The undeservedly forgotten inn once frequented by noblemen ‘riding in four-horse carriages’, the famous Two Lions Inn (Két Oroszlán fogadó), is located in today’s Kálvin Square. The square is the successor of the historical Széna marketplace, considered an intersection in all respects, which two centuries ago still belonged to the outskirts on the Pest side of the Danube. The square had lots of famous hotels, infamous pubs and notable restaurants, but the Two Lions Inn has always stood out from them.
Since the 18th century, the Two Lions Inn had welcomed merchants coming through the Kecskemét Gate from the Great Hungarian Plain to trade at the Pest market. Although the inn built close to the market still bears witness to the early period of catering, today’s Kálvin Square has lost its special historical charm amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life in the city. Although it might seem to be ordinary at first sight, the Two Lions Inn has an extraordinary history.
The multi-functional inn is one of the oldest buildings in Kálvin Square, a witness to many different eras and events. Among others, the Two Lions Inn served as a place of quarantine during the plague, but it also operated as a stable and even as a coffee house for quite some time—a book could be filled with all the stories that happened within its walls.
In its heyday, the inn’s famously good wine and entertaining music inspired many poets and noblemen, too. In 1931, Mihály Pásztor, a Hungarian journalist, recalled those happy times in an article in Magyar Hírlap:
‘The horse keepers of Pest, the local gentlemen riding in four-horse carriages, the horse-dealers and the jockeys liked to visit the Two Lions Inn, especially during horse races, national fairs and other big gatherings, because it was a very suitable quarter for horses and carriages… In addition, the restaurateur always had good wine, and there was no lack of Gypsy musicians either. During horse races and fairs, wine flowed, music was played and card games started one after another.’
During the Cultural Heritage Days, which are held as part of the European Heritage Days and are usually organized on the third weekend of September in Hungary, memories can live on, with a special focus on the historical, shopping and thematic streets of Budapest every year. On these days, the Two Lions Inn is usually included in the walking tours of several tourist agencies. Walking along Ráday Street, participants can take a look at the Kecskemét Gate and the historic monuments and iconic buildings in the districts along the Danube.
In addition to time travel, the origin and symbolic meaning of the two, now quite worn, stone lion statues that adorn the building are also interesting. It is still unknown whether they were already there in the 18th century above the gate of today’s 9 Kálvin Square. The inn was probably called ‘Two Lions’ from as early as 1775, but it is uncertain when the building opened as a restaurant. It seems that the mystery of the origin of the statues will remain unsolved.
We might not know where the statues had come from, but what is certain is that the lions have successfully protected the inn, since it has successfully avoided the danger of demolition for centuries. Until its nationalization, one of the most famous inns of the 19th-century Pest was owned by the Reformed Church, then functioned as a residential building.
Nowadays, the Two Lions Inn is once again in Calvinist ownership, and, among others, the directorate of the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church operates in it. The interior of the house has worthily preserved the atmosphere of the old days: Sava, one of the female statues of the Danubius Well, is still hidden in the courtyard behind the gates, and the stone lions, carrying memories and preserving their mystery, stand steadfast above the entrance. Should you be in the neighbourhood, do not miss out on checking out these relics at 9 Kálvin Square.
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