As we walked through the empty hospital in the rock underground tunnels there was a sense of peace and tranquillity around the former WWII and secret nuclear bunker, a stark contrast as to what it would have been like back in 1944/45 during the siege of Budapest. The now-empty tunnels would have been filled with the injured, dead and dying lying out on stretchers across the floor, as the 94 beds had long been filled, and medical staff and Red Cross volunteers rushed around treating the patients, all while this was going on the siege of Budapest was happening meters above them.
Hospital in the Rock, a tour through Budapest’s brutal past
The hospital in the rock is located in a natural cave system beneath Castle Hill on the Buda side of Budapest, hidden away beyond a large set of iron gates. The 10km natural cave system has been in use since the Middles Ages initially inhabited by local citizens and then used as storage. However as World War II broke out the authorities took control of the cave system and constructed an Air raid control center, reinforcing the caves and connecting the passageways to create what would eventually be an underground Red Cross hospital and then a secret nuclear bunker.
Károly Szendy, the minister of the war department ordered the construction of the hospital and on the 20th of February 1944, the hospital in the rock was officially opened. Consisting of three wards and one operating theatre, a kitchen, X-ray facilities, generators which were independent of the city grid, and a ventilation system which ran throughout the hospital providing fresh, clean air and it’s still even used today. The hospital was one of the most advanced in its time with its state of the art surgical equipment. However, no amount of equipment and supplies could prepare the medical staff for what was to come in the next few months.
May 1944 saw the start of the American air raids and from that moment the hospital started to become increasingly used and the nearby Saint Johns hospital took authority of the hospital in the rock. The siege of Budapest reached a peak over Christmas 1944, the Soviet army was advancing on Budapest and with huge civilian and military casualties, the hospital in the rock was massively overcrowded. A hospital with only 93 beds had up to 700 patients crammed into the relatively small space, the bunk beds were pushed together to make more bed space with three patients each sharing one bed. The hospital was running desperately low on medical supplies and medicine, resulting in removing the bandages from the dead, sterilizing them, and using them again.
The deceased had to be removed at night and buried in bomb craters, and in return, dead horses were brought back into the hospital to use as food. At one point food and water completely ran out, the water pipe was damaged in an explosion from a bomb which left the hospital without water for three weeks. The death rate was very high during this period due to a high risk of infection. In the last few days of the siege, the hospital in the rock was one of a few working hospitals left in Budapest.
February 1945 and the siege of Budapest came to an end and with the Soviet Army victorious, the Nazi rule over Budapest had fallen. The more seriously injured were transported to other working hospitals and it eventually closed in July 1945, with the majority of the doctors escaping to the west.
Cold War: Hungarian Revolution
During the early ’50s the underground complex was turned into a top-secret institution using the code name LOSK 0101/1 and it wasn’t until 2002 until it became public knowledge again. After a brief spell as a privately own vaccine producing institute, the Hospital was once again reopened in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution to treat injured civilians and military personnel.
Due to increased fears of a nuclear attack during the Cold War, two years later in 1958 work began to expand and modernize the underground complex to convert it into a nuclear bunker to withstand a nuclear or chemical attack. A safety-by-pass corridor was built, a ventilation system with a special gas filter equipped, and a new water supply system. Fuel for the generators was transferred into the bunker by fuel trucks pretending to water flower beds above the bunker.
The facility was built in mind to house up to 200 doctors and nurses with supplies able to last three weeks after a nuclear attack, the plan was then to allow survivors in from above via the safety-by-pass corridor to be treated. This of course thankfully never happened, a caretaker and his family took care of the underground bunker up until 2004, maintaining the bunker and keeping the equipment in working order.
Present-day Hospital in the Rock
Now over two decades since the end of communism in Hungary, the hospital in the rock officially opened its doors to the public in 2008 with the Ministry of culture and education classify it as a museum collection of public interest.
We highly recommend visiting the Hospital in the Rock as you will witness a living piece of history within the walls of an underground cave complex. Once you step through the entrance and begin the tour you’re taken back in time walking the passageways and exploring the many rooms within the facility, brought to life with wax models and original equipment from the hospital and nuclear bunker. The guides are very friendly and highly knowledgeable making the experience even better. This place is definitely worth a visit if you’re into your history and we believe it’s one of the hidden gems when visiting Budapest.
The tour of the museum lasts for around an hour and takes place every hour on the hour during opening times. For more details and the price of the tour check out the Hospital in the Rock’s website. Also, if you use the Budapest Card you will get 30% off the entrance fee.