The largest Baroque palace of the country was commissioned by Antal Grassalkovich in the mid-18th century. The castle is renowned not only for its luxurious furniture but also because as the royal residence of Hungarian kings between 1867 and 1918 it was Empress Elisabeth’s favourite resort.
By 1737, Antal Grassalkovich, wealthy aristocrat and close confidant of Queen Maria Theresa, had gained possession of the town of Gödöllő and surroundings. He made the town the centre of his estates and accordingly, a luxurious Baroque castle was built there between 1744 and 1751. It is the largest Baroque castle in Hungary designed by András Mayerhoffer with 8 wings, several suites and state rooms. The 9.5-metre-high walls of the grand salon are ornated with gilded stuccos. A church, a theatre, a greenhouse for flowers, a bath, a riding hall and an orangery also adjoin the main building.
In 1867, the castle was purchased by the state and it gained a symbolic role as it was designated as the royal resort of the Hungarian kings until 1918. During its second heyday the castle was a favoured resort by Franz Joseph I, Empress Elisabeth and Charles IV. Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth (aka Empress Sissi) received the town and the castle as a coronation gift.
After WWI the palace served as the summer residence for Governor Miklós Horthy. At the end of WWII it was occupied by German troops and later by Soviet troops. The castle was damaged and looted by both. Later some of the buildings were used as a warehouse and the castle as a retirement home, which caused further damages. The Soviet troops left the castle (and the country) in 1990 and restoration works could begin in 1994. Today the building complex functions as a museum and event centre and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Hungary. It is also the main venue for the cult of Empress Sissi.
As part of the permanent exhibition 31 rooms are open to the public. 6 of them present the life and era of 3 generations of the Grassalkovich dynasty. 14 rooms display the royal era including the suites of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Sissi. 6 rooms of the Gizella Wing showcase the history of the royal family in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, the era of Horthy’s governance, the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the Soviet occupation and serving as a retirement home.
Besides permanent and temporary exhibitions the Baroque theatre, the royal pavilion, the riding hall and the stables are also well worth the visit. The garden, which is a nature reserve today, was designed in French Baroque style. It is divided by the castle into two parts. The one behind the building called Upper Garden has an area of 28 hectares. From the 1780s, it was gradually transformed into an English garden. Besides ancient trees, such as ginkgos and giant redwoods, statues and a pavilion on an artificial mound also contribute to the garden design. Lower Garden on the other side used to serve as a vegetable garden and warren.