(First published on We Love Budapest, 21 November 2014)
It’s easy to walk from the Chain Bridge toward Buda and not pay much attention to the Castle Hill Tunnel that comes off Clark Ádám Square. While at night we can see it glowing orange and we might even notice that its stonework fits with the design of the Chain Bridge, we probably wouldn’t notice that the tunnel wall is flanked on both sides with windows. And behind those windows are offices and apartments, which for decades were homes.
Homes in the Castle Hill Tunnel
The tunnel itself was designed by Clark Ádám and opened in 1857. For much of the 20th century the lodgings built into its side provided the perfect location for the bridge’s caretaker to live and work. Incredibly, the current caretaker - whose responsibility has been both the Chain Bridge and the tunnel since 2004 - himself grew up in the tunnel. This was because his father was the Chain Bridge’s “bridge master” for the forty years before him.
Indeed one of Fazekas János' first memories is of looking out of the floor-to-ceiling windows onto the world-famous Chain Bridge. Although life took him elsewhere as an adult, when he took over his dad's important role as "bridge master" in 2004 he returned to his childhood home in the tunnel. The service apartment has three bedrooms, a kitchen and even a little garden on the side of the Buda Hill. There's also a maintenance workshop where small parts of the bridge can be repaired if necessary. Unfortunately by 2007, János was forced to move out again because water damage and other significant maintenance issues made the home unliveable.
Most people would think that it’s too noisy and polluted to be a home but while there are sure signs of the pollution on the walls and windows it isn't that noisy. In fact, it's no more noisy than any other inner-city apartment. Of course, initially the traffic going through the tunnel was of the horse-and-cart variety so even the balcony on the inside of the tunnel would have been able to be used. Nowadays with tens of thousands of cars passing through the tunnel each day it would be impossible to sit and enjoy these small terraces, delightful as they are. And while the homes are uninhabited János still uses the ground-floor office space for work each day.
All in the family
For Fazekas János taking care of Budapest’s iconic bridges runs in the family - this year marks 50 years that he and his father have been taking care of the Chain Bridge. For 40 years (from 1964 to 2004) his dad was the caretaker and for the past 10 years János has been the chief carer. Not only that, János’ uncle, Fazekas Imre, is the caretaker of the Margaret Bridgeand Árpád Bridge – so together this family takes care of all of Budapest’s northern bridges. If these three bridges weren’t already enough of a family affair, János was also the bridge master of the Liberty Bridge between 1985 and 1990. And even his grandfather was in this trade - he was the previous bridge master of the Margaret Bridge.
According to János the job demands reliability and having an understanding of the technical elements of the bridge. But above all it’s important to not be afraid of heights because part of the role is to scale the highest points of the bridge and even to walk along its chain structure. János jokes that he’s paid to walk along the Chain Bridge. But it’s no joke – many times a day he walks the entire length of the bridge making sure traffic is running smoothly, that the structure is safe, and that any graffiti or damage is repaired. His job is unique in that he is also responsible for the 350 metre long tunnel - primarily making sure that the ventilation system is working well.
Plans for redevelopment
Until 1919 a toll was charged to use the tunnel and two large stone structures stood on Clark Ádám Square as collection points for the tolls (these can be seen in the images below). But time has itself taken a toll on both the tunnel and the Chain Bridge and there are plans for renovations that would start in 2015 and could take a number of years to complete. We recently wrote about the completed redevelopment of Clark Ádám Square itself. It's hoped that during these upcoming works, the tunnel offices and apartments would also be made useable once more. With vivid memories of playing soccer at the foot of the bridge and of having one of the best views in the city, Fazekas János hopes that within a few years he'll be able to return to the tunnel home of his childhood.