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Cities in the Spotlight: Budapest, Hungary

Updated: Mar 11

In today's post we will be travelling to Budapest, Hungary. Enjoy!!


Budapest City Information

Budapest is the capital and most populous city of Hungary. It is the ninth-largest city in the European Union by population within city limits; the city has an estimated population of 1,752,286 over a land area of about 525 square kilometres (203 square miles). Budapest, which is both a city and county, forms the centre of the Budapest metropolitan area, which has an area of 7,626 square kilometres (2,944 square miles).

The history of Budapest began when an early Celtic settlement transformed into the Roman town of Aquincum, the capital of Lower Pannonia. The Hungarians arrived in the territory in the late 9th century, but the area was pillaged by the Mongols in 1241–42. Re-established Buda became one of the centres of Renaissance humanist culture by the 15th century. The Battle of Mohács, in 1526, was followed by nearly 150 years of Ottoman rule. After the reconquest of Buda in 1686, the region entered a new age of prosperity, with Pest-Buda becoming a global city after the unification of Buda, Óbuda and Pest on 17 November 1873, with the name 'Budapest' given to the new capital. Budapest also became the co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a great power that dissolved in 1918, following World War I. The city was the focal point of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the Battle of Budapest in 1945, as well as the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

Budapest is a Beta + global city with strengths in commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education and entertainment. Hungary's financial centre. Budapest is the headquarters of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, the European Police College and the first foreign office of the China Investment Promotion Agency. Over 40 colleges and universities are located in Budapest, including the Eötvös Loránd University, the Corvinus University, Semmelweis University and the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. Opened in 1896, the city's subway system, the Budapest Metro, serves 1.27 million, while the Budapest Tram Network serves 1.08 million passengers daily.

The central area of Budapest along the Danube River is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has several notable monuments of classical architecture, including the Hungarian Parliament and the Buda Castle. The city also has around 80 geothermal springs, the largest thermal water cave system, second largest synagogue, and third largest Parliament building in the world. Budapest attracts around 12 million international tourists per year, making it a highly popular destination in Europe.


Budapest Historical Significance

Early history

Buda during the Middle Ages, woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

The first settlement on the territory of Budapest was built by Celts before 1 AD. It was later occupied by the Romans. The Roman settlement – Aquincum – became the main city of Pannonia Inferior in 106 AD. At first it was a military settlement, and gradually the city rose around it, making it the focal point of the city's commercial life. Today this area corresponds to the Óbuda district within Budapest. The Romans constructed roads, amphitheaters, baths and houses with heated floors in this fortified military camp. The Roman city of Aquincum is the best-conserved of the Roman sites in Hungary. The archaeological site was turned into a museum with indoor and open-air sections.

The Magyar tribes led by Árpád, forced out of their original homeland north of Bulgaria by Tsar Simeon after the Battle of Southern Buh, settled in the territory at the end of the 9th century displacing the founding Bulgarian settlers of the towns of Buda and Pest, and a century later officially founded the Kingdom of Hungary. Research places the probable residence of the Árpáds as an early place of central power near what became Budapest. The Tatar invasion in the 13th century quickly proved it is difficult to defend a plain. King Béla IV of Hungary therefore ordered the construction of reinforced stone walls around the towns and set his own royal palace on the top of the protecting hills of Buda. In 1361 it became the capital of Hungary.

The cultural role of Buda was particularly significant during the reign of King Matthias Corvinus. The Italian Renaissance had a great influence on the city. His library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana, was Europe's greatest collection of historical chronicles and philosophic and scientific works in the 15th century, and second in size only to the Vatican Library. After the foundation of the first Hungarian university in Pécs in 1367 (University of Pécs), the second one was established in Óbuda in 1395 (University of Óbuda). The first Hungarian book was printed in Buda in 1473. Buda had about 5,000 inhabitants around 1500.

