The Celts occupied Hungary in the 3rd century BC but were conquered by the Romans around the beginning of the Christian era. Until the early 5th century AD, all of Hungary west of the Danube (an area known as Transdanubia) was included in then Roman province of Pannonia. The Roman legion stationed at Aquincum (Budapest) guarded the north-eastern frontier of the empire. The pleasure-loving Romans planted the first vineyards in Hungary and built baths near the regions thermal waters. They were forced to abandon Pannonia in 451 by the Huns, whose short-lived empire was established by Attila. The Huns were followed by Goths, Lombards, and finally the Avars, a powerful Turkic people that was subdued in turn by Charlemagne in 796.
In 896, seven nomadic Magyar tribes under the leadership of Arpad swept in from the Eurasian plains beyond the Volga River and occupied the Danube Basin. The Magyars terrorised Europe with their raids as far as Spain, northern Germany and southern Italy until they were stopped in 955 by the German king, Otto I at the battle of Augsburg and subsequently converted to Christianity. Hungarys first king and patron saint, Stephen I was crowned on Christmas Day in the year 1000. Medieval Hungary was a large and powerful state which included Transylvania (now in Romania), Slovakia and Croatia.
In 1456 Hungarians under Janos Hunyadi stopped the ottoman Turkish advance at Belgrade but the Turks defeated the Hungarian army at Mohacs after a peasant revolt in 1526. Buda Castle capitulated in 1541 and Hungary was divided into three parts. The central part was in Turkish hands, Transdanubia was governed by the Austrian House of Habsburg and the principality of Transylvania became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks were finally expelled in 1686 and Hungary was subjected to Habsburg domination, eventually forming the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy in 1867. Following the defeat of Austria at the end of World War I, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and nearly as much of its population.
Hungary was declared a democratic republic in November 1918, a communist dictatorship was established in March 1919 by Béla Kun but it lasted only 134 days before being replaced by a Social Democratic government in August. The loss of its territories, economic difficulties and high inflation rates all contributed to move the political scene to the right and later to fascism. At the beginning of WW II Hungary allied with Germany in exchange for Southern Slovakia and Northern Transylvania which were lost again after their defeat to Soviet armies in 1945. In 1956 an uprising against Stalinism was defeated by Soviet troops. Finally, in 1990, the Communist party voluntarily allowed the establishment of a multi-party parliamentary democracy and the Soviet army left the country. In 1999, Hungary became full member of NATO.
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Here is a poor photo of the famous Chain Bridge that is one of Budapest's major landmarks.
And this is the Elizabeth Bridge also seen from the Pest side.
Elegant terraces line the Belgrad Rampart between the two bridges along the Danube River, it's a great place to go for a stroll.
Vaci utca, parallel to the river two blocs away is also one of the fashionable places to amble and go shopping. Budapest has always been elegant, even in the dark days of communism when I used to come here on business in the 1960's.
In those days, I used to export lubricants and special petroleum products from France to several countries behind the iron curtain. In Hungary, I dealt with Mineralimpex, one of the state import monopolies with whom I had very good relations.
Roaming through central Pest, I was pleased to see that the great restaurant Mathias Pince where I had dined with my customers, was still going strong. I have good memories of an excellent dinner of spicy roast pork with a half dozen violinists hovering about the tables playing tzigane music. Unforgettable!
If I remember correctly, Andrasy utca, one of Pest's major avenues used to be called Nepkostarsasag utca. Underneath it, one of the world's first metro lines ran up to Hero's Square on the edge of Varosliget Park.
The Hero's monument was erected in 1896 to celebrate one millennium of Magyar presence in the Carpathian Bassin and to forget the 345 year Ottoman occupation ended in 1886.
On the north-west side of Hero's Square stands the Museum of fine Arts facing the Art Gallery on the south-east side which I somehow forgot to photograph.
Vajdahunyad Castle built in 1896, adds a romantic touch to the already delightful park.
This castle, inside the gate seen above, now serves as Agricultural Museum.
The side view of Vajdahunyad Castle with the tender green weeping willow is an invitation to dream...
My objective coming to the park was to visit to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths that had impressed me as being highly civilised when I discovered them forty years ago. I still hold that opinion and enjoyed soaking in a series of hot baths and coddling myself for two hours for only 3 $US.
Buda, on the western side of the Danube is smaller than Pest but it is much older because the high position of the hills over the river made them easy to defend. The first settlement was built by the Celts on the slopes of Gellert hill on the Buda side. The Romans later expanded it to include the plains on the Pest side.
The royal castle and the walled city were built on Castle Hill after the mongol invasion in the 13th century.
The Matthias church as seen today was rebuilt in 1896 over a medieval church that had been converted into a mosque during the Ottoman occupation from 1541 to 1886.
Just south of Matthias Church is this statue of St-Stephen, Hungary's first king, in front of the Fishermen's Bastion that offers great views of Pest and the Parliament building on the other side of the Danube.
Tanscics utca north of Matthias Church, leads to the Vienna Gate exit of the fortifications.
Here is the National Archives building at the end of Tanscics utca.
The neo-gothic Parliament built in 1902 was undergoing a facial treatment when I took this shot from Batthyany ter on the other side.
Back in Pest, I made it a point to enjoy a great goulash at the very popular restaurant in the market near Elizabeth Bridge.
Here is a view inside the market taken from the restaurant.
The traditional Austrian influence is reflected in the frequent use of the German language like in this delicatessen.
Walking back from the market to Deak square where my hostel was we pass by the National Museum which is worth a half day visit.
A short ways further we come across Budapest's great Synagogue built in 1859 when Jews were still numerous and powerful in Hungary.
This composite picture shows an architectural particularity that I have not seen anywhere else. Ap partements are accessed from these balconies around the walls of an inner courtyard and that can be reached by a stairway spiralling around an elevator.
This is the courtyard of the Red Truck Hostel where I occupied a bunk in a 4 bed dorm for 13 $US which is quite reasonable for Europe!
I like Budapest, it's a beautiful, elegant and sophisticated city, the people are friendly and it can be quite inexpensive if you are not too demanding.
Thinking about the good times I have had here and elsewhere in my youth, I suddenly decided to change the plans I had made for this trip and visit Zagreb via Pécs instead of going directly to Belgrade via Szeged.
That is one of the advantages of travelling alone, one can choose to do absolutely anything one feels like doing, even at the last minute!
(Within the limits of legality of course.)