Facelift for Budapest's famous baths

After years, sometimes decades of neglect, Budapest's historic thermal baths are in different stages of renovation to restore crumbling and rotting infrastructure to their heyday state.

The city's 50-odd baths are a major tourist magnet for Budapest, also known as the "world spa capital" - ranging from 500-year-old Turkish pools with intricate mozaic patterns and high domes supported by massive pillars left by the former Ottoman occupiers to more modern Art Nouveau spa complexes.

But the state of the facilities is as varied as their styles, and much of the work done so far has involved cosmetic or emergency fixes as a shortage of funds hampers the constant battle against the baths' complete disintegration.

No mason since the 1950s has set foot in the state-owned Kiraly spa - one of the oldest and grandest in Budapest, built in 1565.

The result is crumbling mortar, rusty pipes and an overspilling Turkish pool below a dome dotted with tiny circular windows each with its own trail of black rot.

"It is ripe for renovation," but work will start at the earliest in two years' time, Laszlo Miko, an architect involved in planning the reconstruction, told AFP, citing bureaucratic authorisation processes.

No funding source has yet been identified for Kiraly's facelift.

A few bus stops away at another state-owned spa - the Rudas, built between 1571 and 1572 by a local Ottoman leader, the pasha of Buda - the facade is also crumbling, revealing at least three layers of different paint.

But the interior is state-of-the-art after a massive upgrade in 2005-06, to be followed by an exterior spruce-up shortly.

Renovation is also underway at many other beautiful spas in the city, including the Ottoman-era Lukacs baths.

At the ancient Racz Turkish bath, 75-percent privately owned, a makeover was recently completed by private entrepreneurs.

Some of Budapest's baths are in private hands, some are the property of the municipality and yet others of the state.

Local government financing taps were closed five years ago by the then-leadership of Budapest, but a new municipality last year approved a one-off 710-million-forint (2.5-million-euro, $3.6-million) injection for the general management of the baths, as well as restoration work.

This represented 0.03 percent of the city's overall expenses for 2010.

With state money in short supply in tough economic times, 80 percent of the Rudas renovation, which cost nearly 500 million forints (1.8 million euros, $2.6 million), was funded by the European Union, according to Gyorgy Kozak, development director of Budapest Healing Baths and Hot Springs Ltd.

The spa company, which is municipality-owned and operates 13 baths and open-air pools in the city, including some of its more elegant ones, plans to apply for more EU funding for its other facilities as well.

Not that the baths' clientele, almost equally composed of tourists and locals, seems to care much about the dereliction.

On a recent morning, as Kiraly filled with visitors from Italy, Holland and France eager to experience Hungary's famous thermal waters, no one seemed to mind the decaying walls, the leaking windows and rattling showers.

"This is such authentic, beautiful architecture," said a student from Lausanne, Switzerland, relaxing in the 40-degree water of a small pool under the great dome.

More than simply carrying out urgently needed renovations, bath owners now also want to expand their appeal.

Indeed, with the exception of a few, the baths bleed money with running costs far exceeding ticket income.

"Stand-alone baths are generally loss-making everywhere in the world and are in many places subsidised," Kozak pointed out.

The Gellert, on the other hand, a sumptuously renovated Art Nouveau bath complex that includes a hotel - an amenity most other Budapest baths lack - is one of four spas in the city that actually make money.

By building adjacent accommodation, owners thus hope their baths can attract visitors seeking longer treatments, rather than city-hopping tourists on a short visit, said Kozak.

"If guests could walk from their rooms to the baths in slippers, they would stay for medical treatments lasting for weeks instead of the one-off visits during a long weekend," added Szilvia Czinege, BGYH's marketing chief.

Budapest boasts over a hundred thermal springs, feeding its host of spas with some 70 million litres of certified medicinal waters daily.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

    £26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future