A few years back, a lot of local media attention was focused on the opening of the M4 – Budapest’s fourth and newest metro line, and now on potential plans to extend one line to the airport, which will be especially helpful for all the increased tourism the city is seeing. It is easy to forget that Budapest also has one of the oldest continually functioning metro lines in Europe: the M1, locally known as the Kisföldalatti, or ‘ little underground,’ which has the distinction of being the first metro line constructed on continental Europe.
With the construction of Budapest’s most elegant street, Andrássy Avenue around 1872, local politicians saw an opportunity to modernize transportation in the city without damaging the pristine architecture of the street-scape. It would take twenty years for construction of the project to commence in 1894. Two-thousand workers were employed for two years on the project, allowing the M4 to be inaugurated on May 2, 1896 by Emperor Franz Joseph. In its initial years, it carried around 35,000 people a year from the head of Andrássy Avenue up to and under the City Park to the City Zoo. Today it transports over 100,000 people annually over the eleven stations, which run a total of 4.1 kilometers.
While the trolleys have been updated, the platforms have an ‘old world,’ prewar feeling. The exterior entrances are done in ceramic and metal work that echoes the secessionist style of the State Opera House, which it passes along its route. Though the M4 may be the newer and flashier addition to public transport in Budapest (media hog!) it is the M1 that remains a favorite with metro enthusiasts, and an ideal location to convey the ‘modern’ aspirations of old world Europe.
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