is a city that is going places. Communism is well and truly history
– the young are keen to adopt Western European values, while
remaining in an obsessive relationship with Hungary’s fascinating
past. The traditions and history of the Magyar
people are still very important, as is the ubiquitous mobile phone.
The key to Budapest lies in its history, marked
by alternate periods of great wealth and prosperity and some devastating
eras of political and social upheaval. Repeated warfare was inevitable
due to the strategic location of Budapest, spreading out on either
side of the River Danube (Duna) in the heart of
Europe, offering 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 symbolised by the 1896
Millennium celebration in Városliget
(City Park) and the Silver Age was the 20th-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, the Hapsburg rule that continued to
deprive Hungary of its autonomy until 1867, 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 Petofi, 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 during 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. Flat Pest lies to the east,
with its wide boulevards and Art Deco styles. The city is a mixture
of Turkish, Venetian, Empire and Art Nouveau in a mosaic of mismatching
styles. Perhaps the Hilton Hotel combines the oddest
example, with its 13th-century Gothic church, 17th-century façade
and gleaming modern glass and concrete.
Budapest has a continental climate, with extreme differences in
temperature between the winter and the summer months. Snowfall is
frequent during winter and rain is fairly common all year round.
Two and a half million people live in this cosmopolitan city, making
Budapest the political, intellectual, commercial
and cultural capital of Hungary.
Hungary joined the EU in May 2004 and the streets
of the capital are sure to get more crowded as Westerners discovers
the charms of a city that not only boasts beautiful architecture
but also offers visitors top attractions. The Hungarian
Tourist Board is doing a lot to promote the country abroad,
and Budapest is already proving increasingly popular as a business
destination… it won’t be long until leisure travellers