Drawn to the power of light

Hunting for the sun ... the Labyrinth at Buda Castle.
Hunting for the sun ... the Labyrinth at Buda Castle. Photo: Richard Nebesky/Lonely Planet

Grace De Morgan immerses herself in Budapest's maze-like underworld

It's pitch black and I have no idea where I'm going. My hand traces a thin piece of wire guiding me into the unknown.

I'm certain something is going to whack me in the face or trip me up. I hold my forearm at eye-level in precautionary defence of my nose.

Meanwhile, I slide my feet along the damp ground like an ice-skater. I try to forget that I look like a pantomime villain.

Every suspicious step I take is leading me further from the entrance. Turning corner after corner, I can no longer see the light shining beneath the large door that led me here.

I've made a huge mistake.

Deep beneath the surface of Budapest's Castle Hill lies the Labyrinth. During the Middle Ages, the caves (a product of Hungary's renowned hot springs) acted as a wine cellar, treasury and sometimes torture chamber. Centuries later, World War II would see them serve as a bomb shelter and hospital.

Today, the Labyrinth of Buda Castle is a winding tourist attraction. In it you can find a red wine fountain buzzing with fruit flies, a corridor commemorating the 1241 Tartar invasion and an abyss-like maze a la Theseus and the Minotaur. I'm in the latter and wishing I wasn't.

The Labyrinth of Bravery, as it is aptly named, is described in the brochure as a "playful test". If playful is a synonym for unnerving then, yes, the maze is definitely playful.

The plaque at the entrance informed me that I was on a mission to capture the sun. Apparently, it was kidnapped by the Powers of Darkness while we were making our way around the Labyrinth.

So here I am, wrapped in shadows, chasing the sun. Rounding another corner, I spot a humming hub of light. The wall around glows golden. Funnily enough, when I finally approach the eclipsed ray of "sunlight", it looks more neon than nebulous. A small sign assures me that my valiant attempts to find the last slither of sunlight have been triumphant. Having completed the mission, I make my way to the exit. Yet another obstacle is in my path. Three large figures block the doorway, peering into the abyss. Are they the Powers of Darkness incarnate? I step closer and squint to make out the blurry apparitions. Their fair skin and lilting brogue make them a beacon for my curiosity.

"Where's tha wine?" one asks. Ah, to be a Scottish backpacker.

Barging past me into the darkness, they hunt for the infamous fountain. They're heading in the wrong direction and have no idea that their desired wine is putrid. I listen to the ensuing confusion and blunt thuds as they bump into various walls and surfaces. Their mission is doomed from the start.

I step out into the corridor, my eyes adjusting to the bright light. Maybe there are worse missions than hunting for the sun.

Comments