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Tourism & Must-seeTradition & History

The “lions” of Budapest

The Chain Bridge and Castle Garden entrances are guarded by lions, but there are also countless statues, buildings and tombs featuring the king of the jungle across Budapest.

Thousands of years ago, the habitat of lions ranged from southern Europe through to India. Lions became a symbol of power during ancient times, and this great symbology extends through to this very day. 

Seeing as the mane of the males resembled the sun’s rays, lions were once associated with the image of fire and gold (partly because summer is the hottest in Europe during the lion’s zodiac sign “Leo”, from the last week of July through to the third week of August).

In early medieval times, in Christian iconography, the lion became an attribute of Mark the Evangelist, and later on, often appeared in temple decorations as a symbol of (Saint) Mark; and many ancient paintings also depict the evangelist with a lion.

A lion may indicate someone’s status as a ruler and often appear on coats of arms. Today, the animal reflects power, dominance and strength, which is why Budapest still has many of them dotted throughout the city.

Lions often function as guard animals, just like in Corvin Square, above a gate, where two lions hold Jesus’s heart and their task is to keep away evil forces. We can also find lions at Fisherman’s Bastion guarding the statute of St. Stephen, and lion head knockers at Döbrentei Square.

According to the legend, after the completed Chain Bridge was handed over, rumors spread that the lions guarding the bridge had no tongue and the sculptor killed himself in shame. The truth is that the sculptor was not ashamed at all, and even allegedly made jokes about the gossip.

The lion at the Przemysl Castle monument commemorating Hungarians who died during the First World War is a symbol of bravery, heroism, and fortune. And the statutes of the king of the animals in front of Parliament symbolizes the same thing.

The ancient Greeks decorated the graves of their dead on the battlefield with a lion to protect the soul from evil spirits and the living from the shadows of the dead. Perhaps this is why we can find the animal in Kerepesi cemetery. The mausoleum of Count Lajos Batthyány, the first Hungarian Prime Minister, is guarded by lions.

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