Unprotected Heritage

Perczel Anna a zsidónegyed átalakulásáról

After graduating as an architect in 1967, Anna Perczel worked at the Budapest Urban Planning Institute up to 2002, then in the VÁTI Research and Listed Monuments Office. Since 1996 she has been involved with the architectural treasures of the Jewish quarter in Pest. In 2004 she was one of the founders of the ÓVÁS! Association. The contribution of Jews to the transformation of Budapest into a metropolis is well known. However, the latest research of ÓVÁS! – Who lived Here? Who Built It? – reveals, building by building, edifices (initially in the 6th and 7th districts) built by Jews and designed by Jewish architects. The project, headed by Anna Perczel, can be followed on a website. The latest results will be announced at an international conference in Budapest on 23 February. Officially the old Jewish quarter of Pest – as it features on UNESCO’s World Heritage List – covers the area of the Kazinczy, Rumbach and Dohány Street synagogues up to Klauzál Square. It doesn’t include the entire territory of the former ghetto. The Hungarian state pressed for Andrássy Avenue to be included in the Heritage List. When a thoroughfare or area is protected it always has a so-called protected zone. Thus the state also requested that the old Jewish quarter would be included. Since 2002 it has been protected on the basis of the World Heritage perspective – but not according to Hungarian laws. When ÓVÁS! was formed and it became clear what was happening, an approach was made to Kálmán Varga, head of the Office for Cultural Protection with the request that not individual buildings be protected, but the entire area. On the basis of Hungarian monument protection regulations, he declared the quarter as well as the entire protected zone to be of a listed nature. Two years later he was removed from office. When the association realised that the law and the protection were in vain and that demolition was underway, in 2005 a request was made to the World Heritage Committee to visit Budapest to see what was happening. UNESCO representatives last came in 2013. Widespread demolition in the quarter could begin since the district authority offered many buildings to investors with the assurance that they could be pulled down. The residents were moved  out. Thanks to ÓVÁS!, demolition of many buildings could be halted. So-called ruin pubs have appeared in the empty buildings, bringing life back to the neighbourhood. However, it has all become pure business. When in 2013 the UNESCO delegation recognised that not only demolition but also all kinds of architectural activity were illegitimate, it suggested that as long as there was no district development plan, the Hungarian state should ban alterations, but that didn’t happen. There is no plan, nor is there anyone to prepare one, since there is no monument protection organisation. Anything can happen. Everything depends on chance.