association of best food and traditional markets of Europe


Központi Vásárcsarnok, the Central Market Hall in Budapest, is Hungary’s leading marketplace. Its 180-200 vendors can attract over 30,000 visitors per day on peak summer days. With a 10,000 square meter shopping area, it is a global model for successful market renovation to modern standards.

The market is located in a huge monumental brick building, with two neogothic towers on its roof, and covered by red tiles, typical of the 19th Century Industrial Architecture. It was designed by Samu Petz and completed in 1889.

The centenary market was thoroughly rebuilt in 1994, when the historic art-nouveau building was restored and its infrastructure, tenant mix and services were modernized. The market is equipped with an underground loading and unloading system, which brings goods to the inner market directly from the Danube’s docks with a latest-generation freight transportation system.

Budapest has 15 more marketplaces, some of which are also art-nouveau and have been renovated.


The Central Market Hall is managed by the Hall and Market Management of the Municipality of Budapest, or CSAPI. The CSAPI, founded in 1954, supervises the management and operation of 15 commercial establishments within the administrative boundaries of Budapest, including market halls, markets, and shopping centers.

CSAPI is an independent legal entity and an economically independent budgetary institution; it reports to The General Assembly of the Municipality.

Besides supervisory rights, the Management also holds some business interests. It has 12.14% shares of the Wholesale Market Inc and 100% ownership of the Metropolitan Car Market Ltd., which operates the biggest car market in Central Europe in the 19th district of Budapest, at 162 NagykŒrösi Street.


It had already been suggested in the 1860s that the food supply to the capital city should be improved by the construction of market halls. One of the main objectives set by preliminary plans was that only food which had been inspected should be sold. Not only had the establishment of the retail network to be organised, but they also wished to regulate the sale of wholesale goods.

Because of continuous deterioration in food supply conditions, a plan encompassing the whole capital was worked out in 1879. General assembly resolution No. 852 of 30 December provided for the establishment of a Food Committee.

The committee formed to prepare for the establishment of market halls drew up a proposal in 1883. They considered the most favourable position for the Central Market Hall to be Fovám Square, on the site of the Salt depot.

On 28 October 1885, the subject of the market hall once again arose in the capital. The Committee for Economics and Food discussed and accepted the initiative of committee member Lajos Nyíri. They were of the decided opinion that the Central Market Hall must be built in the 9 th district, on the plot of land lying between the Vámház Blvd, and Pipa, Csillag and Sóház (meaning: salt depot) Streets. At that time, the plot was the property of the state treasury. According to an initial agreement, "the royal government relinquishes the plot for the sake of the capital".

Materialisation of plans for a market hall had been dragging on for several years at that time, and essentially no progress had been made. Conditions further deteriorated due to the disorganised state of food supply for the capital and the rapid increase in the population. In 1890 events connected with the establishment of the market halls increased in pace. To an increasing extent, the public became aware of the necessity for a market hall.

After a general assembly resolution in 1891 which appeared to be final, the Prime Minister Kálmán Tisza, or rather the Justice Minister Teofil Fabiny, relinquished the site to the capital in exchange for a site on Alkotmány Street.

The design competition

Considering the size and complexity of the Number 1 (Central Market Hall, a separate competition was announced for plans to build it.

The advertisement for the competition appeared on 25 August 1892. The aim was to collect design proposals for the construction of a modern market hall, which could be built rapidly and economically. By 5 December 1892, the competition deadline, 9 entries had been received. When assessing the entries, priority was given to evaluation of the extent of the built-up areas; the general fittings; accessibility from the Danube, by rail, by wagon and on foot; the form of the balconies; the staircases; the lighting; and the structure of the buildings.

The jury voted to decide the prize winners. Three entries received first prizes of 2,000 Ft:

- entry No. 4 by P.Escande, J.Gourmez, with 15 votes,

- application No. 5 by Samu Pecz, with 14 votes,

- the design produced by architect Alvin Anger and engineers P.Högner and P.Preil, with 15 votes.

The Design

It was finally decided on 11 January 1893, that on the basis of the jury's assessment, Samu Pecz would be commissioned with designing the Central Market Hall.

Samu Pecz presented the plans for the Central Market Hall on 3 February 1893. The alteration of the project, to include a novel cellar design, produced a greater increase in costs than expected. Disputes surrounding implementation of the plan lasted more than six month. The capital requested further modifications, which resulted in a further increase in costs. A final agreement had almost been reached in November 1893, when the prize-winning French architects approached the capital with an offer.

