History of Budapest

The key to Budapest lies in its history, marked by periods of great wealth and prosperity, and devastating eras of political and social upheaval.  Repeated warfare was inevitable due to the strategic location of Budapest, which offers a defensive position and potential control of Central Europe's main waterway. The Magyars view their history not in black and white but in gold and silver. The first Golden Age coincided with the reign of Renaissance King Matyás (1458-90), the second Golden Age was symbolized by the 1896 Millennium celebration in Városliget (City Park) and the Silver Age was the twentieth-century inter-war period, when the likes of Evelyn Waugh and the Prince of Wales frequented Budapest's spas and casinos.  Balanced against the good times, however, there is the Turkish victory over the Hungarians in 1526 (with the ensuing rebuilding of Buda as a Turkish capital); Hapsburg rule, which continued to deprive Hungary of its autonomy until 1867; and the devastation caused by World War II and Russian control, only lifted in 1989. These significant events have turned the Hungarians into a flexible and resilient race, proud of their national heroes: Count István Széchenyi (1791-1860), responsible for the first bridge across the River Danube, and the poet Sándor Pet?fi, remembered for his revolutionary Nemzeti dal (National Song), read on the steps of the National Museum on 15 March 1848.

The modern Budapest was born in 1873 when Buda, Óbuda and Pest were officially joined. Today, the city is composed of 23 districts (kerületek), each designated on maps, street signs and addresses by Roman numerals. Buda and Pest still remain distinct, however, creating an interesting west bank/east bank contrast. Hilly Buda is situated in the west, with its narrow cobbled streets and mixture of medieval and neo-classical buildings almost totally reconstructed after World War II; while the flat Pest lies to the east, with its wide boulevards and Art Deco styles. A mixture of Turkish, Venetian, Empire and Art Nouveau all clutter the town in a crazy mosaic of mismatching styles. Perhaps the Hilton Hotel combines the oddest example, with its thirteenth-century Gothic church, seventeenth-century façade and gleaming modern glass and concrete. Two and a half million people - roughly one-fifth of the country's population - live in this cosmopolitan city, making Budapest the political, intellectual, commercial and cultural capital of Hungary.

Thermal Waters

The abundance of medicinal waters in Budapest is unparalleled. A capital city featuring the highest number of medical thermal springs in the world, Budapest was granted the title of "Spa City" in 1934. The Celts and the Romans used the hot springs on the Buda side, and the name of Aquincum may also refer to the springs. (The name may be a derivation from the Celtic word for 'water', or from the Latin aqua quinque, 'five waters'.

There is probably no other capital city on the globe with swimming pools and bathing halls dating back to the Turkish occupation and still in use today, with thermal spas irradiating the rich colors and forms of Art Nouveau and featuring one of the largest spas in Europe.

Natural springs and wells in the territory of Budapest (a total of 118 different sources) provide up to 30,000 cubic meters of 21-76o C thermal water every day: mostly dolomitic water ranging from lukewarm karst to thermal hot water. Romans used 14 thermal spas, and a British traveler reported 10 spas in Turkish times (1669). There are 24 medical spas, public baths, indoor and outdoor swimming pools in the capital today, ten with a special medical capacity and therapeutic value.

Gellért Hill

The hill (that some believe used to be the meeting place of witches) today offers the most beautiful panoramic view of the city. The hill was named after Bishop Gellért (Gerald) renowned for propagating Christianity in Hungary. Tradition has it that he was sealed up in a barrel and thrown into the river Danube from the hill by insurgent pagan Magyars rebelling against Christendom after the death of our first king St. Stephen. The terraces of the Citadel built on the hilltop offer the best view of the city, and telescopes help one to catch all the details. It was built by the Austrians after the repression of the 1848-1849 War of Independence to provide military control over the town.

Liberation Monument, the statue of a woman visible from almost any point in town, was erected in 1947 to commemorate liberation from Nazi occupation. (The statue of the Soviet soldier which was removed from the monument in 1992 can be seen in the Statue Park Museum.) Firework rockets marking August 20 every year are launched from this point on Gellért Hill.

The northern slope of the hill is known as Tabán. Prior to the thirties this was a densely populated area full of one-storied houses, among them well-known restaurants and pubs. In 1933, the houses of Tabán were demolished for sanitary reasons. Deer House (Szarvas ház) still maintains the old Tabán spirit. Today, Tabán is popular with families and children in winter when the first snows fall as the hill is ideal for sledging. In the summer, folk and rock concerts are organized on the hill slope. When on the hill, take a look at the two slabs of the original Berlin Wall erected here.

Turkish Occupation

The town's development was abruptly halted and took a new direction in the 16th century. Formerly rich settlements of Western civilization were gradually turned into vivid oriental "towns" and later abandoned, while the Christian cross was replaced by a new symbol: the crescent of the East. The Turkish occupation lasted for more than 140 years and left very few marks but much destruction. All the values created by the occupants are linked to water - Turkish thermal baths are the best example. So after the Romans, we "owe a note of thanks" to the Turks for turning our city into a valuable spa resort capitalizing on its rich thermal resources. Some of the pools built in Budapest during the Turkish occupation are still used today.

Austro-Hungarian Monarchy

The 18th century marked the slow awakening and recovery of the city. On the other hand the 19th century was the age of major changes and witnessed the birth of a completely new city almost from scratch. The hills of Buda and the city walls of Pest no longer provided protection and limited space was a barrier to real development. The core of the shaping metropolis thus moved down from the hill to the plains, making Pest the center again. 1867 was the year of Reconciliation that brought about the birth of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy which significantly contributed to the blossoming of the country and its capital city.

In 1873 Buda and Pest were officially merged with the third part, Óbuda (Ancient Buda), thus creating the new metropolis of Budapest. The rapidly growing and flourishing city received new public offices, avenues, channels, public lighting, horse carriageways, a subway, green parks and bridges. By the turn of the century it was a genuine rival to Vienna. Dynamic Pest grew into the country's administrative, political, economic, trade and cultural hub.

World War II

The destruction of the Second World War could only be compared to the devastation wrought by the Turkish occupiers. After the war and until May 1990, when the first democratically elected government took power, the country was a victim of communist imperialism. The achievements of the political changes and the past decade, like democracy and a market economy, help to efface the dictatorship of the not so distant past. Visitors in Budapest will have a hard time tracing down remnants of this époque. To get a glimpse, visit the Statue Park and see a rich collection of communist sculptures that once stood on the streets of Budapest.

Geographical Location

Hungary is located in central Europe, in the Carpathian Basin.
Longest distance from north to south: 268 km; longest distance from east to west: 526 km.

Geographical Regions

As much as 50 % of the country's territory is flat: the Great Hungarian Plain occupies the entire eastern part of the country and the Small Plain lies along the north-west border.

The two most important rivers, the Danube (Hungarian stretch: 417 km) and the Tisza (598 km) cut across the country from north to south.

The region between the Danube and TiszaRivers is flat, while the region called Transdanubia west of the Danube is undulating terrain featuring central Europe's warmest lake, the Balaton.

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