Budapest: Capital of the Danube

The river plays here, in the capital of Hungary, a stellar urbanistic role, delimiting two cities -Buda, on the right bank, and Pest, on the left- that until 1873 would not officially constitute the current urban complex of Budapest.

The river Danube separates the old towns of Buda and Pest

The Celtic and Roman footprint. 

An important part of the present buildings of Budapest are seated on the ruins of an old Celtic fortification, which, appears in remote references with the name of Ak Ink. Its founders, in a time in which the heart of Europe was practically depopulated, chose this location for the numerous thermal sources that it counted on. In addition to the advantages provided by the Danube, Ak Ink counted on the rocky spur of Buda, a steep promontory ideal to protect itself from eventual attacks and where to place its burial mounds.

The second antecedent of Budapest is Roman. In the 2nd century, one of the most important frontier cities of the threatened empire was founded here. Aquincum was born as a thermal city, but soon the capital of the Inferior Panonina, whose border practically coincided with the course of the Danube, was established here. Perhaps the absence of a developed civil structure meant that, after the barbarian invasions, the city was forgotten and only the careful work of archaeologists has been able to bring to light some fragments of the aqueduct that supplied water to the entire city.

The majestic Parliament of Hungary (neogothic style)

The Crown of St. Stephen. 

In the last years of the 9th century, the legendary warlord Arpad changed the history of the Magyars or Hungarians, until then an insignificant people of nomadic shepherds who for centuries had wandered aimlessly across the steppes of central and eastern Europe. Arpad gathered and led his tribes westward in a triumphal march that enabled him to occupy the Tisza plain and the Lower Danube in 896.

Arpad established a strong dynasty and his descendants successively extended the borders of the Magyar kingdom. His grandson, Geza, promoted the Christianization of his people, and his son, Stephen I, was crowned by Otho III and blessed by Pope Sylvester II. As powerful as he was pious, this monarch consolidated the great Hungarian kingdom and at his death was elevated to the altars as St. Stephen.

Matthias Church in Budapest (in honor of monarch Matthias Corvinus I)

The Arpad dynasty chose the settlement of ancient Aquincum as the seat of its court. On the left bank of the Danube arose a small burg called Pest, composed of craftsmen and small merchants, which enjoyed a few decades of prosperity. The city's prosperity collapsed in the years 1241 and 1242, when the Mongol hordes defeated the Hungarian troops by the river Sajo, and then stormed the Danube city. Pest once again paid for its location as a border city between two worlds, this time the Asian and Central European. 

With the Mongols withdrawn, the city began to rise from the ashes. King Bela IV, having learned the lesson of death and destruction, decided to take advantage of the magnificent possibilities offered by the rocky spur on the right bank of the river. And Buda, Pest's twin defensive bastion, was born. From then on, the history of Buda will be identified with that of the Hungarian monarchy, the fortress being a faithful reflection of the vicissitudes of the Magyar country.

The Angevin dynasty, under King Charles Robert of Anjou (1308-1342), brought a period of prosperity to the city. The constant growth of the prosperous Pest revalued the whole of Buda, which in turn began a period of growth aimed at accommodating the court. Around the old walls of the fortress, a small village was built for the servants and services of the castle, the precursor of the urban center of Buda. In the second half of the 14th century Louis I the Great unified Hungary and Poland, making the crown of St. Stephen a European power of the first order. Sigismund, his son, conquered Moravia and was named king of the Germans, receiving the title of Emperor in 1433. 

Territories controlled by Louis I the Great (The Union of Poland and Hungary is in deep red)

In 1458, Matthias I Corvinus, son of the regent John Hundayi, who had opposed the aspirations of the House of Habsburg to the Hungarian throne, came to power. A sensitive and cultivated sovereign, he turned Buda into an artistic and humanistic center of the first order. During his reign, which lasted until 1490, he founded the Royal University and the Royal Printing House, as well as endowing the city with the valuable Library that bore his name. Maria surrounded herself with a team of Italian artists who decorated the rooms of the castle and erected magnificent Renaissance-style buildings. The city's benefactor only deprived the city of one honor: its capital rank, which it lost to Vienna, where Matthias moved his court.

Statue of Matthias Corvinus I (1443-1490)

The Turkish and Austro-Hungarian Empires.

While Buda was being embellished, the Ottoman Empire knew an extraordinary economic and military strength. In 1526, the Ottomans sacked the city, which fell to them in 1541. The city remained in a state of lethargy for a century and a half of Turkish occupation, as the head of a vassal state of Istanbul.

Aerial Panoramic View of the Royal Palace in Budapest (in former Buda)

In 1686, the House of Habsburg ousted the Ottomans, laying the foundations of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although subordinate to Vienna, the city experienced a new renaissance thanks to two Austrian rulers: Empress Maria Theresa and her son Emperor Joseph II. Buda and Pest, recognized as the head of the former Magyar kingdom, were embellished with buildings of the late Baroque period and later with early examples of the sober Neoclassicism that was beginning to prevail throughout Europe.

During the 19th century, the functions of the city as capital were enhanced by three unique buildings. In 1830 the Hungarian Academy was founded, which was housed in a beautiful neo-Renaissance palace from 1862. Between 1884 and 1904, the city's parliament was erected, an imposing neo-Gothic building reminiscent of its London and Viennese counterparts. Finally, in 1849 the suspension bridge of the engineer W. T. Clark was built, the most famous of the seven bridges linking the two ancient cities of Buda and Pest. 

Map of Europe after First World War

The reunification of Buda and Pest into one city, Budapest, officially took place in 1873. However, the city did not take off as an independent capital of the Hungarian state until 1918, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up at the end of the Great War and the Magyar country became a separate state.

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