Budapest History

Around the year 100 B.C the Romans settled in the area where now Buda (the oldest part of the city) is situated. They constructed the fortification of Aquincum. The Romans introduced grape vines and began what is now a huge viticulture industry. They also introduced modern architectural techniques (columns, stone, plaster, arches and so on), the remains of which can be viewed to this day. The Romans, famous for their love of baths, also made use of the abundant thermal springs that lie under the city: they created the very first public baths, a now world-famous feature of Budapest. Pest developed around another Roman town.

In 896, the Magyars, the founders of the Hungarian nation settled in the Carpathian basin. These were. They established various settlements, but Buda and Pest were no more than tiny villages. They gradually developped into larger towns. Both cities were destroyed by Mongols in 1241, but in the 13th cent. King Béla IV built a fortress (Buda) on a hill around there, and in the 14th cent. Emperor Sigismund built a palace for the Hungarian rulers.

Later, the Turks, under the leadership of Suleyman the First, inflicted a crushing and total defeat on the Hungarian army at the battle of Mohacs in August 29, 1526. By 1541 the Turks had full control of Buda and its huge castle. It was the Poles who came to Budapest’s rescue: in 1686 they liberated both Buda and the castle itself, sending the Turks into a full-scale retreat. Nevertheless, this did not bring about a free Hungary – instead, the nation became a province of the Hapsburg Empire. Still, Budapest continued to grow, despite the many political and military upheavals. While it was denied its place as capital of a free nation, it was not denied prosperity.

Buda, a free royal town after 1703, had a renaissance under Maria Theresa, who built a royal palace and in 1777 transferred to Buda the university founded in 1635 by Peter Pazmany at Nagyzombat. The university was later moved (1784) to Pest. In the 19th cent. Pest flourished as an intellectual and commercial center; after the flood of 1838, it was rebuilt on modern lines. Buda became largely a residential sector. In 1873 Buda and Pest were united and the city grew rapidly as one of the two capitals of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The united Budapest was by 1917 Hungary’s leading commercial center and was already ringed by industrial suburbs.The First World War saw Budapest emerge as the capital of a country only one third of its pre-war size. The Second World War brought about large-scale destruction: by the end of fighting and the Soviet ‘liberation’, not a single bridge was left standing across the Danube, the Royal Palace lay in ruins and the Castle District was devastated.. Almost 70% of Buda was destroyed or heavily damaged, including the royal palace and the Romanesque Coronation Church.

When Hungary was proclaimed a republic in 1946, Budapest became its capital. In 1948 the Hungarian Communists, backed by Soviet troops, seized control of Hungary and proclaimed it a people’s republic in August 1949. In 1956 an uprising against the communist regime took place. On October 23, a peaceful protest became violent after shots were fired. Thousands of people took to the streets, a new leader (Imre Nagy) was appointed, Stalin’s statue was pulled down and the people were ecstatic. However, the Soviets would not tolerate this for long: they sent in troops and tanks, crushing the revolution and killing some 2000-3000 people. Many thousands more were arrested and the famous Hungarian brain-drain began with some 250,000 (mostly well-educated) people leaving the country to settle in the West. Many buildings around town still have pockmarked facades: these are the scars of 1956 and they are a telling reminder of those grim times. In 1989 Hungarian troops began dismantling the fence separating the nation from Austria. In Budapest a statue of Lenin was removed, and in June a crowd of a quarter million people attended a ceremony at Heroes’ Square for the reburial of Imre Nagy. By 1991, there were no more Soviet troops in Hungary and only seven years later the country became a member of NATO.