Funicular on Gellért Hill
The construction of a funicular railway on Gellért Hill was a dream for a century and a half. It was an obvious idea: the hill located in the middle of the city is an excellent vantage point with valuable green areas on top of the hill, but it is of limited use due to the steepness of the roads leading up to the top. The efforts to construct a funicular here were usually combined with grand scale plans to convert the entire Gellért Hill into a national memorial site. Therefore, it was a transport development project whose primary motive has never been transportation itself.
The idea of a steam-powered funicular railway scaling the hill was first put forth in 1873 when Ödön Széchenyi – dusting off his fathers’ earlier ideas – made a proposal for turning Gellért Hill into a memorial monument.
The designs of architect Ferenc Novák came closest to being realised – the construction based on his drawings was about to commence in 1896. According to the continuously changing ideas, the funicular – intended to be driven sometimes by electricity, other times by hydro-power – was to whisk passengers up from Döbrentei Street to the top of the hill along a picturesque route complete with three artificial ruins in only three minutes’ times. By the early 20th century, the plans had already been developed for a funicular railway to be constructed on the slope facing Saint Gellért Square.
One common element of the discarded ideas of the Dualist period was that all of them were promoted by businesses; neither the state, nor the Budapest municipality wished to spend money on the construction of a furnicular. That was primarily why the form of transport – which was considered necessary by all – eventually was not completed after all. In some cases, the plans were disrupted by disputes between the government and the municipality.
The next time the idea of a funicular was seriously considered was in relation to the international tourism and spa expo scheduled for 1928. Many were concerned about the vegetation of the hill and its overall appearance, but again, the primary reason the plans did not materialise was due to a lack of funds. The idea was brought up again after a long intermission, in 1996, in connection to the refurbishment of the Rác Spa. Plans were given a new momentum in the 2020s, yet momentarily, the time of its implementation remains uncertain.
“The funicular on Gellért Hill has been being designed for nine years now but the negotiations were always hindered by the authorities’ power games. Both the government and the Budapest municipality are trying to enforce their power interests and in these skirmishes it is usually the company that suffers.”
The daily Budapesti Hírlap’s assessment of the situation in 1898
(Above) Plans of the millennial exhibition intended to be staged on Gellért Hill, proposed by Sándor Straub and Gyula Kolbenheyer in 1892 An electric railway was designed to take visitors up to the hilltop from the Rudas Spa.
(1) In 1967, Út-, Vasúttervező Vállalat (Road and Railway Planning Company) designed a cable railway line for passengers up Gellért Hill. The project was to provide easier access to the tourist hotel and restaurant in the Citadel. Of the two completed designs, the one with small cabins was to carry passengers from the Tabán, while the other featuring large cabins, would have carried people over the Danube from the Pest side, to the top of the hill.
(2) Cross section of the cable railway track and the architectural drawings of its upper station designed, by Ferenc Novák, 1897
(3) Cross section of the cable railway track and the architectural drawings of its upper station designed, by Ferenc Novák, 1897
(4) The current visual design of the Gellért Hill funicular; an observation terrace was to be established at the upper station.
(5) János Ruppenthal’s idea from 1895, considered unrealistic even by his contemporaries; a sloping steel bridge between the two river banks, with a gas motor driven funicular on top.