Our first full day in Budapest, after our bespoke tour in a vintage Trabant with BudaPassion, we headed to Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum to learn more about the modern history of Hungary.
Learn about the riveting and often terrifying history of mid-century Hungary
Our tour guide was engaging and well-spoken, thoroughly explaining the riveting and often terrifying history of the facility and ruefully admitting that photography is not allowed within the tour. Given that it became a top-secret facility during the Communist Era, and was opened to the world only in 2008, I guess it isn’t that surprising, though the ban on photos was disappointing.
First we learned that this naturally occurring cave system was discovered sometime during the Middle Ages and used extensively by residents of Buda. By the outbreak of World War II, the area now known as the Castle District held almost all the governmental offices. At that point, the Hungarian government authorized work to enlarge and prepare the cave system to provide refuge in case of air attack.
First an air alarm system room was designed, and the air raid sirens were controlled from that room from 1937 until the end of the war. Shortly after the creation of the air raid siren room, the Minister of War teamed up with the Mayor of Budapest to authorize a first-aid facility in the same cave system. Construction commenced in 1941, with several wards comprising 94 patient beds and one operating theatre being crafted within the cave system. The hospital opened early in 1944, and was in full use from the time the Americans started aerial bombardment to the end of the Siege of Budapest in 1945.
Working under difficult conditions, medical professionals became heroes
We saw the tiny kitchen, which was only usable as a reheating and serving area, with food being prepared at the larger, above-ground parent hospital, St. John’s Hospital. This caused severe logistical issues during the bombardment and siege, as did the severe overcrowding and the lack of sterilization ability. The nurses and doctors worked super-heroically to save as many civilians and military lives as they could, and the eight Jewish doctors working there were given military uniforms so they could work safely – a sad comment on the times.
After the end of the war, the facility was used by a private company to produce typhus vaccine for not only Hungary, but also Yugoslavia, then the facility was once again pressed into service as a hospital during Hungary’s student-led and tragically failed 1956 revolution. Then between 1958-1962 it was converted to a nuclear bunker. The facility was classified top-secret until this century, and a caretaker family was responsible for keeping it in livable condition, in case of need.
The end of the tour was an exhibit about all the nuclear disasters and bomb damage, as well as a plea for disarmament. Learning about the horror and concern by people all over the world expressed over nuclear weaponry and super-power bellicosity really opened our eyes to our country’s position in world politics.
It is definitely worth a visit when you adventure to Budapest. And contact us to book your trip today!
The Skinny: Hospital in the Rock, 1012 Budapest, Lovas ut 4/c, Ph: 36 70 7 01 01 01 Open: Every day, 10am – 8pm closed 1 Nov, 24/25/31 Dec, 1 Jan, pre-booked Hungarian language-only tours on 15 Mar, 20 Aug, 23 Oct); Tickets: Adult: 4000 Hungarian forint (HUF); 6-25/62-70: 2000 Hungarian forint (HUF), other pricing schemes available.
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