The Ottomans conquered Buda in 1526, as well in 1529, and finally occupied it in 1541. The Turkish Rule lasted for more than 150 years. The Ottoman Turks constructed many prominent bathing facilities within the city. Some of the baths that the Turks erected during their rule are still in use 500 years later (Rudas Baths and Király Baths). By 1547 the number of Christians was down to about a thousand, and by 1647 it had fallen to only about seventy. The unoccupied western part of the country became part of the Habsburg monarchy as Royal Hungary.

In 1686, two years after the unsuccessful siege of Buda, a renewed campaign was started to enter Buda. This time, the Holy League's army was twice as large, containing over 74,000 men, including German, Croat, Dutch, Hungarian, English, Spanish, Czech, Italian, French, Burgundian, Danish and Swedish soldiers, along with other Europeans as volunteers, artillerymen, and officers. The Christian forces seized Buda, and in the next few years, all of the former Hungarian lands, except areas near Temesvár (Timișoara), were taken from the Turks. In the 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz, these territorial changes were officially recognized to show the end of the rule of the Turks, and in 1718 the entire Kingdom of Hungary was removed from Ottoman rule.

Contemporary history after Unification

The 19th century was dominated by the Hungarian struggle for independence and modernisation. The national insurrection against the Habsburgs began in the Hungarian capital in 1848 and was defeated one and a half years later, with the help of the Russian Empire. 1867 was the year of Reconciliation that brought about the birth of Austria-Hungary. This made Budapest the twin capital of a dual monarchy. It was this compromise which opened the second great phase of development in the history of Budapest, lasting until World War I. In 1849 the Chain Bridge linking Buda with Pest was opened as the first permanent bridge across the Danube and in 1873 Buda and Pest were officially merged with the third part, Óbuda (Old Buda), thus creating the new metropolis of Budapest. The dynamic Pest grew into the country's administrative, political, economic, trade and cultural hub. Ethnic Hungarians overtook Germans in the second half of the 19th century due to mass migration from the overpopulated rural Transdanubia and Great Hungarian Plain. Between 1851 and 1910 the proportion of Hungarians increased from 35.6% to 85.9%, Hungarian became the dominant language, and German was crowded out. The proportion of Jews peaked in 1900 with 23.6%. Due to the prosperity and the large Jewish community of the city at the start of the 20th century, Budapest was often called the "Jewish Mecca" or "Judapest". Budapest also became an important center for the Aromanian diaspora during the 19th century. In 1918, Austria-Hungary lost the war and collapsed; Hungary declared itself an independent republic (Republic of Hungary). In 1920 the Treaty of Trianon partitioned the country, and as a result, Hungary lost over two-thirds of its territory, and about two-thirds of its inhabitants, including 3.3 million out of 15 million ethnic Hungarians.

In 1944, a year before the end of World War II, Budapest was partly destroyed by British and American air raids (first attack 4 April 1944). From 24 December 1944 to 13 February 1945, the city was besieged during the Battle of Budapest. Budapest suffered major damage caused by the attacking Soviet and Romanian troops and the defending German and Hungarian troops. More than 38,000 civilians lost their lives during the conflict. All bridges were destroyed by the Germans. The stone lions that have decorated the Chain Bridge since 1852 survived the devastation of the war.

Between 20% and 40% of Greater Budapest's 250,000 Jewish inhabitants died through Nazi and Arrow Cross Party, during the German occupation of Hungary, from 1944 to early 1945.

Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz rescued tens of thousands of Jews by issuing Swiss protection papers and designating numerous buildings, including the now famous Glass House (Üvegház) at Vadász Street 29, to be Swiss protected territory. About 3,000 Hungarian Jews found refuge at the Glass House and in a neighboring building. Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest by giving them Swedish protection papers and taking them under his consular protection.Wallenberg was abducted by the Russians on 17 January 1945 and never regained freedom. Giorgio Perlasca, an Italian citizen, saved thousands of Hungarian Jews posing as a Spanish diplomat.Some other diplomats also abandoned diplomatic protocol and rescued Jews. There are two monuments for Wallenberg, one for Carl Lutz and one for Giorgio Perlasca in Budapest.

