Location/Culture Reports

Location Report – Budapest, Hungary

“With its multifarious and often embittered history, incredible architecture and rich cultural heritage, Hungary's capital deserves its reputation as the 'Paris of Eastern Europe'. It has a complex identity, somewhere between Western luxury and simple traditions.”
-- Lonely Planet: Budapest

The Setting: The city is divided into two parts, the hilly side of Buda on the western bank and the flat plain of Pest on the eastern bank of the river Danube. These two parts of the city were once separate towns and merged in 1873. The Danube flows through the city now known as “Budapest”, and the two parts are connected by nine beautiful bridges, many of which have been reconstructed since WWII after destruction by the Germans.
The country of Hungary is slightly smaller than the state of Indiana, and home to 10 million people, 19 percent of whom live in the capital of Budapest.
Budapest history starts with settlement by the Celts in prehistoric times, then occupation by the Romans during the first century AD.
History: Budapest history starts with settlement by the Celts in prehistoric times, then occupation by the Romans during the first century AD. The city of 20,000 people at that time provided a military outpost, as the Roman Empire was bounded by the Danube River. A few centuries later, the Romans were swept out of the area by the Goths and the Huns, who then were invaded and replaced by Gepids, Longobards, Avars, and other long-forgotten peoples of Germanic and Central Asian stock.

Hungary emerged as a political unit late in the ninth century, with the town of Obuda becoming the center of government. During the middle ages, a Medieval castle and fortifications were built, with the seat of government remaining in Obuda, while many of the people who lived in the region lived across the river in the town of Pest. In the 13th to 15th centuries, the Hungarian empire grew to include many of the surrounding Balkan nations, including Poland and Lithuania. The city became known as a center for trade and commerce, including fine crafts and wine. Then in 1526, the Turks invaded, sacked, burned, and occupied parts of Hungary until the end of the 17th century, while the parts not controlled by the Turks became part of the Habsburg (Hapsburg) Empire. This period of fear and domination by foreigners still colors the region’s cultural identity today. After the departure of the Turks, the region was controlled by the Habsburg Empire, and it wasn’t until 1867 after a violent uprising and then decades of passive resistance that Hungary again became somewhat autonomous.

The period before WWI found Hungary at three times its present size, and second-most important urban center of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (after Vienna). This was an incredible period of economic growth and development, and much of the historic city that Budapest is known for dates from this time period. However, in the aftermath of WWI the Austro- Hungarian monarchy was broken up, and Budapest became the oversized capital of a small country, losing much of its international role. WWII overwhelmed the city, causing enormous damage to its buildings, as well as to its population. The retreating Germans blew up the castle and all of the bridges that spanned the Danube.
The 1956 Uprising against Soviet-domination led to a swift and brutal retaliation by the Soviets that left thousands of Hungarians dead.
Rigged elections in 1947 brought the Communists into power, and brought the country under the thumb of the Soviet Union. The 1956 Uprising against Soviet-domination led to a swift and brutal retaliation by the Soviets that left thousands of Hungarians dead. Following the collapse of Communism, the nation became the Republic of Hungary in 1989, and was soon followed by the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the first free elections since WWII. Hungary joined NATO and became a full participant in the EU in 2004. Today Hungary is struggling to find its new identity in a changing political landscape.

Nature & Outdoors: Hungary enjoys cool summers and cold winters, with an average daily temperature around in the 70s in the summer and low 30s in the winter. The topography is mostly flat to rolling plains with hills and low mountains on the Slovakian border. The country has over 1,000 lakes - the largest, Balaton, is strewn with thermal springs.

The People: Hungary in general has a rich folk tradition, producing fine embroidery, pottery, ceiling and wall painting, and objects carved from wood or bone. Its musical contributions are extremely rich and variable, and range from the rhapsodies of Franz Liszt and the operas of Ferenc Erkel to Gypsy and folk music. Literature has been shaped by the monumental events of the nation's history. Soccer is far and away the favorite spectator sport, while chess is also popular. The population is well-educated, with a literacy rate of 99.4 percent. Hungarian, the primary language, is related to Estonian and Finnish, and many people speak German or English.

Interesting tidbit: After the unification of Obuda and Pest in the 1800’s, the city was once known as Pest-Buda.

Links:
Welcome to Budapest
Hungary at Lonely Planet