The implementation of Samu Pecz's plan was therefore temporarily suspended. A committee session was held on 30 December 1893 with the Mayor as chairman. The suggestion was made, that Samu Pecz and the firm of Escande and Gourmez should be requested to present new proposals, so that the most favourable and most economical construction plan could be selected.

Finally, in the general assembly session of 21 February 1894, it was suggested that Samu Pecz's plan should be implemented.


An invitation for tenders for the excavation, masonry and bricklaying work for the hall was announced on 11 June 1894. Excavation work began on 25 June. The foundations and the walls of the cellar were completed in that year. During the winter, work on the iron structures for the cellar was finished, and preparations were made for the masonry work to be carried out. In the spring of 1895, the ceiling of the cellar was completed, and the stone plinths were set in place.

In the summer, the walls of the building were built, and the iron framework of the gallery and roof was under construction. By September, the iron structure of the whole hall had been completed, the vaulting of the cellar ceiling had been finished, and placing of the frontal pyrogranite and stone elements in the walls was under way. The whole building was roofed over before the winter. Winter had already begun when the windows were set in place, so that the painting work on the building interior could begin.

Glazing, painting and carpentry work followed in the spring of 1896. On 30 July 1896, when, according to Samu Pecz, only ten more days would have been needed to complete the building, an unexpected event put a stop to construction work. A fire started in the almost completed building, which caused terrible damage. The subsequent investigation, which lasted for a year, could cast no light on the cause of fire.

60 metres of the roof of the nave of the hall was burnt down. Damages were estimated at 50-60 thousand forints. Samu Pecz undertook to repair the damage by October. Several additional structures had to be included in the building in the interests of increased safety. At that time, the roof of the hall was divided into three sections which could be isolated from one another, more hydrants were added, and the number of hatches in the roof and climbing ladders were increased.

The structural details and builders of the hall

Several famous industrialists of the time are to be found among the contractors involved in construction of the imposing building. Particularly worthy of note is Schlick's iron foundry, where the steelwork for the building was manufactured. The coloured building ceramic components were made by the Vilmos Zsolnay ceramic company, which was famous throughout Europe.

The final cost of the building was 1,900,000 forints, including the tunnel, the fittings for the wharves on the riverbank, and the steam engine. The size of the undertaking is indicated by the fact that the construction costs for this one building were almost as high as the total sum invested for the four district balls.

Functional arrangement of the hall

The interior was divided into two parts by a thoroughfare for wagons. Space was given to district retailers on the east side, and wholesalers' stands were installed on the west. Meat traders could sell their wares on the Pipa Street side, in the enclosed pavilions by the wall. Opposite these, on the other side of a 2.7 m wide walkway, were free-standing stalls for meat traders, which were separated from one another by iron-framed wire mesh. Between the meat stalls and the central wagon route, the vegetable, fruit, cheese and butter dealers were located along the length of the building. The fish stalls completed the picture, at the far end of the retailers' side.

The rear of the building was enclosed by the one-storey poultry hall. A gallery was built around the high building, which could be reached by seven flights of stairs. These had an iron structure with oak steps. On the gallery and the two connecting bridges, there was room for 768 retailer's stalls, each of two square metres.

Opening of the market hall

Traders could sell their wares in the hall from 1 February 1897, and they did not have to pay rent until the opening. The official opening was held on 15 February 1887, at 8 o'clock in the evening. Several thousand were present at the opening, and they watched as the first goods train ceremonially rolled into the building.

Maintaining order in the market halls

Regulations were drawn up in 1896, "On the matter of the inauguration, operation and organisation of the market halls". These were extended in the following year to include "Rules of the market and the house". The rules which appeared in 1897 primarily regulated the sale and handling of the goods. For instance, wholesalers could not sell a quantity of wares which was smaller than that permitted. The traders had to use the market hall fittings.

Rents were regulated according to the types of goods sold, and the total fee was determined by the goods of highest rentable values. An important regulation, was that people could only rent stalls in their own name and could only sell their own wares. Traders could only rent more than one space in the same hall if these spaces were next to each other, and on the condition that the space was not required by a trader who had no stand in that hall.

The primary goal for the rules concerning rents was to keep order in the hall and to guarantee fair conditions for the market. At the same time, it was in the general interest to increase turnover. Those who rented stalls could use the lifts at no further cost.

