What’s Doing in Budapest
Renowned for a high quality of life, Budapest exudes a regal and majestic ambience that reflects its deep royal heritage as home to a long line of Hungarian monarchs and, more recently, as one of the two capitals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, the city is full of tributes to past kings as well as references to the lion, the iconic symbol of the monarchy that appears frequently in the city’s architecture.
The capital of Hungary, Budapest is unique in that it is actually two cities joined into one, three if one counts Óbuda; the western Buda district and eastern Pest district, separated by the Danube River and connected by multiple bridges, were two distinct areas until 1873, when the two sections officially merged into the single city of Budapest.
Budapest first came into existence in the ninth century as two Bulgarian military fortresses, representing the present-day Buda and Pest districts. The city was then occupied by the Ottoman Turks before becoming part of the Hapsburg monarchy in 1718. In 1867, with the formation of the Dual Monarchy, Budapest served as one of the two capitals along with Vienna. Following the collapse of the empire at the end of World War I, Budapest became the capital of the independent republic of Hungary.
Throughout the 20th century, the city has been occupied numerous times by foreign powers, including Germany and the Soviet Union, and has been the site of many battles and uprisings. The most famous of these was the 1956 uprising against the Soviet occupation, in which as many as 2,500 city residents perished and another 200,000 fled. After the rebellion was crushed by Soviet troops, Budapest remained in the Eastern bloc until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Starting in the 1960s, however, the city’s form of government was often referred to as goulash Communism, a nod to the introduction of free market economics and an improved human rights record that deviated from the Stalinist principles of the previous years.
Despite multiple occupations and wars, Budapest has managed to preserve its ancient treasures remarkably well. Over the past three decades, the city has restored many landmarks, including the famous Buda Castle, an important relic of the city’s medieval and royal heritage that was defaced and partially demolished during the Soviet occupation, as well as several bridges that were destroyed in World War II.
The visitor strolling through the streets of the city should take note of its stunning and regal architecture, memorable historical landmarks, and the many ornate suspension bridges that span the Danube.
WHAT TO DO
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge, lánchíd in Hungarian, is a cast-iron suspension bridge over the Danube, and connects Buda and Pest. Stretching from the Széchenyi Square on the Pest side to the Adam Clark Square on the Buda side, it has a span of 663 feet (202 meters) and features abutments with sculpted stone lions. Designed by British engineer William Tierney Clark in 1839, and financed largely by Greek banker and entrepreneur Georgios Sinas, whose name is engraved on the bridge’s foundation, the bridge was officially opened to the public in 1849. Today, it is an important city icon and has been featured in several popular films and music videos.