History of Budapest

History of Budapest

Infobox World Heritage Site
WHS = Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue

State Party = HUN
Type = Cultural
Criteria = ii, iv
ID = 400
Region = Europe
Year = 1987
Session = 11th
Extension = 2002
Link = http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/400

Prehistory and excavations

The first town, built by Celts, occupied about 30 hectares along the slopes of Gellért Hill (first century BC). It was called "Ak Ink" [cite web|title=Europa Newsletter|publisher="European Union"|url=http://europa.eu/newsletter/archives2004/issue31/index_en.htm|accessdate=2008-02-07] (meaning 'spring rich in water'). Archaeological finds suggest that it may have been a densely populated settlement, with a separate district of craftsmen [cite web|title=Roman Monuments in Budapest|publisher="Aquincum Museum"|url=http://www.aquincum.hu/kismuzeumok/kismuzeumokangol.htm|accessdate=2008-02-07] (potteries and bronze foundries). It may have been a trading centre as well, as coins coming from different regions would indicate. The town was occupied by the Romans at the beginning of the Christian era. Its inhabitants moved to the Danube plains, to a city retaining the Celtic name (Aquincum), in the first century. In AD 106 the city became the capital of the province Pannonia Inferior. The headquarters of the governor and significant military force were stationed here, and its population numbered about 20,000. It was frequently involved in wars on the border of the Roman Empire (formed by the Danube).


The Romans pulled out in the 5th century AD to be succeeded by the Huns through fierce battles. Germanic tribes, Lombards, Avars and Slavs all passed through during the second Age of Migrations (following the split up of the Hun tribe, after Attila the Hun died), until the arrival of the Magyars in about 896. While other tribes spread across the entire Carpathian basin, the clan of Árpád settled down on Csepel sziget (Csepel Island), a very large island surrounded by the deep waters of the Danube, forming a good defensive shelter for the settlers who started agricultural works (south part of Budapest today). It was under the Árpád dynasty that Hungary became a Christian state, ruled first from Esztergom and later from Székesfehérvár.The development of Buda and Pest's wide riverbanks did not really start until the 12th century, and was largely thanks to the French, Walloon and German settlers who migrated here and worked and traded along the banks of the Danube, here under royal protection. Both towns were devastated by the invading Mongols in 1241-42cite web|title=Budapest|publisher="Encarta"|url=http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761572648/Budapest.html|accessdate=2008-04-06] and subsequently rebuilt by colonists from Germany, who re-named Buda "Ofen", after its numerous lime-kilns. (The "Pest" name, which has a Slav origin, also means "furnace".)


During the 14th century, the Angevin kings from France established Buda as the royal seat of centralized power. They built a succession of palaces on the Várhegy or Castle Hill, reaching its height in the apogee during the Renaissance times under the reign of "Good King" Mátyás (1458-90) and his Italian-born wife, Queen Beatrice, with a golden age of prosperity and a flourishing of the arts. Hungary's catastrophic defeat by the invading Turks at Mohács in 1526, led by Suleiman I, the Magnificent Sultan, paved the way for the Turkish occupation of Buda and Pest. It lasted for 160 years until a pan-European multinational army besieged Buda Castle for six weeks, finally recapturing it at the 12th attempt, with lots of lives lost on both sides.

Early Modern Period

Under Habsburg rule, with control directly administered from Vienna or Bratislava, recovery was followed by a rejuvenating period of intense economic and architectural growth. During the second half of the eighteenth century, Budapest was often referred to as the twin city to Vienna, due to its influence in the design of the buildings during this period of "occupation".

