The Urania Theater, Budapest’s Movie Palace


I love missions when I travel. To look for a comic store, special souvenir, or even to get cold medicine can brings you to areas well off the tourist map. These small adventures always bring you more in touch with the real culture and people of a country. I have a thing for visiting the movie palaces from films glory years, more for their unique art deco architecture but also the grandeur of them. So when I am in Budapest a quick google search brought The Urania Theater to my attention. Skylar and I trekked through the city, down twisted little streets to a major boulevard with a decked out theater with a large balcony going over the street. There are five floors, each with Arabic arches over windows and doors, and on the top is a very ornate cornice. The Urania Theater was built in the 1894 by Henrik Schmall as a nightclub, and has had many lives since; Science auditorium, opera, and cinema. Possibly even a Bordel originally, but that is only rumored. It is designed in Neo-Moorish style, which lends to all the ornate arches and decorative details.

Walking into the lobby was out of this world. There was a large round hole, maybe 20 feet in diameter, in the ceiling going up to the second floor. The beams spiked out like a wheel and hand painted patterns. There were multiple layers of molding on everything. All the doorways and entryways had Moorish arches. There were two curved staircases on either side of the lobby curving up to the second floor and I assume the balcony. The chandelier was star shaped with little lanterns on it. There were little nooks that had an intimate feel that I have not seen at a theater before. There were detailed murals all over the place with very decorative elements.

We went into the main lobby, and it was a hub of activity. Not with movie goers, but it looked like a DVD flea market of some sort. People were setting up tables to sell stuff. Everyone was hustling around, ignoring us completely. Skylar was sound asleep by this time, so I poked my head into the theater, which had a film going. Now everything was in Hungarian, so I had no idea what movie was playing. I could just make out multiple balconies and gilded details catching some of the light from the screen. I was sad not to get a chance to watch a film here or see the lobby in the light.

We asked if there was a way up besides the stairs to the balcony area. The girl got the custodian to take us out of the theater and into what looked like a broom closet to a lift. It made a hell of a racket and he did not come with us so we ended up in the second floor storage closet. What an adventure, already behind the scenes in the movie palace. I pushed a heavy and loud door out to a beautiful café. There were people playing bridge, while others were just sipping their coffee. Now this was great, exactly the type of café for me, with all locals. They were setting up for some kind of talk, and had pamphlets out. No one was at the counter so I grabbed a beer and I found a seat near the balconies.

Next to me there was an interview going on. In my mind it was a director interviewing a young actress, but who really knows it was all in Hungarian. There was lots of awkward giggling, the type you do when you are trying really hard to impress someone so you laugh at all their jokes. I sipped my beer and did a drawing of Skylar sleeping in this hub of creativity and energy. I could not help but slip into my own thoughts about the shame of Philadelphia losing its only movie palace, the Boyd Theater, and how it seemed cities all over the world managed to save theirs. Here was a prime example of the different uses movies palaces can have.


Skylar sleeping in Urania Theater, Budapest. Copyright Michael Bencik 2017

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