If you take a scramble the steep cobbled Gül Baba Street leading off opposite the Lukács Baths, you’ll find something completely different. Passing by old semi-ruined Baroque houses adorned with intricate ironwork, make sure you peek through some of the wooden gates into abandoned yards and yearning trees. Take care not to break your ankle on the hike up the uneven pavement stones, which become more rugged the further up you go. You may feel like you’ve have abandoned the city in a matter of seconds, perhaps even deluding yourself that you’re hiking up a remote medieval town in the countryside, but the traffic noise and the echo of the clanging tram in the background brings you back into downtown Budapest. But old cobbled street this is not the only secret in this residential area of Buda’s II District. Turn a corner and all of a sudden you’re transported back into a different era in Budapest’s complex history – one that took place in the 16th century under the Ottoman occupation.
Gül Baba’s Tomb remains one of Budapest’s lesser known curiosities. The dervish, a Sufi poet and once companion of the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, lies at rest inside this octagonal mausoleum topped with a dome and a gold-coloured crescent moon. The views from this secluded garden span across Budapest’s most iconic sites, from the Hungarian Parliament all the way to Gellért Hill and Matthias Church on Castle Hill. Yet, if it weren’t for the famous panorama, it would be easy to feel like you had stepped through a portal and found yourself in a corner somewhere in Istanbul.
Budapest is home to relics from the Ottoman occupation, which lasted over a century. Its baths are perhaps the most famous remains – like the Rudas, the Király and to a lesser extent the Veli Bej baths – although much of Ottoman Budapest, the mosque and minarets, were destroyed under the Habsburgs. However, Gül Baba’s Tomb is interesting in that its still a sacred place for Muslims and is actually the northernmost site of Islamic pilgrimage – the only one of its kind in Christian Europe. But it had a long and curious history from its original construction in the 1540s to the tomb we see today.
Like many Islamic relics, Gül Baba’s Tomb took on a new Christian identity. In 1686, four years after the Habsburgs took control of the city, the Jesuits converted the tomb into a chapel to St. Joseph. After their dissolution, the tomb was given its original status back and became a site of pilgrimage for Muslims of the Bektashi dervishes. In the latter part of the 19th century, the Turkish government renovated the old tomb after the bones of
Gül Baba were uncovered, and again gave the place an extra spruce up in 1997 when the statue of Gül Baba was erected and the golden crescent was added to the top of the structure.
But you don’t need to be a pilgrim to enjoy the colonnaded rose garden that surrounds the tomb. The mausoleum sits on top of a hill called Rózsadomb, which translates as Rose Hill. It’s no coincidence that roses here play a key theme, since Gül Baba translates as the “Father of Roses” from Turkish. One legend has it that the dervish bought the cultivated form of the rose to Hungary himself, supposedly wearing a rose in his turban. However, others argue the legend is false, since it could be a misunderstanding of his name, especially since both wild and domestic roses already existed in Hungary prior to the Ottomans. It’s more likely that the “Gül,” rose, title actually had a more metaphorical meaning, being a “rose” of his order as a man with deep, mystical knowledge of Allah himself. Some even called him the “Dervish Rose,” Gül Dede in Turkish.
How Gül Baba died in 1541 is unclear. Either the dervish was killed while fighting took place below the city walls or during the first Muslim ceremony held after the Ottoman victory in Matthias Church on Castle Hill, which was converted into a mosque during the occupation. Eitherway, the “Father of Roses” earned his status as the patron saint of the city during the Ottoman rule, as declared by Suleiman himself, who was one of Gül Baba’s coffin bearers.
The tomb lies in a pleasant sanctuary that makes it a perfect spot to escape the city. The wind blows up from the Danube through the roses, which perfume the garden in the warmer months. But another unique feature of this exotic garden are the wonderful Ottoman tiles set into the walls alongside its fountains and flowers. The mausoleum itself is open to visitors, and is lined with plush carpets and colourful fabrics which cover the dervish’s tomb, and placards bearing inscriptions from the Koran, which are all more recent editions from the renovations by the Turkish government.
While the route up Gül Baba Street is the most dramatic entrance, there is an easier way up to the tomb that is less likely to result in a sprained ankle or a broken limb. If you take the stairs up Mecset utca, which translates appropriately as Mosque Street, through the small park area, you’ll find the tomb and the surrounding views at the top of Rose Hill.
Gül Baba türbeje
Mecset utca 14