Following the capture of Hungary from Nazi Germany by the Red Army, Soviet military occupation ensued, which ended only in 1991. The Soviets exerted significant influence on Hungarian political affairs. In 1949, Hungary was declared a communist People's Republic (People's Republic of Hungary). The new Communist government considered the buildings like the Buda Castle symbols of the former regime, and during the 1950s the palace was gutted and all the interiors were destroyed (also see Stalin era). On 23 October 1956 citizens held a large peaceful demonstration in Budapest demanding democratic reform. The demonstrators went to the Budapest radio station and demanded to publish their demands. The regime ordered troops to shoot into the crowd. Hungarian soldiers gave rifles to the demonstrators who were now able to capture the building. This initiated the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The demonstrators demanded to appoint Imre Nagy to be Prime Minister of Hungary. To their surprise, the central committee of the "Hungarian Working People's Party" did so that same evening. This uprising was an anti-Soviet revolt that lasted from 23 October until 11 November. After Nagy had declared that Hungary was to leave the Warsaw Pact and become neutral, Soviet tanks and troops entered the country to crush the revolt. Fighting continued until mid November, leaving more than 3000 dead. A monument was erected at the fiftieth anniversary of the revolt in 2006, at the edge of the City Park. Its shape is a wedge with a 56 angle degree made in rusted iron that gradually becomes shiny, ending in an intersection to symbolize Hungarian forces that temporarily eradicated the Communist leadership.

From the 1960s to the late 1980s Hungary was often satirically referred to as "the happiest barrack" within the Eastern bloc, and much of the wartime damage to the city was finally repaired. Work on Erzsébet Bridge, the last to be rebuilt, was finished in 1964. In the early 1970s, Budapest Metro's east–west M2 line was first opened, followed by the M3 line in 1976. In 1987, Buda Castle and the banks of the Danube were included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Andrássy Avenue (including the Millennium Underground Railway, Hősök tere, and Városliget) was added to the UNESCO list in 2002. In the 1980s, the city's population reached 2.1 million. In recent times a significant decrease in population occurred mainly due to a massive movement to the neighbouring agglomeration in Pest county, i.e., suburbanisation.

In the last decades of the 20th century the political changes of 1989–90 (Fall of the Iron Curtain) concealed changes in civil society and along the streets of Budapest. The monuments of the dictatorship were removed from public places, into Memento Park. In the first 20 years of the new democracy, the development of the city was managed by its mayor, Gábor Demszky.


Travel to Budapest

*taken from Lonely Planet*

Budapest has something for everyone – from dramatic history and flamboyant architecture to healing thermal waters and a nightlife that is unrivalled in Eastern and Central Europe.

Budapest’s beauty is not all God given; humankind has played a role in shaping this pretty face too. Architecturally, the city is a treasure trove, with enough baroque, neoclassical, Eclectic and art nouveau buildings to satisfy everyone. Overall, though, Budapest has a fin de siècle feel to it, for it was then, during the capital’s ‘golden age' in the late 19th century, that most of what you see today was built.

They say the past is another country, but it’s always been just around the corner in Budapest. Witness the bullet holes and shrapnel pockmarks on buildings from WWII and the 1956 Uprising. There are sad reminders like the poignant Shoes on the Danube memorial, but ones, too, of hope and reconciliation – like the 'sword' of the former secret-police building on Andrássy út now beaten into the 'ploughshare' that is the House of Terror, with both sides of the story – left and right – told.

