Budapest’s magnificent palace at Fővám Square was designed by Samu Pecz, representing a unique and breathtaking style that fascinates all its visitors. The Great Market Hall has been operating for 122 years with the same purpose – to provide fresh food and beverages to citizens. This year is the 25th anniversary of this special architectural treasure which has become an important tourist attraction as well.
In the 19th century, a new trend emerged in Europe – market halls were established where residents from urban areas could acquire the necessary groceries in one place. Emperor Napoleon can be considered the mastermind of this renewal.
In Budapest, the idea of building market halls cropped up at the end of the 19th century, by which several small markets could be replaced. Charles Kammermayer, chairman of the Public Services Committee, took the task so seriously that he made a study tour around Europe in order to observe other market halls of the continent.
The location of the hall was appointed in 1884 – this was the time when they decided to place the central hall to Fővám Square (formerly Sóház Square). This was followed by long debates about the appropriate location of the building, which came to an end in 1890.
Therefore, the public tender was published only in 1892, which received a total of nine entries. Despite the fact that the public wanted works from domestic designers, the contest became so international that – apart from Hungarian applicants – several Bulgarian, Czech, French, and German architects applied for the tender. After a long, multi-round evaluation, the jury selected the winner: Samu Pecz.
The construction started in June 1894, and in February 1897, the building was opened to customers. The hall had exceptional features – all important warehouses, freight stations, and the Danube bend were in its vicinity.
During the Second World War, the hall was severely damaged. Its reconstruction had to be realised urgently; therefore, stored materials were also utilised for the process.
After the war, the hall was transformed and “modernised” several times; however, these works had detrimental effects on the structure of the building, to such an extent that the situation became life-threatening by March 1991. As a result, the market hall was closed.
As pestbuda.hu describes, its renovation started in October 1991, which was preceded by a complete redesign of the hall. It had to be resolved how a monument building from the 19th century – located at a pedestrian-centric zone – could operate as a real market which can provide modern commercial goods under proper hygienic conditions.
The Great Market Hall in Budapest was described as such by Bojár András Iván (Népszabadság):
“This program is a combination of ancient and modern industries: the former Zsolnay pyrogranite cover elements are also replaced with Zsolnay products. The original iron structures are mainly preserved. A unique attraction of the reconstruction is the large modern refrigerator in the basement and the enlargement of the modernised delivery opening. For the realisation of these features, the structure of the building could not be moved.”
The investment – which cost EUR 11.7 million at that time – was obstructed by several factors. In the first period, the organisation of the work was quite chaotic – there was no tender for the renovation of the rooftop, which was followed by merchants’ protest and leaks few days prior to the inauguration. Fortunately, they managed to overcome all these difficulties, and on September 15th, the building was opened for the public.
The hall is still one of Budapest’s most popular tourist attractions; in 1999, its renovation was awarded by FIABCI Prix d’Excellence prize in the category of public buildings.