At the very first sight, you know that Budapest has gone through many changes and that the face of the city we see today isn’t the same from a century ago.
Budapest we know and love today is a result of many years of history, tradition and correlation between all kinds of people. At the very first sight of the city, you already know that it has gone through many changes and that the face of the city we see today isn’t the same from a century ago, let alone millennium. And yes, you did read that correctly – millennium. For the matter of fact, it’s not only one millennium; Budapest has been there for about four millennia.
Naturally, the first settlements found in the Budapest region, dated back to around second millennium BC, were nothing like the modern Budapest. They were probably just minor villages of a tribe that happened to come across that area and decided to make a few primitive houses. Well, I guess it still counts.
The first settlement, that can truly be considered the beginning of Budapest, was established by Celts. Archeological evidences suggest that the town was densely populated and somewhat developed, but it was occupied by the Romans at around the first century BC. This was the decisive moment in the history of Budapest. At this point, the city by the name Aquincum was founded and, other than being one of the largest towns in the region, it becomes the capital of the Pannonia Inferior province.
The city, which was on the border of the Roman Empire, was frequently involved in wars. It withstood every battle under the Roman control, until the appearance of one man – Attila the Hun.
Arrival of the Magyars
The Romans left the region at around 5th century AD and that’s when the Huns took over. When Attila had died, the Age of Migration followed, leading to the huge numbers of tribes passing through Budapest, including Slavs, Avars, Lombards and, finally, Magyars. They came to the area in the late 800s and settled there permanently under the leadership of Árpád.
Around the year 1000, Stephen I was crowned as the King of Hungary. This was the point when Christianity was introduced and, in the years to come, Budapest will continue to flourish and develop…that is until the Mongolian invasion in the mid-1200s. When Mongols arrived they devastated both Buda and Pest, leaving the cities in ruins.
After both cities were rebuilt, King Béla IV ordered the construction of the Castle of Buda on the Castle Hill and city walls that will protect it from the possible attacks. Buda started developing as a royal town, after the royal court moved to the city, while Pest was emerging as a prosperous trading center. Under the ruling of Matthias Corvinus, also known as the ‘Good King’, Buda becomes the main center of European Renaissance and the age of prosperity came.
However, this period was interrupted by the Turks and Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent. The Ottoman occupation started after the Battle at Mohacs and at this time many churches were turned into mosques, while Buda became the seat of the Grand Vizier.
The city was freed some 150 years later, in the Battle of Buda in 1686, under the Habsburg leadership. The city was, once again, destroyed in the battle, but rebuilt in years to come.
Revolution and unification
Being under the Habsburg control, many Hungarians were feeling repressed, especially liberal intellectuals. The Hungarian Revolution started in 1848 under the leadership of Lajos Kossuth and Sándor Petőfi. They began plotting the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy. The civil war and fight for independence ended in defeat for the Hungarians, after which Citadella was built on the top of Gellért Hill, overlooking the city in order to scare the citizens and keep them under control.
At the same year when the revolution was extinguished, the Chain Bridge was opened with the aim of uniting Óbuda, Buda and Pest more quickly.
The Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867 paved the path of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, after the marriage of Emperor Franz Josef I and Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
Following the creation of the Empire, the cities of Óbuda, Buda and Pest were united in the early 1870s, forming the city we know today, the Hungarian capital – Budapest. By the end of the century, Budapest had become one of the most important cultural centers of Europe.
The end of Austro-Hungary
Again, the end of prosperity and abundance in Budapest was ended by war. This time it was the World War I, which resulted in the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The years to come brought a lot of agitation and uncertainty for the citizens of Budapest, but also the whole Hungary, as first a revolution brought the Hungarian Democratic Republic, followed by Hungarian Soviet Republic, followed by two years of White Terror, a period in which all traces of communism were intended to be completely destroyed.
The World War II saw the unfortunate joining of Hungary to the Axis alliance. However, the vast Jewish community of Budapest was said to be relatively secure until the German occupation of Hungary in 1944. The city was recaptured by the Soviets in 1945, which didn’t come without a price. Upon retreating, Germans blew up every bridge in Budapest, which resulted in siege and bombardment of the city. It was heavily damaged once again, possibly more than ever.
In the years to come, Hungary once more became a communist state, now declared as a People’s Republic. In 1956 a revolution broke out, savagely put down by the Communists, leading to killing civilians and damaging many structures in Budapest.
Communism came to an end in Hungary in 1989 with yet another revolution. It is believed that this was one of the smoothest revolutions among the former-communist republics, once more making Budapest one of the most important cultural centers of Europe.