19th century

In the first decades of the following century, Pest became the center of the Reform movement led by Count Széchenyi, whose vision of progress was embodied in the construction of the Lánchíd (Chain Bridge). This became the first permanent bridge between Buda and Pest, which had until then, relied strictly on pontoon bridges or barges and ferries.When the Habsburg empire was shaken by a multitude of anti-king and anti-monarchy revolutions which broke out in its domain across Europe in early 1848, local reformists and radicals took advantage of the opportunity. With the leadership of Lajos Kossuth (1802-94) and the "people's rights-liberals" dominated parliament, Sándor Petőfi (1823-49), also a renowned poet, and his fellow impromptu revolutionaries began to plot downfall of the Habsburgs in Budapest at the Café Pilvax (which exists to this day in central Pest). From here, they planned and mobilized crowds on the streets of Pest, leading to the steps of the National Museum where Petőfi recited his moving "call to arms" poem which roused up the crowds and gave a push start of emotions to the people, spreading like wildfire as residents passed it on as word of mouth, creating passion for the revolution, similar to the French revolution before. After the civil war of fighting for independence ended in defeat for the Hungarians, Habsburg repression was epitomized by the newly built Citadella on top of Gellért Hill, built to frighten the citizens with its cannons and large garrison of soldiers overlooking the entire city.Following the agreement of Compromise of 1867 which made an allowance for a Dual Monarchy, familiarly known to its subjects as the K&K (based on German for "Emperor and King"), the twin cities underwent rapid growth and expansion, and finally formally merged. Pest was extensively remodeled in the image of Vienna, acquiring the main artery: Nagykörút (Great Boulevard) and Andrássy Avenue which led out to Heroes' Square and a great park with fountains and lakes. Budapest's millennial anniversary celebrations of the settlement of the Magyars in the region in 1896 brought a fresh rush of construction and development. The Heroes' Square and Vajdahunyad Castle, located at end of Andrássy Avenue are just two perfect examples of the monumental scale and style that influenced the period. New suburbs were created to make room and house the rapidly growing and financially expanding population, which by now was predominantly Magyar, although there developed a sizable German as well as a Jewish community due to immigration to the city. In texts from around that period, Budapest was commonly rendered as "Buda-Pesth" (or "Budapesth") in English. [cite web|title=Budapest|url=http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=1561&letter=B&search=Budapest|publisher="Jewish Encyclopedia"|accessdate=2007-12-31] [cite web|title=Buda-Pesth|url=http://www.fromoldbooks.org/Wood-NuttallEncyclopaedia/b/buda-pesth.html|publisher="1907 Nuttall Encyclopædia of General Knowledge"|accessdate=2007-07-13]

20th century

At the beginning of the 20th century the cultural efflorescence and sparkling energy of abundance and well-being of Budapest rivaled that of Vienna and its café society that of Paris, a belle époque extinguished by World War I.In the aftermath of defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the development of Budapest was slowed down by political upheavals and the war of national defense with Romania and Czech-Slovakia. Later, status quo was restored by a charismatic leader in the person of Admiral Horthy (a Navy Admiral), self-appointed regent for the exiled King Karl IV. His domain and regency was characterized by gala balls as well as hunger marches by the poor, of nationalism and anti-Semitism by inheritance, again inherited by joining the wrong side (the Nazis), who promised the sweet reward of re-joining of the Hungarian nation as a whole in the post-Trianon era (which cut away half of the Hungarian population from its home and made it part of surrounding nations.) Yet Horthy was considered a moderate compared to the Arrow Cross Fascists of Hungary, whose power grew as World War II raged across Europe.

Anticipating and knowing about Horthy's communication with the Allies and possible defection from the Axis alliance in 1944, Nazi Germany staged a coup and overthrew Horthy as the leader. The Germans installed an Arrow Cross government which enabled the latter to begin the unobstructed massacre of the Jews of Budapest.

Before World War II, approximately 200,000 Jews lived in Budapest, making it the center of Hungarian Jewish cultural lifecite web|title=Budapest|publisher="Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum"|url=http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005264|accessdate=2008-01-31] . In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Budapest was a safe haven for Jewish refugees. Before the war some 5,000 refugees, primarily from Germany and Austria, arrived in Budapest. With the beginning of deportations of Jews from Slovakia in March 1942, as many as 8,000 Slovak Jewish refugees also settled in Budapest. Hungary was allied with Nazi Germany. Despite discriminatory legislation against the Jews and widespread antisemitism, the Jewish community of Budapest was relatively secure until the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944. With the occupation, the Germans ordered the establishment of a Jewish council in Budapest and severely restricted Jewish life. Apartments occupied by Jews were confiscated. Hundreds of Jews were rounded up and interned in the Kistarcsa transit camp (originally established by Hungarian authorities), convert|15|mi|km northeast of Budapest. Between April and July 1944, the Germans and Hungarians deported Jews from the Hungarian provinces. By the end of July, the Jews in Budapest were virtually the only Jews remaining in Hungary. They were not immediately ghettoized. Instead, in June 1944, Hungarian authorities ordered the Jews into over 2,000 designated buildings scattered throughout the city. The buildings were marked with Stars of David. About 25,000 Jews from the suburbs of Budapest were rounded up and transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Hungarian authorities suspended the deportations in July 1944, sparing the remaining Jews of Budapest, at least temporarily. Many Jews searched for places of hiding or for protection. They were aided by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and other foreign diplomats who organized false papers and safe houses for them. These actions saved tens of thousands of Jews.

