Gresham Palace is one of the top Budapest attractions situated right next to the river Danube and the Chain Bridge, its hotel windows overlooking the sunrises and sunsets, river cruises of Budapest with her UNESCO World Heritage sites. Read about the history of the building of the Gresham Palace, which had functioned as an upscale company headquarters or a Communist apartment block before it became the best hotel in Budapest as a Four Seasons Hotel property in Hungary. Read
Key Facts about Gresham Palace
Built from 1904 to 1906
Style: Art Nouveau
Designer: Zsigmond Quittner
First Owner: British Gresham Company
Communist Regime: used as an apartment block
Hotel: 4 Seasons Hotel since 2004
History of Gresham Palace, Budapest
In the post war era, for many decades the now top notch Gresham Palace was neglected, derelict – during the socialist regime there was neither money nor intention to restore Gresham Palace to its former beauty (similarly to the nearby Pesti Vigado Concert Hall).
As Frommer’s guide writes “Originally built as the Gresham Life Assurance Company in 1906, it awed the world even then with the craftsmanship provided by the most acclaimed craftsmen of the time.
Nearly destroyed by World War II and subsequent vandalism, it was restored over 5 years using and matching every single piece of remaining item of decor to bring it back to its original glory, even returning to the original manufacturers when possible. The doors reopened on June 18, 2004.”
The palace is now owned by the Four Seasons Hotel chain, which has one of its best hotels and best value hotels in Budapest, Hungary.
We can agree that no expense was spared to reconstruct the Art Nouveau beauty by the river Danube. You will see the world famous Zsolnay tiles (which also cover the roofs of the Matthias Church and the Museum of Applied Arts). The wrought iron Peacock gate (Páva kapu) in the huge lobby is a signature Art Deco piece.
The site of Gresham Palace was formerly occupied by the Nako Palace, a neo-classical building built in the 1830s in the same style as the Chain Bridge.
Then, as Budapest was growing economically towards the end of the 19th century (you can’t help but notice that most attractions in Budapest were built by 1896, the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian state), the London-based Gresham Life Assurance Company bought the invaluable property by the river Danube.
However, at that time, in the 1880’s, it was against the regulations to invest money in stocks, so a legal gateway solution was to put the money in estates: e.g. rental income was typically a good investment. Later on, the new owner, the British Gresham company chose the palace as the venue of its foreign HQ, and, accordingly, made the building bigger and more grandiose.
The local architect Zsigmond Quittner and the Vago brothers were to design the new structure. The Gresham Palace was swiftly completed by 1907 (in about 2-3 years).
However, right from the start, Gresham Palace was not merely an office building but the home of rich aristocrats from the UK, who were somehow related to the Gresham company.
The Gresham Cafe in the Gresham Palace was a much frequented cafe of the ‘Gresham circle’, a group of Hungarian painters in the 1920’s (like Aurel Bernath, Jozsef Egry, Istvan Szonyi, Odon Marffy, Pal Patzay) whose works you will very likely see in the streets of Budapest, and in the famous buildings, and galleries, like the National Gallery in the Buda Castle on the Castle Hill. But then the Great Depression came and the severe worldwide financial crisis made the English Gresham company move out of Hungary once and for all.
In the stormy days of the Budapest siege in World War II, the residents were less fancy Soviet soldiers. Believe it or not, this beautiful Art Nouveau building was used as an apartment building during the socialist regime in Hungary. OK, there were some shops and offices too, but the building was totally neglected.
In 1989, with the change of regime (when the silent revolution gave way to the new democratic Hungary and the Soviet soldiers were reminded that it was really time to go home), there were new winds of the market competition and capitalist economy: Gresham was sold, exuberantly restored, and has been since one of the top romantic hotels in Europe. A true luxurious hotel with the best views in Budapest, one of the most elegant staircases, wonderful Art Deco ironwork (see the Peacock gate), stained glass panes, delicate mosaics, and more.
Criticism of Art Nouveau
While today Art Nouveau is considered to be one of the most beautiful art style, at the time of the construction of Gresham Palace, many people considered the Art Nouveau (or as the Hungarians call it ‘Secession’) buildings ugly and untrue.
There were many critics who found the contrast between the classicist Chain Bridge with its simple lines, and the then newly built curvy architecture of the Gresham Palace unacceptable and inferior. Gresham was said to be too decorative, too wavy, too unbalanced.
Just imagine, from the 1830’s to the 1880’s, the iconic Chain Bridge was facing another neo-classical building, the Nako Palace, built during the 1830’s on the commission of a wealthy Greek trading family by Jozsef Hild – the most famous Hungarian architect of neo-classicism. And then suddenly came the British investor and simply ruined one of the important element of the neo-classical architectural landscape… Ironically enough, now Gresham Palace is the pearl of the Danube Promenade – and you can find hardly any Hungarians who would criticise the architectural inconsistency of the Gresham and the Chain Bridge. Life grows organically and so do tastes apparently.