Less than four years after the Pál Teleki committed suicide at this same place in his despair over the impending war and the future of the nation, a fleet of aircraft approached the Buda Castle district and showered the historic buildings here with a barrage of bombs. All what was left of the Sándor Palace was a miserable heap of stones. Whatever was left of the Sándor Palace that was of value was taken abroad as war bounty. Although the building was not bulldozered, it was disregarded until the change of the political system. It was thanks to a few devoted experts that a roof was erected over it and its walls were supported. The prestigious building housing the Office of the President of the Republic today was renovated in 2002. It has been sitting atop the city with its low-keyed tranquillity.
The palace built in 1806 was commissioned by Count Vince Sándor. It is still contested if its architect was the Vienna-born Johann Aman or Mihály Pollack, the famous designer of the National Museum, the Vígadó Concert Hall in Pest and the Evangelical Church on Deák-square.
In his study Péter Farbaky describes the Palace as “an elegant, fine and puritan building without major accentuated elements”. He suggest that those interested when walking in the Castle-district should spend some time gazing at the buildings standing side-by-side here, portraying a nice timeline of architectural tastes. The puritan elegance of the Sándor Palace is for example the complete opposite of the luxurious grandeur of the Royal Palace, but is quite low-keyed even in comparison with the copf style of the Castle Theatre built few decades earlier: “Reserved dignity, elegance, a low-keyed application of classical ornamentation subordinated to architectural forms” – said Ferenc Dávid and also Ferenc Batári.
Modern convenience in the 1800s
The renovation in 2002 was conducted on the basis of the original blueprints, which were thankfully recovered in 1983 and the detailed illustrations of contemporary maps. One cartographer, Frank Schams was so captivated by the building at the time that he gave a detailed account of it in his diaries, in which he speaks in fine detail about everything, from the magical flowers of the observatory to the rooms finely decorated with silk and gold. We also know from him that at this time already there was steam heating and running water – considered to be rare at the time - for the convenience of those living here.
A devilishly talented horseman
It was not the name of the old Count Sándor – who is reported to have been more of a philosopher – that national legendry preserved, but that of his son Móric Sándor who outraged the people of Pestbuda and Vienna with acrobatic equestrian feats and was therefore dubbed at the time a “devil rider” in Pest and the “equerry of the devil” in Vienna. His colourful personality was liked by many in aristocratic circles. His greatest critic, István Széchenyi also relented when at a more mature age he offered half a year’s worth of his revenues for the construction of the Chain Bridge.
The buildings in the square were populated with government offices after the Freedom Fight. Prince Albrecht, the governor from the Vienna-court lived in the building at the time. The most prestigious tenant of the house was Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy, who leased it for the government from the Pallavicini family in 1867 (later he obtained ownership rights for the state through a property swap).
Andrássy renovated the house, which by then was badly in need of repair with the help of Miklós Ybl and had offices installed on the ground floor, whereas the Prime Minister’s residence was established on the first floor.
Princess Sisi arrived through a secret tunnel
Purportedly a secret tunnel led from here to the Castle Theatre at the time, from where the tenants returned with Sisi on more than one occasion for a farewell cup of tea. Later on the more puritan minded Kálmán Tisza used the house more for business than societal life. He even received congressional delegates here.
The first tenant of the house after the Trianon Treaty was Count István Bethlen. Europe at the time was dominated by a fashion of decadent-playful secessionism. However, in the post-Trianon mood, Hungarians opted instead for an earlier, more dignified style for this important public building. This was why they decided on the empire-classicist style.
When Empress Sisi was stabbed in the heart in Geneva harbour by an assassin, the shocked Hungarians wished to erect a monumental memorial for her, which they envisaged here, in place of the Sándor Palace. Luckily demolishment did not happen, but this provided an opportunity for a photographer, György Klösz to shoot photographs - still intact today – about the interior halls, which today’s interior designers used as reference.
The façade of the Palace suggests a noble culture. Visitors can enter the building through the vaulted southern main gate and the main staircase.
The main staircase is like an extraordinary jewel box. Those entering here are escorted by mellow sparkling surfaces and the elegant harmony of the gold-plated cast iron railing.
The walls of the lobby are covered with a simply striped silk damask tapestry; the biedermeier chairs line the walls in accordance with function.
The inlaid flooring of the Round Salon with its snow white walls is precisely identical to the 1928 flooring designed by Rezső Hikisch and was reproduced based on old photos.
The so-called Small Empire Salon originally linked the private and the public spaces. Today smaller meetings and talks are held here, for example with representatives of NGOs and with smaller delegations.
The most exquisite one in the series of rooms has always been the Blue Salon with its baroque style furniture, sometimes called the Gobelin or the Boucher Hall. Its relaxed and soothing atmosphere provides a wonderful backdrop for less formal meetings.
The Red Salon is undoubtedly the most elegant one. At the time it hosted a painting of Maria Theresa, which has disappeared since. The picture on the wall now displays the Empress in her dress worn on the day she was crowned the Queen of Hungary. The Salon is adorned with the stuccos designed by Miklós Ybl.
The lavish rococo-style Mirror Hall is usually the venue of especially austere events: this is where for example Ambassadors accredited to Hungary hand over their credentials, this is where the most stately protocol events are held, as well as gala dinners for the Diplomatic Corps.