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Renovation of a Jewish Cemetery: The forgotten necropolis of Budapest

Part 2 Project 2014
Sarolta Hüttl
Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary
The cemetery is hidden behind the venerable municipal Kerepesi Cemetery that functions as a national pantheon. Both the Jewish and the Christian cemetery were built in the second half of the nineteenth century, “belle époque” of Budapest, and that of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The cemetery of Salgótarjáni utca was the burial place of an assimilated and wealthy Jewish community that played a prominent role in the European economic and cultural life of the period. The most influental and notable members of that community were burried here.

The entrance buildings and many of the graves were built by Béla Lajta, a highly talented architect of the early twentieth century, one of the pioneers of early modernism in Hungary. The works of Lajta and many other gravestones are part of the Hungarian National Heritage, however until today no initiatives have been made for their protection. The cemetery was closed in the 1950s and has been completely abandoned ever since. The dividing line between nature, vegetation and the grave is almost unrecognizable.

My project focuses on the entrance area, which consists of a romantic style gateway building, a mortuary hall and an irregularly shaped court in between them. The gateway building has remained in fine conditions and is still in use today, but only four walls have remained of the once dignified and beautiful mortuary hall. Most of the graves are badly damaged, often as a result of vanadlism or because of the rampant greenery. The heavily populated, majestic graveyard is filled with unidentifiable, broken stone pieces that are often blocking pathways or even endangering the visitors.

The main objective of the architectural intervention is to save the monuments, to make the cemetery accessible and to create spaces for understanding its historical and cultural importance in a country where the traces of the Jewish past have largely been erased by history. My intention was not to reestablish an ideal past, but to preserve the heritage and complete it according to the needs of today and true to a contemporary interpretation.

Sarolta Hüttl


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