrived, and then Jewish settlers, so the developing Pest was a real melting pot. The Germans reused the good stones of the former fortresses to build their houses and the Pest side had only weak wooden walls.No wonder the whole city got ruined by the armies of Batu Khan in 1241, who had spies reporting him about the weakness of the settlement. Alas, the winter weather also liked Batu Khan, the grandson of Ghengis Khan, as the frozen river let the armies cross from the Pest side to the Buda side, and not only flatten the buildings of Buda (todays’ Old Buda or Óbuda), but go on to proceed to today’s Austria, Dalmatia and Italy. Luckily for the rest of the Europe, Batu Khan had to go back home for a big CEO meeting after the old khan died and the grandsons had to discuss who is going to be the heir.

In the middle ages, Váci street was called Big or Main street in the 15th century trading city, which had 3 gates to let people in and out through the thick protective walls (they learned from the 1241-42 spectacular defeat from Batu Khan).

Then came the Turks in the 16th century, and decided to love this city and linger on for another 150 years. Most of the city dwellings were in ruins after the long siege, and wooden houses, minarets, Turkish baths sprang up. The street had a Turkish name (Big or Nagy Mahalle), and the hygienics of the middle ages (many dead animals left rotting along the Mahalle). By this time, Turkish tax registries show that most of the settlers were Hungarians of Christian religion and the two major minorities were Germans and Jewish.

1686 was the next turning point that said goodbye to the Turks under the leadership of the Habsburg emperor Leopold I. The city started to rebuild and re-flourish. Again, many peoples found their homes here, including Greeks, Macedons, Armenians, Serbians, Slovakians and of course Germans who got the plots from the Emperor for a few ‘cents’. Most of the settlers, besides Hungarians, are Germans. The Nagy Mahalle (today’s Váci street) is named after the victorious emperor as Leopoldgasse. The city gets back its privileges as a free royal city, which hastens its dynamic growth into a modern commercial and cultural centre.

So much so that Váci utca becomes a fashionable walking street for civic residents to show off new clothes, to gossip, tp fall in and out of love, to talk about serious political issues, etc. And to window-shop, of course! So elegant boutiques concentrate their business efforts in the street already in the 19th century. The tower guard cries the hours every hour and the Svab German milk-women as well as other tradesmen sell loud their produce all day long. The water of the river Danube is sold for drinking, which today is hardly suitable for even bathing.

In 1838, a big-big flood washes away many things, animals and people, while ten years later the firy spirit of the Hungarian revolution upsets peaceful promenading in the street. After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise in 1867, when Hungary is given some freedom, both the Pest and the Buda side gains even more impetus for development, and the two sides join in 1873, giving birth to Buda-Pest, i.e. Budapest.

The two world wars, needless to say, bring about a long sad and ruinous break, followed by another ruinous communist era when the shopping street was turned into just a plain street with offices, stores and state-owned shops with uniform products. In 1964, Váci utca becomes a pedestrian only zone, and the gradually softening goulash communism slowly lets back elegant boutiques – after all, the wives of prominent communist leaders also like shopping western quality things.

Some of the historical buildings in Váci utca

No. 9 Pest Theater today, and one time inn, where 11-year-old Ferenc Liszt gave a concert.
No. 11 The facade is covered in Zsolnay ceramic tiles.
No. 39 Three reliefs show that the Zsolnay’s had an office, apartment and store here (1, a man making pottery, 2, a poet 3, the five-tower porcelain factory emblem).
No. 42If you watch hard, you will see owl statuettes at the balconies – once the house of a famous Hungarian doctor (Frigyes Korányi). The facade is covered in Zsolnay pyro-granite ceramic tiles. Pyrogranite was developed by Vilmos Zsolnay, the greatest Hungarian potter achieving international appreciation for his porcelain, eosin and pyro-granite products.

Sources (Hungarian): BP Archiv and Világjáró Magazin.

Parties at Rudas Spa Bath in Budapest in 2008: CineTrip Again!

After the great New Year’s Day party at Rudas Spa Bath, the party series continue:

“hosting musicians and DJs to re-musicalize old, mostly silent films, the unique atmosphere of Cinetrip parties that have been organized in the Rudas Baths since 1998 will be revived from December 2007 with the support of all the visual spectacles and perceptional experience that the technology of the 21st century can offer. … it will be even more special this year: as Cinetrip celebrates its 10th birthday!”(from Spas Budapest).

Here’s a user made (elroyhun) video at one of the Cinetrip parties at Rudas Spa Bath to give you an idea if Rudas Cinetrip parties are for you or not:

Phone: 00-36-20-20-20-202.
Map:

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Additional party dates in 2008 are

  • 15 January
  • 09 February
  • 08 March
  • 12 April

Check out Rudas Furdo (Rudas Spa Bath) special night parties in the Ottoman – modern atmosphere and be prepared for the dazzling audiovisual effects with VJs, DJs, and many young guys and girls.