Some of the only use the space got over the past decade was as a Hollywood setting for Eastern European spy movies. The last tenants, an ice-cream shop and a travel agent, vacated when the property was taken over by Hungarian hospitality firm Mellow Mood Hotels in 2014.

But over the course of four and a half years, with the help of a vast team of preservationists, artisans and engineers, as well as Budapest-based design firm Kroki, the Párisi Udvar has been restored to its glory, and then some. The 11,700-square-metre hotel, which added more than 1115 square metres to its interior, opened for business this past summer as part of Hyatt's Unbound Collection, operated by Mellow Mood Hotels. The official opening, by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, followed on November 29,

If the hotel has all the modern amenities expected by well-heeled travelers, including examples of contemporary Hungarian craftsmanship in the rooms, it also has the power to transport guests to the lavish days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918). Under the Dual Monarchy, Hungary's explosion of wealth poured into Budapest's architecture, as the country sought to erect an imperial capital to rival Vienna.

First built in 1817 as a neoclassical shopping arcade, likely modelled after the famous Passage des Panoramas in Paris, the Párisi Udvar, then called the Brudern House, was rebuilt between 1909 and 1913 by a Hungarian bank in need of spiffy new headquarters. Most of the original structure was demolished and rebuilt, and bank offices and apartments were added upstairs.

In the spirit of the era, something splashy was in order, resulting in a mix of Art Deco, Neo-Gothic, Moorish and Art Nouveau details, with enough ceramic, metal and wood ornamentation to adorn a town, let alone a building.

With its glass domes, turrets, tiled façade and gargoyles, it's the kind of exquisite historical confection that once prompted the late chef and cultural observer Anthony Bourdain to describe Budapest's architecture as "building porn".

Although the Párisi Udvar (or "Paris Court") survived both World Wars, the building suffered when the Iron Curtain was drawn on Hungary after World War II, and some ghosts of its Soviet past still lingered. The façade was damaged during the Uprising of 1956, and further travesties ensued during a renovation in the 1960s.

In an attempt to stabilise the glass arcade, for instance, gobs of cement were applied to its steel framework, which eventually caused it to rust. All that steel had to be replaced while preserving the fragile glass panels within.

Károly Pólus, lead architect and owner of Archikon Építésziroda Kft., and his team discovered a raft of curious surprises once demolition began. The original upper parts of the building, where there were apartments, had been poorly finished, he says, because the skilled workers finishing it were called off to fight in the Great War.

The reconstruction also revealed that the early 20th-century reinforced concrete foundation – one of the earliest examples of the technology in Budapest – was too unstable to meet the modern building's load-bearing needs, including the addition of more rooms and a new floor with the largest hotel suite in Budapest.

"It was pioneering at the time but the quality was terrible," says Pólus. "So we had to manage to strengthen the structure in a way that didn't change the look of the building."

Not all of the discoveries were setbacks. "The biggest surprise was when we found more than a hundred original ceramics produced by [porcelain manufacturer] Zsolnay," says Mellow Mood Hotels director Judit Blandl, explaining that the sculptures were hidden in an inaccessible area of the building.

Of the 250,000 ceramic forms adorning the building – ranging from small green tiles and floral forms to dragon heads and human figures – nearly a quarter had to be remade by the Zsolnay factory, says Pólus. The biggest challenge there, he says, was matching the discoloured glazes.

Fortunately, many archival photos and plans still exist, so details could be accurately rebuilt. The transformation of the glass domes is especially noteworthy: One is lined with hundreds of delicate stained-glass panels made by Hungarian master Miksa Roth, while the other is constructed of Luxfer glass prism tiles that had become blackened with dirt. They now let glittering light into the hotel.

"The reconstruction lasted longer than building the original building," says Pólus, who notes the scarcity of skilled artisans and restorers working in the 21st century. For that reason alone, the Párisi Udvar might turn more heads today than it did a hundred years ago.


Szijjártó: Tourism to break record this year

All tourism numbers will again be broken this year following the record-breaking 2018, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said when he performed the official opening of the Párisi Udvar Hotel Budapest on November 29, adding that having been on the brink of collapse nine years ago, Hungary's economy is now vigorous and tourism has a large part to play in it.

Budapest is in the front line of European places to visit, Szijjártó noted, and you hardly hear people speaking Hungarian in the city centre. The capital has undergone considerable development, he said, and the number of cities directly accessible by flight from Budapest has grown from 86 to 147 in five years. Budapest is one of the world's safest cities in a world where security is increasingly prized, he said.

The renovation of the more than 100-year-old listed building cost over HUF 13 billion with a HUF 8 billion loan granted by Hungary's Eximbank, the minister said. More and more hotels were opening to meet the demands of tourism.

The 110-room boutique hotel is the first Hyatt hotel in Hungary and the fourth property in Europe to join The Unbound Collection by Hyatt. The site, once the most expensive in Budapest, originally provided a home to Budapest's first modern shopping mall, inspired by the Passage des Panoramas in Paris.

The guestrooms, furnished according to international Hyatt standards, include 18 luxurious suites, of which two are dubbed Royal Residences. On the top floor, the spacious Budapest and Paris Residences, with respective floor areas of 130 and 290 square metres, provide guests with a stunning view of the city for those looking for exclusive relaxation. Premium room guests can enjoy the comfort and service of the Club Lounge.

Over four-and-a-half years, some 3000 people worked on the building for a total of 70,000 man hours, all with meticulous attention to detail.

"Párizs Property Kft. and Mellow Mood Hotels are excited to join The Unbound Collection by Hyatt," say Zuhair Awad and Sameer Hamdan, the owners of Mellow Mood Hotels. "We are very proud to open this renowned landmark building and to give it back to Budapest. Its rich history and stunning architecture will deliver memorable stays for modern travellers. Párisi Udvar Hotel Budapest marks a new era for tourism in Hungary: it's a symbol of both the renaissance of the golden age of Budapest and the dynamic development of the city."

Párisi Passage Café & Brasserie evokes the fin-de-siècle atmosphere of bustling cafés, transforming by evening into a lively bar with piano music, where guests can relax with an artisanal cocktail. The restaurant combines international gastronomy with local cuisine. The passage is open to the public to visit and walk through.

The Zafir Spa features an infrared room, steam room, Finnish sauna, ice well, hydromassage, body and face treatments, nail and beauty services, using Adrienne Feller and Janssen cosmetics. Guests also have 24-hour access to a fitness centre.

The hotel features four distinctive multi-functional meeting and event spaces spanning 300 square metres, which can accommodate up to 160 guests. Each space is equipped with the latest audiovisual technology.


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