There's a lot more to Hungarian food than goulash, and it remains one of the most sophisticated styles of cooking in Eastern and Central Europe. Magyars may exaggerate when they say that there are three essential world cuisines – French, Chinese and their own. But Budapest’s reputation as a food capital dates largely from the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century and, despite a fallow period under communism, the city is once again commanding attention. So, too, are Hungary's excellent wines – from Eger's complex reds and Somló’s flinty whites to honey-sweet Tokaj.

Budapest is blessed with an abundance of hot springs. As a result, ‘taking the waters’ has been an experience here since the time of the Romans. The array of bathhouses is generous – you can choose from Turkish-era, art nouveau and modern establishments. Some people come seeking a cure for whatever ails them, but the majority are there for fun and relaxation – though we still maintain it’s the world’s best cure for what Hungarians call a macskajaj (cat’s wail) – hangover.


Must See Sites

Castle Hill; Castle Hill is a kilometre-long limestone plateau towering 170m above the Danube. It contains some of Budapest’s most important medieval monuments and museums and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Below it is a 28km-long network of caves formed by thermal springs. The walled area consists of two distinct parts: the Old Town to the north, where commoners once lived, and the Royal Palace to the south, the original site of the castle built by Béla IV in the 13th century and reserved for the nobility. There are many ways to reach Castle Hill from Pest. The easiest way is to take bus 16 from Deák Ferenc tér to Dísz tér, more or less the central point between the Old Town and the Royal Palace. Much more fun, though, is to stroll across Széchenyi Chain Bridge and board the Sikló, a funicular railway built in 1870 that ascends steeply from Clark Ádám tér to Szent György tér near the Royal Palace. Alternatively, you can walk up the Király lépcső (Royal Steps) leading northwest off Clark Ádám tér. Just south of Clark Ádám tér, a staircase and lift from Lánchíd utca lead to the Neo-Renaissance Garden of the Castle Garden Bazaar, and from there stairs, lifts and an escalator will take you up to Castle Hill.

Great Synagogue; Budapest's stunning Great Synagogue is the world's largest Jewish house of worship outside New York City. Built in 1859, the synagogue has both Romantic and Moorish architectural elements. Inside, the Hungarian Jewish Museum & Archives contains objects relating to both religious and everyday life. On the synagogue’s north side, the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial presides over the mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis. Inside this Neolog (or Conservative) synagogue, built according to the design of Viennese architect Ludwig Förster, don't miss the central rose window and the sumptuous organ, dating back to 1902. The museum includes items such as a 3rd-century Jewish headstone from Roman Pannonia, ritualistic silver and a handwritten book of the local Burial Society from the late 18th century. The leaves of the Tree of Life Memorial, designed in 1991 by Imre Varga, are inscribed with the names of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the Holocaust. Nearby in Goldmark Hall you'll find the Jewish Quarter Exhibition with interactive displays, video and artefacts, documenting what life was like in this area from the 18th century onward.

Memento Park; Home to more than 40 statues, busts and plaques of Lenin, Marx, Béla Kun and others whose likenesses have ended up on trash heaps elsewhere, Memento Park, 10km southwest of the city centre, is truly a mind-blowing place to visit. Ogle the socialist realism and try to imagine that some of these relics were erected as recently as the late 1980s. Here you'll find the replicated remains of Stalin’s boots (all that was left after a crowd pulled the enormous statue down from its plinth on XIV Dózsa György út during the 1956 Uprising). An exhibition centre in an old barracks has displays on the events of 1956 and the changes since 1989, and a documentary film with rare footage of secret agents collecting information on 'subversives'.

Hungarian National Museum; The Hungarian National Museum houses the nation’s most important collection of historical relics in an impressive neoclassical building, purpose built in 1847. Exhibits on the 1st floor trace the history of the Carpathian Basin from earliest times to the arrival of the Magyars in the 9th century; the ongoing story of the Magyar people resumes on the 2nd floor, from the conquest of the basin to the end of communism. The museum was founded in 1802, when Count Ferenc Széchényi donated his personal collection of more than 20,000 prints, maps, manuscripts, coins and archaeological finds to the state. Highlights include Celtic gold and silver jewellery, a huge 2nd-century Roman mosaic, King St Stephen’s crimson silk coronation mantle, a Broadwood piano used by both Beethoven and Liszt and memorabilia from socialist times.

