- 13 Jun 2023 6:50 AM
In the latest in our series revealing the backstories to some of Budapest’s best-loved attractions, we pay a visit to the Garden of Philosophers, one of the city’s more recently unveiled landmarks.
What is Garden of Philosophers?
Set on a pretty incline of Gellért Hill overlooking the Danube, Garden of Philosophers comprises the five figures sculptor Nándor Wagner considered essential for human beings to begin to understand each other: Abraham, Jesus, Buddha, Laozi and Akhenate.
They make a ring around a circle, with Mahatma Gandhi, Buddhist monk Bodhidharma and Saint Francis of Assisi behind them.
The Garden of Philosophers was created “for people to better understand each other,” as the carving on the rock says as you enter. The group is meant to represent the keystones of universal human teaching, and should spread peace and harmony as you sit here in quiet contemplation.
Along with Jesus Christ, Buddha, Abraham and Ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher Laozi, the quintet is completed by Akhenaten, an Egyptian pharaoh who changed his name from Amenhotep IV to move Egypt away from a religion centred on a sun god.
The figures line a sunken pool and each focuses on a small globe, said to represent divine essence.
Good to know
The only figure not standing in the circle is Abraham, founding father of Judaism, who is crouching, with his head in his hands – apparently he always hid his face when God spoke to him.
Who created the Garden of Philosophers and when?
Hungarian sculptor Nándor Wagner was little known in his homeland when he created these figures over several decades. The artist was one of the hundreds of thousands of Magyars who fled the country after the failed Uprising of 1956. After being taken in by Sweden, he married his Japanese wife, the artist Chiyo Akiyama, then both moved to Japan.
Wagner unveiled the first statue, Laozi, in 1977, then the others during the 1980s, in his adopted homeland of Japan.
After the sculptor died in 1997, his wish that his work should be given to Budapest – no idle gesture, considering he would have put his life in danger to escape his native city – was carried out.
The grand opening came in October 2001, a month after the terrorist attacks of 11 September, as good a time as any to promote global understanding.
Where in Budapest is the Garden of Philosophers ?
It can be found between Orom utca and Hegyalja út, in attractive greenery behind the Rudas Baths. Nearby are the Gellért and former Rácz Baths, and the healing waters here beneath Gellért Hill are also meant to symbolic, giving a feeling of purification.
As Wagner himself gave no indication as to where the location should be for his statues, it was down to architect István Makk to choose the most suitable spot. The sculptor had been a good friend of Makk’s uncle and they probably met in 1948. In 1995, Makk went out to Japan to reconnect with Wagner shortly before his death.
Makk has described the placing of the Garden of Philosophers as ‘a message beyond the grave’.
What else should I know?
Close to the sculptures stands another, of Prince Buda and Princess Pest, two silver figures with hands outstretched towards each other, the gap between them said to represent the city.
The Hungarian capital was unified in 1873 – until then, Buda and Pest were separate towns.
To sum up, why visit Garden of Philosophers?
An unusual sculpture with a universal meaning behind it, in a pretty location with Budapest spread out before you, the Garden of Philosophy is both a wonderful excuse for a healthy stroll up Gellért Hill and a laudable attempt on the part of the artist to promote global understanding.
Words by Peterjon Cresswell for Xpatloop.com
Peterjon has been researching the byways of Budapest for 30 years, extending his expertise across Europe to produce guidebooks for Time Out and his own website liberoguide.com