Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Arrow and the Star

Yesterday we went to Castle Hill on the Buda side of Budapest. We retraced our steps from the prior day, down Andrassy to the Chain Bridge and across to the Buda side. We then took the funicular up to the top. There is a metro system as well as many trams in Budapest, but thus far we have walked everywhere, usually logging ten miles a day.

Castle Hill was once the seat of Hungarian royalty and is home to the Royal Palace. My interest in the area was in a small synagogue that dates back to medieval times. The ruins of two 15th century synagogues were discovered in 1960. One remains under an apartment building and has never been fully excavated. This was the Great Synagogue from the mid 1500s until 1686. There is an amusing story that the synagogue was also where a prison was kept for any Jew who committed a crime or failed to pay taxes. The prison also served as a place to store taxes and valuables. In 1521 a criminal who was held in the synagogue escaped with the gold and silver objects that had also been stored in the prison cell.

The small synagogue which has been excavated is a few doors down from the site of the Great Synagogue. It is a small room with images on the wall that date back to the 16th or 17th century. One image is a Star of David, the other an arrow. What is unusual about the Star of David is that in the early 16th century it was not yet viewed as a significant Jewish symbol. Around the star is the Birkat haCohanim which translates as “The Lord bless you and protect you. The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you. The Lord bestow his favor upon you and grant you peace.” 

Next to Star of David is an upward pointing arrow and a bow. The inscription translates to “The bows of the mighty are broken, and the faltering are girded with strength”. The arrow, an unusual symbol for a synagogue, is believed to represent the constant threat under which the Jewish community lived. The fear of war as represented by the arrow was aligned with the Star of David and a prayer for peace.

After finding the synagogue we explored the Castle Hill streets until the skies opened up in a torrent of rain, a frequent occurrence during our time in Budapest. We ran to the Hungarian National Gallery to explore the artwork and get out of the rain. We were pleasantly surprised by the Hungarian artwork, especially the sculpture. There were many talented artists who received little recognition outside of Hungary.

Today we rounded out our art explorations with a visit to the Kogart Museum which had a show of Marffy Odon, a Hungarian artist. Lunch in its art-filled dining room contributed to a pleasing experience. We then walked down Andrassy Avenue to the City Park which houses a castle, a zoo, several museums and one of the thermal baths within Budapest. After exploring the park we ended our day with a visit to the Fine Art Museum which was a truly amazing place with an extensive collection of Dutch, Italian and Spanish art as well as an Egyptian exhibit. And of course one more torrent of rain to end our day.

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