House of Terror; The headquarters of the dreaded ÁVH secret police houses the disturbing House of Terror, focusing on the crimes and atrocities of Hungary's fascist and Stalinist regimes in a permanent exhibition called Double Occupation. The years after WWII leading up to the 1956 Uprising get the lion's share of the exhibition space (almost three-dozen spaces on three levels). The reconstructed prison cells in the basement and the Perpetrators' Gallery on the staircase, featuring photographs of the turncoats, spies and torturers, are chilling. The (communist) star and the (fascist) pointed Greek cross at the entrance and the tank in the central courtyard make for jarring introductions and the wall outside displaying metallic plaques and photos of the many victims speaks volumes. The building has a ghastly history – it was here that activists of every political persuasion before and after WWII were taken for interrogation and torture. The walls were apparently of double thickness to muffle the screams.

Basilica of St Stephen; Budapest’s neoclassical cathedral is the most sacred Catholic church in all of Hungary and contains its most revered relic: the mummified right hand of the church’s patron, King St Stephen. It was built over half a century to 1905. Much of the interruption during construction had to do with a fiasco in 1868 when the dome collapsed during a storm, and the structure had to be demolished and then rebuilt from the ground up. The view from the dome is phenomenal. The basilica is rather dark and gloomy inside. To the right as you enter the basilica is a lift to the 2nd-floor treasury of ecclesiastical objects. Behind the main altar and to the left is the basilica’s main attraction: the Holy Right Chapel, containing what is also called the Holy Dexter – the mummified right hand of St Stephen and an object of great devotion. It was restored to Hungary by Habsburg empress Maria Theresa in 1771 after being discovered in a Bosnian monastery.


Must Try Food & Drink

Szatmári szilvapálinka; Szilvapálinka is a traditional plum brandy from Hungary, and this Szatmári version is one of the esteemed protected varieties. It is made from Penyigei and Besztercei plums, which have to make up at least 80% of the base. All the plums used in the production of this brandy have to come from the region, and the entire process (mashing, fermentation, distillation, maturation) has to take place in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County. The resulting drink is clear and colorless, though some versions often attain a distinctive yellow or amber hue during maturation. The flavor and the aroma are reminiscent of plums. All plum brandies coming from the region have to be rested and oak-aged. During distillation, producers sometimes add stones that are left from the fruit—this gives the brandy a distinctive flavor profile. This szilvapálinka has a long tradition that dates from the 18th century. It has a minimum of 40% ABV.

Somlói galuska; Even though its name translates to somló dumpling, this classic Hungarian dessert is actually a trifle cake made of several layers of sponge and custard cream, studded with raisins soaked either in rum or the sweet Tokaji Aszú wine, then topped with whipped cream. Somlói galuska was invented in the 1950s—the novel dessert was first envisioned by Károly Gollerits, then headwaiter at the famous Gundel restaurant in Budapest, and later created by Gundel's master pastry chef József Béla Szőcs, whose cake became an award-winner at the Brussels World’s Fair of 1958. Over time, though it has been reimagined and modernized by many, and some places have even created their own signature versions, somlói galuska has remained one of Hungary's all-time favorites.

Lángos; Lángos is a Hungarian specialty made by deep-frying a basic dough consisting of water, flour, yeast, sugar, and salt until it develops a golden-brown color. Sour cream, milk, or yogurt can all be used instead of water. Lángos is traditionally consumed fresh and warm as a snack, and it can be topped with anything from sour cream and grated cheese to garlic sauce and salt, although it is often consumed plain, as it is. The name of the dish comes from the word láng, meaning flame, since it was originally baked near the flames of a brick oven, unlike today, when it is regularly deep-fried in oil. Some believe that lángos was created under Turkish influence, while others believe it comes from the ancient Romans. This popular street food specialty can be found at numerous fairs, festivals, beaches, and amusement parks throughout Hungary, Austria, Croatia, and Romania.

