For some reason, Budapest didn’t really appeal very much to me. It was almost too grand and didn’t have the character I expected it to (probably a case of too high expectations). However, there were one or two highlights to appeal to a quirky traveller and the Hospital in the Rock was one of them.
The underground medical establishment/nuclear bunker came into being in 1939 as a military hospital secreted well away from air raids. The caves the Hospital in the Rock Budapest are housed in are a series of natural hydrothermal structures under the castle area of Buda, brought together by connecting passages and corridors. The caves themselves were rooms within the hospital.
It was designed to hold 60 but over Christmas 1944 and the Siege of Budapest, it held 600 patients. It must have been bedlam. Bandages were taken from dead bodies and re-used on the living, water was cut off by Russian bombings and as a result the rate of infection was sky-high.
Our guide told us that after the war, it was put to use by the Russian communists – as a top secret nuclear bunker and hospital. For 40 years it was kept from prying eyes: fuel was pumped underground disguised as water for the castle’s gardens, for instance.
We were told that injured Hungarian citizens would be brought into the caves should nuclear attack occur. I was more than a tad sceptical of this – surely it would be the Soviet Apparatchiks who would be ushered beneath the ground? However, perhaps something was lost in translation as the tour was run in Hungarian and English (taking turns between the two.)
We heard how one man and his wife had kept the hospital running during that time: he maintained the power and ventilation systems, and she changed the bed linen once every two weeks throughout those 40 years.
Tours around this underground hospital take place every hour on the hour. Simply turn up at the door, unless you’re a group of 15+ when you should email in advance. It can be found by walking down the street that leads directly down from the front entrance of Matthias Church, to a set of steps down to the foot of the castle wall. Walk to your right and you’ll come across the entrance.
This off the beaten path tour lasts around an hour in total and is well worth seeing for the insight into a particular and important period of Hungarian history.
Address: Sziklakórház Múzeum, H-1012, Budapest, Lovas, ut 4/c
Tours every hour on the hour. Open 10am – 8pm Mon to Fri.
Buses 16, 16A or 116.
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