Located towards the outbound end of Andrassy Avenue and next to the City Park, Heroes’ Square is one of the major squares, as well as a place of interest in Budapest, the Capital City of Hungary. However, locally known as Hősök tere, the square is famous for its iconic Millennium Monument, decorated with statues featuring the Seven Chieftains or tribal chiefs of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders, mostly created by sculptor Zala György from Lendava. Apart from the Memorial Stone of Heroes, often erroneously referred to as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the square also hosts Szépművészeti Múzeum or the Museum of Fine Arts and Műcsarnok Kunsthalle or the Palace of Art. On the other side, there are two buildings, which stand facing the square. While one of them is residential, the other is the Embassy of Serbia, the former Yugoslavian embassy, where Imre Nagy, the leader of the Hungarian Revolution against the Soviet-backed government, secured sanctuary in 1956, but was later executed in June 1958.
Originally, the site of the Millennium Monument was occupied by the Gloriette Well, an artesian well in Budapest, designed by Hungarian architect Miklós Ybl, equipped with a 74 feet (around 24 m) high rod for the national flag. However, during the late 1890s, an imposing monument was designed to take its place to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin and the foundation of the Hungarian State in 896, as a part of a much larger construction project, which also included the expansion and refurbishing of Andrássy Avenue, along with the construction of the first metro line in Budapest.
Accordingly, the Gloriette Well was relocated to Széchenyi Hill and the construction of the Millennium Monument began in 1896. While the construction of the monument was mostly completed in 1900, the four allegoric sculptures were added in 1906, along with the completion of the surrounding museums on either side and the square was inaugurated in the same year.
The Memorial Stone of Heroes, located in front of the Millennium Monument, is a large stone cenotaph surrounded by an ornamental iron chain, originally erected in 1929 and dedicated to the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of the people and the national independence. Unfortunately, it was removed in 1951, during the communist rule, as its message was not acceptable to the authority, but the current one was built on the same spot in 1956, surrounded by a fence and prohibited from public entry. Although the Memorial Stone of Heroes is often referred to as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, there is no such tomb in Hungary, like many other European countries.
Located just behind the cenotaph is a 118 feet (36 m) tall column topped by a statue of the archangel Gabriel, holding the Holy Crown of St Stephen or Istvan, the first king of Hungary, in his right hand and a two barred apostolic cross, a symbol awarded to St Stephen by the Pope in recognition of his efforts to convert Hungary to Christianity, also known as the double cross or the apostolic double cross, in his left hand. The base of the column is decorated with a group of seven mounted figures representing the tribal chiefs of the Magyars, beginning with Árpád, considered the founder of the Hungarian nation, in the front, followed by Előd, Ond, Kond, Tas, Huba, and Töhötöm or Tétény. However, the figures with their costumes seemed more fanciful than historical.
The column stands at the centre of two matched colonnades, each housing seven statues representing great figures of Hungarian history. While the outer edge of the left colonnade is topped by a statue of a man with a scythe and a woman sowing seed, representing Labour and Wealth, in the corresponding position on the right colonnade is a statue of a man holding a small golden statue and a woman with a palm frond representing Knowledge and Glory. The inner top edge of the left colonnade is occupied by the statue of a male figure driving a chariot using a snake as the whip representing War, while on the right colonnade there is a female figure in a chariot holding a palm frond representing Peace.
Interestingly, Hungary was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when the monument was originally constructed and the last five spaces for statues on the left of the colonnade were reserved for members of the ruling Habsburg dynasty, namely Ferdinand I, Leopold I, Charles III, Maria Theresa and Franz Joseph. However, after World War II, when the damaged monument was reconstructed, the Habsburg statues were replaced.
During the period from 1948 to 1989, when Hungary was under communist rule, Heroes’ Square was used by the rulers as a meeting place for forced gatherings. However, when the People’s Republic of Hungary was abolished after the fall of the communist bloc in Europe, 250,000 Hungarians gathered on Heroes’ Square on 16 June 1989, to attend the funeral of Imre Nagy, more than 30 years after he was executed in 1958.
Enlisted in UNESCO World Heritage Site, Heroes’ Square is regarded as one of the landmarks and an attractive spot in Budapest, the capital and most populous city of Hungary.