Krémes; The Hungarian version of the famous cremeschnitte goes under the name krémes, meaning creamy. It combines two layers of puff pastry held together with a generous amount of smooth pastry cream. Though the recipe has been slightly modernized, the classic krémes pastry cream should be light and airy, while the top is usually dusted with powdered sugar. Traditionally served cut into large, rectangular slices, the dessert is a Hungarian classic and a staple at numerous pastry shops throughout the country.

Sólet; Often considered to be the predecessor to cholent, sólet is a Hungarian-Jewish stew that is traditionally slowly cooked on Friday night before the Sabbath. The stew consists of beans, paprika, onions, boiled eggs, and meat such as smoked pork, duck, beef, or goose. The next day, this hearty and nutritious stew is ready to be consumed.

Pörkölt; Pörkölt is Hungary's national stew, its name derived from the word pörkölni, meaning to roast or singe. The stew is made from meat such as beef, lamb, pork, or chicken, simmered in a red sauce with lots of onions, garlic, and paprika powder. It is traditionally served with dumplings, boiled potatoes, or pasta, and it is recommended to pair it with a Hungarian fruit brandy. Pörkölt's history is closely linked to the traditional Hungarian goulash, as both dishes were originally prepared as peasant meals that made hefty use of powdered paprika. Today, there are many varieties of pörkölt, with the names accordingly matching the key ingredient used in the dish, such as pacalpörkölt (tripe), marhapölkört (beef), and borjupörkölt (veal). In the Czech Republic, pörkölt is traditionally made with pork, dark bread, caraway seeds, and dark beer.

Chicken Paprikash (Paprikás csirke); Hungarian chicken paprikás originated as a rustic stew that was cooked in a large cauldron over an open fire. It is traditionally prepared with chicken thighs and legs that are braised alongside onions and cooked in a thick, paprika-flavored broth. Although it is similar to the classic pörkölt stew, paprikás is characterized by the addition of sour cream and occasionally flour, which are always added last to create a smooth, creamy sauce. Paprikás is a common restaurant dish as well as a hearty home-cooked meal that is traditionally served complemented by galuska or csipetke dumplings, pasta, boiled potatoes, or polenta.

Túrós csusza; This Hungarian classic combines pasta, traditional túró cheese, and crispy bacon bits. It can be prepared with different pasta varieties, but the tradition suggests using rolled, flat egg pasta that is torn by hand into uneven pieces. Cottage cheese is occasionally blended with sour cream to create a smooth, velvety sauce, and the whole dish is easily adapted with additional ingredients and various spices. Túrós csusza is a staple restaurant dish and a simple, budget-friendly homemade meal.

Kalács; Kalács is a traditional Hungarian sweet bread consisting of flour, butter, eggs, sugar, yeast, and milk. It is so popular that almost every family in Hungary has their own recipe and variation on the bread. Sometimes, it is enriched with raisins or cinnamon that is dispersed throughout the interior. It can be shaped into thick logs or braided (the regular foszlós kalács is always braided). This filling dessert is especially popular during the Easter period.

Lekvár; Lekvár is a very thick and rich Hungarian spread made from fruits such as apricots, cherries, and prunes. Its thickness makes it perfectly suitable for filling cookies and kiflis, as it does not run out on the sides. Traditionally, the fruit spread is prepared in autumn, when the fruits have ripened enough to be transformed into a jam. It is usually made at home, then stored in airtight jars. Lekvár is a popular filling for traditional Hungarian pancakes called palacsinta, although it can also be spread on a slice of bread and consumed as an afternoon snack or a sweet treat.


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