Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe, member of the European Union, NATO, the OECD, the Visegrád Group, and the Schengen Area. The official language is Hungarian, which is the most widely spoken non-Indo-European language in Europe.
Following centuries of successive habitation by Celts, Romans, Huns, Slavs, Gepids, and Avars, the foundation of Hungary was laid in the late 9th century by the Hungarian grand prince Árpád in the Honfoglalás (“homeland-conquest”). His great-grandson Stephen I ascended to the throne in 1000 CE, converting the country to a Christian kingdom. By the 12th century, Hungary became a middle power within the Western world. Following the Battle of Mohács in 1526 and about 150 years of partial Ottoman occupation (1541–1699), Hungary came under Habsburg rule, and later formed a significant part of the Austro–Hungarian Empire (1867–1918).
Hungary’s current borders were first established by the Treaty of Trianon (1920) after World War I, when the country lost 71% of its territory and 58% of its population. Following the interwar period, Hungary joined the Axis Powers in World War II, suffering significant damage and casualties. Hungary came under the influence of the Soviet Union, which contributed to the establishment of a four-decade long communist dictatorship (1947–1989). The country gained widespread international attention regarding the Revolution of 1956 and the seminal opening of its previously-restricted border with Austria in 1989, which accelerated the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.
On 23 October 1989, Hungary again became a democratic parliamentary republic, and is today an upper-middle income country with a very high Human Development Index. Hungary is a popular tourist destination attracting 10.675 million tourists a year (2013). It is home to the largest thermal water cave system and the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Lake Balaton), and the largest natural grasslands in Europe (the Hortobágy National Park). The country’s capital and largest city is Budapest. (wikipedia.org)
The capital of Hungary is situated along the Danube, in the heart of the Carpathian basin. Hilly Buda, which comprises one-third of the city’s area of 525 km² is located along the right bank of the Danube surrounded by low mountains. János Hill, with its 529 metres is the highest summit of Buda. Across the river sprawls flat Pest. The geology of Budapest has played a determining role in the city’s life over the course of history. Hot springs breaking through limestone mountains supplying water of 35-76 degrees centigrade gave rise to a flourishing culture of spas in the Roman Age and made Budapest one of the most popular spa cities of Europe.
Traces of settlements have been found dating back as far as the Old Stone Age. People lived on both sides of the Danube, where Budapest now stands, in the second millennium B.C. Bronze Age urn sites have also been uncovered. In the 6th century B.C. Scythians from the Black Sea region settled here, and there are signs of Celto-Illyrian tribes having been here in the 4th/3rd century B.C.
A decisive factor in the town’s development was the building of a Roman fort in what is now Óbuda. The Roman base of Aquincum, separated into civilian and military districts, was the capital of the province of Pannonia and flourished during the second half of the 2nd century B.C.
Around the year 1000 Stephen (István) I, King of Hungary, organized a feudal state on the Central European model and introduced Christianity. A few years later merchants from Central and Western Europe settled in Buda and Pest and helped both places to develop rapidly. In 1241-42 the Mongols pillaged the towns of Buda and Pest. A few years later the construction of the Buda Castle ordered by King Béla IV was completed. The royal court moved to Buda in 1347 again, when work was begun to expand the fortification into a palace in contemporary Gothic style. From then on Buda became a royal town, while Pest developed into a prosperous trading center. In the second half of the 15th century Matthias Corvinus extended the Royal Palace and Buda, together with Visegrád, became a center of Renaissance culture.
In 1541 the Turks occupied Buda and Pest. Under Sultan Süleyman I (the Magnificent) many churches were converted into mosques, fine bath-houses constructed and the defensive works modernized. Buda became the seat of a Grand Vizier.
Buda was occupied by the Ottoman Empire until 1686, when Charles of Lorraine was able to reconquest Óbuda, Buda and Pest for the House of Habsburg. Various measures taken during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa led to a further economic upsurge in Buda and Pest, largely brought about by an influx of German-speaking settlers. In 1777 Buda was made a university town but lost this title to Pest a few years later, which soon became the intellectual and political center of the country. In 1848-49 there was a civil revolution led by liberal nobles.
The Chain Bridge was opened in 1849, with the aim of helping Óbuda, Buda and Pest to merge more quickly. The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 established the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, re-establishing the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hungary. Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth (“Sissi”) were crowned as King and Queen of Hungary in Matthias Church. In the history of Budapest the year 1872 stands out as a milestone, for it was then that the three separate settlements of Pest, Buda and Óbuda (literally “Old” Buda) were united into one city with a population of more than 150,000. Budapest officially became the capital city of Hungary, and underwent rapid growth in size and eminence. This was the city’s golden age, and coincided with the Hungarian millennial celebrations in 1896, when the continental Europe’s first underground railroad was opened. At the outbreak of the First World War many well-known industrial firms established themselves in the Budapest region.
As a result of the war Budapest suffered severe economic setbacks which continued in the years between the wars. Towards the end of the Second World War, in the autumn of 1944, Budapest became a front-line town and suffered severe damage, especially in the castle district where units of the German army were barricaded in.
From February 13th 1945 onwards Soviet troops controlled the whole of Budapest and thereafter it was ruled along strict Soviet lines. In the autumn of 1956 political turmoil and economic hardship fueled popular uprisings which were savagely put down by the Soviet military. During the fighting the inner city suffered heavy damage.
In the 1960s and 1970s a large scale reconstruction took place, such as the opening to traffic of the Elisabeth Bridge, extension of the underground network, renovation of the old city center, especially the castle district, and the building of large luxury hotels both in the castle district and on the Pest bank of the Danube. What soon became known as “goulash communism” encouraged an upsurge in tourism, and visitors from both Eastern and Western Europe, as well as the US visited the city in ever-increasing numbers.
In 1989 the events of 1956 could be viewed in a fresh light, and on June 16th hundreds of thousands paid homage to the former prime minister Imre Nagy who had been disgraced and executed 31 years earlier. These political changes led to the Iron Curtain on the Hungaro-Austrian border being pulled down, and several thousand East Germans took advantage of the situation to flee to West Germany and other western countries.
Budapest, now home to two million inhabitants, would appear countless times on any list of superlatives. The Continent’s first underground railway was built here. From here originated more pioneering Hollywood film makers than from any other European city. Budapest was the home of such world class inventors as Kálmán Kandó, the father of electric railways, and János Irinyi, one of the early developers of matches. Hungary’s two most celebrated composers – Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály – lived in Budapest, and Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian author Imre Kertész was born here.