“Let’s meet under the clock!” Budapest residents probably know without any doubt which clock in Budapest this invitation refers to. The cultic clock of the former Moszkva, now Széll Kálmán Square has seen a lot and has several stories to recall and tell. Just like the square itself.
Széll Kálmán Square is one of the city’s busiest transport interchanges served by a Metro line 2 station and several tram and bus lines. It can be considered the centre of Buda. Buses head for the popular hiking destinations of the Buda hills from here, so this square has always been a popular meeting place for those going on outings. Buda Castle is easily accessible from here, either on foot or by bus. The square was given its name after a former Hungarian Prime Minister, Kálmán Széll in 1929. Following the Soviet occupation and the Communist takeover in the country, the square was renamed to Moszkva in 1951 under the Rákosi regime. After the fall of the Communist regime in Hungary, it was debated whether it should be renamed again to the original Széll Kálmán, but the name remained until 2011 when the City Council of Budapest restored the original name of the square.
But old habits die hard. Even if the name of the square has been changed, quite a lot of people in Budapest still call it Moszkva Square and refer to it with a little bit of nostalgia as if it were part of an era long gone by.
The square had existed in quite a rundown state for a long while. Reconstruction and renovation work started in January 2015 and was finished in May 2016 resulting in a completely renewed, modern and elegant design and outcome. Though some of the old elements of the square are reflected in the new design the square has a brand new look. The metro building has been converted into a glass-walled structure, but the fan-shaped roof of it has been preserved in its original form. Moreover, now it can be seen from the inside of the building as well, as the old and not very attractive false ceiling has been dismantled. Inside the metro building a so-called Gömböc (Orb), was built, housing the traffic office and a store. The Gömböc is a Hungarian engineering invention, it is the first known homogeneous body which has two balance points. The bus and tram termini have also been renovated, and the square is now accessible for cyclists on the newly built bike road. 182 trees and more than 700 square metres of grass, bushes and flowers have been planted. The new surface of the square is natural stone, which displays the movement paths. They are illuminated at night by LED light strips. The routing across the square is clearer and also offers disabled access. Five so-called totem poles provide information for pedestrians. The bus stops in the streets above the square can now be reached by escalators and lifts.
The constructors and designers of the renovated square were aware of the fact that some of the iconic features of the old square would have been sadly missed had they been completely removed or replaced. Such as the old clock in the middle of the square. There were plans to put the old clock back to its original place, but the construction of it was so rusty and in such a poor shape that it couldn’t be saved. So a new clock was designed by Anna Baróthy (S’39 Hybrid Design Manufacture ) instead. The new clock is a six-metre high column with a triangular base. It is made from visible concrete and commemorates the old design with a print of the legendary clock on its side. A digital LED clock shows the hours and the minutes, while the seconds are shown by a hand around the column. The old clock will be part of an exhibition about the history of Moszkva Square in Kiscelli Museum.
Although the function of the square is to let passengers change the transportation lines and pass through the square as fast as possible, there are some new and modern benches and seats to invite them to stop and relax for a few minutes.
And if you’re attentive enough and you’ve got an eye for details the square will surprise you with many well-hidden and sometimes funny gems. Looking around you’ll find an umbrella and a purse lying about, a skateboard next to a wall, snails and sparrows on the side of the flowerbeds providing playful and good to look at features in a place where people usually rush through in a hurry. Of course they aren’t real objects but sculptures, but they can easily be mistaken for real ones if you don’t take a closer look.
The fountain called “Sellő’” had been part of the square for 35 years before it was disassembled, renovated and cleaned, and now it is back at the square in its former glory.
Széll Kálmán Square, with a lot of stories to tell about the past, is also part of the present and is looking forward to witnessing new stories, meeting new people.
Go and take a look, discover what a renewed old square has to offer.
Photo Credits: Benedek Bognár, Fortepan