We went shopping at the Lehel Csamok (market hall) this morning. It is in our district and is walking distance from our apartment, thus much more convenient than the better know Nagy Vasarcsarnok (the Central or Grand Market Hall). The Central Market is one of the first stops for all tourists to Budapest and it is wonderful. It is a magnificent late 19th century building, roofed in Zsolnay tiles and containing three floors of food stalls, counter restaurants, and tourist shops. Lehel Market is about as large but is a neighborhood market where tourists seldom go. The building is new (2002) and crazy – see the pictures below and a fuller discussion shortly — it has the same permanent meat and produce stalls as the Central Market, but unlike the Central Market, the center isles are given over to farmers’ produce brought in fresh daily; and the upstairs shops cater to local needs from clothing to toilet tissue.
One of our favorite things in European cities is the market. US supermarkets do everything they can to decontextualize the products they sell from the hoofs and fields of their origin. Chefs now become famous for returning to farm to table and tail to snout. But markets like those in Budapest have always been tail to snout. Everything is on display and for sale including every organ and appendage. And the produce being sold in the center isle of Lehel was in the fields the day before. Fortunately in New Hampshire there has been a recent explosion of small farms and weekly farmer’s markets so we can begin to remember where food comes from and what chicken and pork should taste like. There is no doubt in Lehel Market.
We bought produce today: a cabbage, some carrots, an enormous! and delicious apple, baby turnips, sweet peppers, a cauliflower, and also some bread. But that is not what I really want to comment on.
The structure of the market is so weird – the shape of a boat with Asian and industrial influences all decked out in primary colors. Here is what a contemporary architecture site says about it:
In the proximity of the present-day Lehel square there used to be a marketplace as early as the end of the 18th century on. The long-sought and planned covered market hall was eventually opened in 2001. László Rajk, naming his own style “radical eclecticism” reinterpreted the organically developed urban fabric of the neighborhood, harboring mixed styles and qualities. The inner circulation of the market hall is based on that of the old marketplace, with keeping one of the old market buildings in the middle of the block. The present building is organized around this latter, lining the historical layers of construction up as a catalogue. The astonishing outside with thick pillars holding planters serves as a replacement of the former tree-lining. The colorful and diversified shop units can be modified by the tenants themselves, providing another layer of re-interpretation. The corridors on the outside (e.g. the walkway to the rooftop parking lot) and the colorful overall look invoke the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, but while the latter looks rational, the Lehel Market Hall shows a fairy tale world. One of the telling details is one corner resembling a ship’s bow, and for that, receiving the nickname “Kofahajó”. (“merchants’ ship”) (The term Kofahajó used to stand for water vessels with which merchants used to ship their goods to the Market Hall of Fővám square from the South on the Danube.) From http://artur.org.hu/#/budapest/lehel_market_hall
When we got back to the apartment I googled László Rajk and here is what his biography on line says:
Rajk is an Hungarian architect and designer. He is the son of László Rajk, the former communist foreign minister and most prominent victim of the Rákosi show trials of 1949. In 1975, László Rajk jr. joined the underground political movement in Hungary and as an architect he was a member of the avantgarde movement. In 1981 he co-founded the independent AB Publishing House and in 1988 he was one of the founders of the liberal party Alliance of Free Democrats. After the first free elections in 1990 he served six years in the Hungarian Parliament. “
How interesting. Some have speculated that the crazy Lehel design is his revenge on Budapest for the execution of his father. I doubt it. He is also a set designer for films and I think this building is more his fantasy than payback.
It turns out that he also designed the very controversial Hungarian memorial at Auschwitz that we will see when we take the students there in April.
His written a very thoughtful brief essay on museums and remembering that I will have my student read. It can be found at
One thing leads to another.