In October 1944, Germany orchestrated a coup and installed a new Hungarian government dominated by the fascist Arrow Cross party. The remaining Jews of Budapest were again in grave danger. The Arrow Cross instituted a reign of terror in Budapest and hundreds of Jews were shot. Jews were also drafted for brutal forced labor. On November 8, 1944, the Arrow Cross militia concentrated more than 70,000 Jews--men, women, and children--in the Ujlaki brickyards in Obuda, and from there forced them to march on foot to camps in Austria. Thousands were shot and thousands more died as a result of starvation or exposure to the bitter cold. The prisoners who survived the death march reached Austria in late December 1944. There, the Germans took them to various concentration camps, especially Dachau in southern Germany and Mauthausen in northern Austria, and to Vienna, where they were employed in the construction of fortifications around the city. In November 1944, the Arrow Cross ordered the remaining Jews in Budapest into a closed ghetto. Jews who did not have protective papers issued by a neutral power were to move to the ghetto by early December. Between December 1944 and the end of January 1945, the Arrow Cross took Jews from the ghetto in nightly razzias, as well as deserters from the Hungarian army or political enemies, shot them along the banks of the Danube and threw their bodies into the river. Soviet forces liberated Budapest on February 13, 1945. More than 100,000 Jews remained in the city at liberation.

Upon retreating, the Germans also blew up all the Danube bridges as a way of hampering the progress of the Communist Red Army of the Soviets. A six month long siege of Budapest reduced the entire city, but mostly the Castle District to rubble, as it was assigned to the mostly Hungarian army with German leadership to defend and to "hold back". Most roofs in Budapest were blown in by Soviet bombs, walls blown in by Soviet tanks. The occupants sought shelter in cellars and ate dead horsemeat found in the streets just to survive.

As the Communists gained power by force as the Americans and other Allies retreated and gave way, fearing the Communists, the former Arrow Cross torture chambers in the prisons filled up once again. But this time with the Soviet appointed staff made up mostly of opportunity seekers to gain wealth and power over their neighbors. However there was some brightness for the suffering population, his liberally inclined successor, Imre NagyLopsided|date=September 2008. He gave hope to the people who refused to tolerate a comeback of the earlier hardliner communists of the 1956 regime -- where tens and thousands of innocent people were massacred in the streets of Budapest -- while the Hungarian Communist leaders attempted to regain power. In Budapest, peaceful protests turned into a city-wide uprising literally overnight, with men, women and children defying Soviet tanks on the streets. Starvation and oppression was used as a standard tool by the Communist Hungarians who changed sides for their own gainsVerify credibility|date=October 2007. Random arrests initiated many times by neighbors as informants made people disappear into trucks, never to be heard from again.

Soviet power had been forcefully restored, and a new Soviet-elected leader emerged in the person of János Kádár. He embarked on cautious reforms to create a "Goulash Communism" that made Hungary stand out from its Warsaw Pact neighbors. Due to the cooperative efforts of Kádár and huge loans taken from the West to offset the failing economy, Hungary became the favorite Communist state of the West by the late 1970s. A decade later, the self-empowered regime saw the writing on the wall and anticipated Gorbachev by promising free elections hoping to reap public gratitudeLopsided|date=September 2008. Instead, as Communism was toppled in Berlin and Prague, the only party, the Communist Party, was simply voted out of power in Hungary, initiating a peaceful transition from one system to another. Hungarians simply refer to all that has happened since then as "the Changes".

Present day

Following the transition of the political system, Budapest succeeded in taking advantage of new economic possibilities and pursuing development more efficiently than the other parts of the country. Upon the shutdown of Socialist industrial plants plenty of new workplaces were generated, especially on the fields of service and trade industries. In the Budapest area unemployment is the lowest and average income per capita is the highest.The local government law legislated after the transition provided new rights or licenses for the districts of Budapest. The Metropolitan Government has difficulties conducting an autonomous civic policy. Local minority governments had also sprang forth, active mainly on cultural fields. Soroksár was added as a new autonomous district in 1994.
Gábor Demszky, a member of the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats ("SZDSZ"), has been the mayor of Budapest since 1990.

The capital city is the centre of all political affairs, with most countries' embassies located in the city.

Timeline of the history of Budapest


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