The times when goods could be delivered or sold were strictly controlled. The market was open every weekday. In summer, the market was held in the Central Hall in the morning from 5-12 and in the afternoon from 4-7. The building was open for shorter times in the winter.

Nándor Ziegler, the first director of the market hall, urged that marketing associations be established within the framework of all the county agricultural associations. There should be storage areas where produce to be sent to the market hall could be inspected, classified and packed if necessary. The Central Market Hall supplied wares not only to Budapest, but also to the countryside. It also became an important centre of international trade, as deliveries of food were exported from there to other countries. Naturally, goods imported from abroad were also received there.

The early years

The regulations introduced were not entirely successful. Not all the dealers' wares met the new, stricter quality requirements. It was the market-women who most strongly objected to the new regulations. Customers also complained that the traders in the hall were rude, and often cheated them by giving them short measures.

Neither was the introduction of food inspection entirely successful. The traders tried to make the customers cover the costs of the large quantities of confiscated goods. Uniform quality of the wares was strictly required, as well as compulsory packing according to type, and to this end the goods were constantly inspected. Damage was done to the interests of many of the traders by the continuous inspection, which they considered to be bureaucratic. The aim was to develop business competition, but the traders therefore established an organisation to protect their interests. The Association of Market Hall Traders was formed in the Adria Hotel on 9 September 1897.

In spite of the traders' protests, the people of Budapest took the market halls to heart. The greatest amount of trading was carried out in the Central Hall. Before the war, men were employed by the hall to maintain order. When the war broke out and the police disappeared from the hall, prices got out of hand. Police had to be called to the hall to maintain order. Prices for the day were determined by the Chamber of Trade and Industry, and these were displayed on official price lists. In 1915, a special market police force was established.

Alterations between 1945-1991

Significant damage occurred to the hall during the 2nd World War. The one-storey part of the building known as the poultry hall was completely destroyed, and the final transept on the Pipa Street side was heavily damaged.

During reconstruction after the war, most of the replacement materials which had been stored in the cellar since the original construction (ceramic elements, shaped bricks) were used up. At this time, speed was naturally a more important consideration than careful work. Unfortunately, the original atmosphere of the hall was lost in the 1960s, when unsuitable, enclosed stalls were built in the interior of the building. These structures inside the building produced a real shanty-town in the beautiful interior of the hall.

Over a period of one hundred years, the iron structures of the building became worn out. The pillars of the building had also deteriorated. Because of the hazardous condition, the hall was closed on 2 March 1991.

Renovation: 1991-1994

In the end, the capital decided that the building should be restored as a market hall, corresponding to its original function. The Market Hall today is a protected monument. Therefore, when both external and internal renovations were carried out, the protection of the worth of the building was of equal importance with the functional requirements of a modern market. One of the greatest problems during renovation was the replacement of the unique shaped bricks.

Manufacture of new ceramic elements to replace those damaged or missing appeared to be a simpler task, as the original manufacturer, the Zsolnay works, undertook to provide them. The No. 1 Market Hall is one of the most dignified public buildings in Budapest, and has been fitted with floodlights. On the other hand, the hall's two clocks are once more operational. Every hour, Zoltán Kodály's tune, "I went to the fair..." sounds forth.

Samu Pecz, architect of the Central Market Hall

Samu Pecz was born in Budapest on 1 March 1854. He began his studies at the Budapest Technical University and continued them at the Stuttgart University of Technical Sciences. For two years, he studied under Theophil Hansen at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. During this period, in 1878 he won the most prestigious prize for students of architecture, the Preis Stipendium, with the design for a royal palace. During the time when the Matthias Church was being restored, he was working in Frigyes Schulek's office.

Between 1880-82, he was employed by Alajos Hauszmann's office. He received a diploma in 1882 from the Technical University. Between 1882-87, he was active there as assistant to János Schnedár and Imre Steindl. In 1887, he was appointed honorary lecturer in classical architecture, and from 1888 until his death he was professor of tectonics of the First Department of the Institute of Public Construction. He played a significant part in the spread the iron structure in Hungary, and in the extension of its use in construction.

The Avenue Lutheran church and high school were built to his design. Samu Pecz died on 1 September 1922. Samu Pecz's most important work is the Budapest Central Market Hall. For this work, which may almost be called a functionalist building, he was able to realise his architectural principle most perfectly, that "a beautiful building must be both harmonious and useful".
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