1st row: stairway, cistern interior. 2nd row: the arches, filling up “fountains”. 3rd row: reservoir is filling up, breathing “mushrooms” above the reservoir.
Kőbányai Víztároló / Water “Cathedral” Underground
Karolina Tima Szabo
I learned about the 35 km cellar system in Kőbánya, Hungary years ago. I actually visited the Törley (Pezsgő) Champagne Cellar Ltd. The limestone of Kőbánya was excellent material for carving out wells, tunnels and wine cellars.
On the eastern side of the Danube River, the city of Pest had drainage for rain water, but not for sewage. Each house had a septic tank in the backyard. The water well was usually nearby, contaminated by the sewage, and illness was frequent. In 1866, there was a cholera epidemic, and many people died. The government of Pest saw that a solution was needed, and fast.
An engineer, William Lindley from London, was hired to solve the bad situation, with one condition, that it had to be done in one year.
Work started in 1868, and the Pesti Vízművek or Fővárosi Vízművek (Water-works) were done the following year. (At the time, Budapest was not yet united, with Pest, Buda and Óbuda as separate municipalities). On the Pest side, near the Duna (currently Kossuth tér), three wells were dug and a pumping station was built. The pumps were run by steam engines. To provide counterpressure for the wells, a water holding reservoir was necessary. The perfect location was found at Ihász utca 29, in Kőbánya.
The subterranean cistern was built between 1869 and 1871 by Italian master stoneworkers. Hungarian bricks were used, from the Tatai Uradalmi Téglagyár. You can still see the name of the brick factory on some of the bricks. The bricks were of many different colors; one might think the ½ m thick walls were made of mosaics. The cistern is 8 stories deep, the longest part 66 m (about 200 ft) long, widest part 24 m (c. 72 ft) wide, 10.8 m (some 32 ft) high; maximum water level is 8 m (24 ft), and can contain 10,800 m³ water. The water comes from nearby wells dug for that purpose, through openings that remind you of water fountains.
Twice each year, in the spring and fall, the water is totally drained from the cistern, for cleaning and checking whether maintenance is required. Before the reservoir is filled, it is opened to the public, free of charge. These days are usually held on Víz Világnap (International Water Day), or Föld Nap (Earth Day). Registration is required, and there are a few other requirements for safety reasons: maximum 150 persons at a time, minimum height requirement is 130 cm. The tour lasts half an hour. The building is considered a masterpiece – the arches, the size, the brickwork remind you of a medieval cathedral.
After visitors’ day, the reservoir is filled to one third, stands a day, then the water is tested. If the quality is good, it is filled to capacity. Usually it takes one day to fill it to maximum height.
The Pest water wells were used only for 15 years. At the time that the Parliament was built, the Pesti Vízművek was closed down. After 150 years, the Kőbánya Víztározó in Budapest’s tenth District (X. Ker.) still supplies water for more than 2 million people.
Entrance is at Ihász utca 29, Kőbánya - that tiny elegant house that would be fitting for fairies.
Just in: Due to the corona virus, the Vízművek cancelled this spring’s visiting days. But when the opportunity arises, please visit the reservoir. Besides seeing the fascinating and captivating masterpiece, special programs are also provided.
From TM.hu, szeretlekmagyarorszag.hu
Karolina Tima Szabo is a retired Systems Analyst of the Connecticut Post newspaper and Webmaster of Magyar News Online. She is the proud grandmother of two.