To Buda And Ottoman Hungary Of A Past Era

Ottoman rulers did not pay much attention to Hungary, their far-flung province at the edge of a vast Empire - a Pasha or Governor representing the Sultan resided in Buda and came out only on special occasions

To Buda And Ottoman Hungary Of A Past Era

After a brief bus ride from my hotel in Pest, I got off on the Buda side of Budapest. The mighty Danube separates the city's two parts, and the bridge that joins Buda and Pest offers a picturesque view of the pleasure boats playing leisurely on the river below. My hotel in Pest was close to an exotic covered fruit-and-produce market built in the old Ottoman style, making it very convenient for hotel residents to buy fresh fruit.

At first glance, Buda did not look as lively or bustling with life as did Pest, since all the offices, national parliament, and places of interest are located on the Pest side of Budapest. I did not know much about Buda's history, but I was interested in exploring sites dating to Ottoman rule, which lasted 150 years from 1541 to 1699. At that time, central and southern parts of Hungary, with Buda as its capital, became part of the Ottoman Empire.

In Buda, I was aware of Gul Baba’s mausoleum, a pilgrimage site for Muslims and Hungarian Christians for many centuries. It is the northernmost shrine of a Muslim saint that is well-preserved and in use. The name Gul Baba, father of roses, is derived from the legend that he brought and introduced roses to Hungary. Gul Baba was a Sufi-Dervish belonging to the Bektas mystic order that thrived in the 13th century in Turkey, who came to Buda with the victorious armies of Sultan Suleiman, the Magnificent, presumably to preach Islam.

My first destination, therefore, was the Gul Baba mausoleum on a hilltop, offering a breathtaking view of the city and the river below. Much legend has grown around the life of Gul Baba. The 17th-century Ottoman traveller and writer Evliya Çelebi, who visited the Mausoleum in 1663, recorded that he died on 2 September 1541, immediately following the capture of Buda. Sultan Suleyman and Ebusauud Efendi, the revered Sheikh-ul-Islam, carried his coffin to his grave, testifying to the high esteem in which Gul Baba was held.

A steep cobblestone path, probably from Ottoman times, leads to the Mausoleum, surrounded by a beautiful, lush autumn rose garden. I found no crowd of visitors there, only a lone Turkish caretaker busily working on his computer and not too pleased with my interruption. Nevertheless, he came with me and unlocked the door to the hexagonal tomb with a crescent on top.

The interior was tastefully decorated with colourful rugs and hanging drapes, suffused with tranquil surroundings. I said Fateh and quietly left. Since my visit some years ago, “the Gül Baba Tomb Heritage Foundation was established in 2017 by the Hungarian State to preserve, operate, and use the Gül Baba Tomb and the surrounding garden to preserve unique cultural values.”

Throughout history, Hungary has suffered various periods of occupation and destruction by foreign powers. Victor Sebestyen, the prize-winning British author of Hungarian heritage, provides a fascinating account of its history in his recent book, Budapest: Portrait of City between East and West. The country has occupied a unique position at a crossroads between East and West. Until the First War, it was part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918).

The country faced an existential threat in 1241 when the Mongols invaded it, terrifying Europe. Known in the West as the Golden Hordes, the Mongols, under the leadership of Batu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, had overrun the Russian steppes and much of Eastern Europe. He then targeted Hungary, and when the terrified King called out for help from other European rulers, no one responded.

Ottoman Hungary served primarily as a garrison state to protect the Ottoman territories in the Balkans. Gradually, the Empire weakened, and its grip on its European possessions loosened

The feeble Hungarian army proved no match to the battle-hardened Mongols and was easily routed. Buda capitulated in a few hours and was put to the torch by the Mongols. As cited by Sebestyen in his book, a clergyman recorded in his journal, “After existing for 350 years, the kingdom of Hungary was annihilated by the Tartars.” The road to the continent of Europe was now wide open for the Mongol forces, with no credible resistance. However, a serendipitous event saved Europe and Western civilisation from devastation. News arrived from Karakorum, Mongolia, that the Great Khan Ogedei had died. The Mongol army and their leader, Batu Khan, hastily retreated, heading to their homeland where a bloody war of succession was underway.

Hungary faced a new threat when, in 1520, a new, energetic, young, and highly ambitious Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman, succeeded his father, Salim 1, in Constantinople. He coveted to conquer Vienna, the seat of the Habsburg Empire, but on the way, he decided to capture Hungary. Buda was the seat of the Hungarian Kings and was rich and wealthy. Its royal castle was famous for its precious articles and paintings. In his book, Sebestyen describes the castle; “the palace was a lavish masterpiece. Foreign diplomats waxed lyrical about its grand entrance, audience chambers, bronze statues, and extraordinary hanging gardens.” Its library, built over the years, was unequal at the time.

Suleiman's highly trained and well-equipped army decisively defeated the poorly trained and led Hungarian forces, with much loss of life on 29 August 1526, in what is known as the Battle of Mohacs. In Buda, as was the practice in those days, the Janissaries sacked and looted the city despite the Sultan’s best efforts to restrain them. Suleiman was stunned by the riches and opulence of the castle he found during his few days there. Many of the treasures were transported to Constantinople.

During the Ottoman rule and thereafter, the castle fell on hard times as It was built and destroyed several times. It is uncertain if the current palace building has any part of the original medieval building. A German scholar, Peter Lambeck, who visited Buda briefly in the early 17th century, was dismayed to find the palace decrepit, contrary to the glowing reports of its past he had read. Yet, when the current writer visited Buda Castle a few years back, extensive archaeological digs were in progress, and there was little evidence of its past glory. The building has been designated a world heritage site and houses the Hungarian National Gallery, museum and library.

The Ottoman rulers did not pay much attention to Hungary, their far-flung province at the edge of a vast Empire. A Pasha or Governor representing the Sultan resided in Buda and came out only on special occasions. According to a diplomat in 1580, the Pasha would head the prayer procession to the mosque on Fridays. “Hundreds of Janissaries led the train, followed by ordinary cavalrymen, followed by the Pasha himself, garbed in splendid, guided attire. No evidence exists that any Sultan visited Buda during the 150-year Turkish reign.” Coffee houses and Turkish baths are two delightful legacies that Turks left behind.

Ottoman Hungary served primarily as a garrison state to protect the Ottoman territories in the Balkans. Gradually, the Empire weakened, and its grip on its European possessions loosened. The last Governor of Buda, Abdurrahman Abdi Pasha, fell bravely, defending the city against Habsburg forces. A plaque installed where he fell says, "The last governor of the 145-year-long occupation of Buda fell at this place on 2 September 1686, when he was 70 years old. He was a heroic enemy. May he rest in peace.”