Bigger Better Budapest
When Line 1 opened, in 1896, the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s second city was in its Belle Époque glory days, complete with opulent cafés, immaculately shaved gentlemen, and parasol-toting young ladies given to hysteria. The new subway typified the prosperity of Europe’s fastest-growing city. Secession-style entrances of wrought iron led down to stations lined with glazed mosaic tiles. The electric-powered cars were clad in polished wood. “Exceedingly handsome,” wrote a correspondent for a London railroad review. “More like the saloon of a yacht than a tram car.” The two-mile line and its 11 stations took only 20 months to construct. Christened as the Millennium Underground Railway, the system opened in time for a massive celebration announcing the city on the Danube as a hypermodern metropolis of fin de siècle Europe. The original trains were replaced in the 1970s with vaguely antiqued modern cars, but Line 1, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, remains fully functional, a nostalgic thread connecting many of the city’s most lavish imperial sights.