Take a stroll along the banks of the Danube and look up or downstream, and you’ll see the magnificent bridges of Budapest in the distance. Although most of them have now become focal points of intrigue and favourite selfie spots for tourists. However, behind these bridges is a story of modern Budapest’s creation, tragedy and more. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into understanding the stories behind the city’s most iconic bridges.
The Story Behind Budapest’s Bridges
For centuries, Budapest was broken down into 3 distinct cities, Obuda, Buda and Pest. Separated by the mighty river Danube, there was no direct way for people to move from one area to the other. The preferred methods of crossing back then being pontoon bridges, barges and ferries. Realising this infrastructural limitation, the great Hungarian Statesmen, Count Széchenyi ordered the construction of what is still one of Budapest’s most revered and recognisable sights, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Completed in 1849, it’s construction was the first major step to improve the city’s connectivity, and ultimately forged the path for the formation of the city of Budapest in 1879.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd)
Key People: Count István Széchenyi, William Tierney Clark & Adam Clark
Completion Date: 20th November 1849
The Chain Bridge was the first major connecting point between the three smaller cities that now make up Budapest. It replaced the slow and ultimately insufficient pontoons and barges that could no longer cope with the rapid industrialisation of Pest.
The problems of the temporary bridges – which had been used since the middle ages – were brought into sharp focus during the harsh months of Hungarian winter. Back then, crossing the Danube was very difficult, especially in the winter months when it’s would freeze solid. This usually happened unexpectedly, leaving travellers stranded at either end for days at a time.
That is exactly what occurred to Count Iztván Széchenyi in the winter of 1820 when he couldn’t even get to his own father’s funeral for over a week. “The Greatest Hungarian,” as he is now known, decided that a permanent crossing must be built. And so it was, eventually completed in 1849. The construction of the Lánchíd Bridge was a major feat of engineering and architecture at the time. Ultimate laying the foundation for the creation of a second largest city in the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1879.
In the second world war, this architectural masterpiece was destroyed by a campaign of bombing orchestrated by German forces. However, after major renovation work, it was re-opened in 1949, almost 100 years after it’s initial construction.
Today, The Chain Bridge still stands strong and is undoubtedly the most iconic sights in the city. It’s aesthetic seems to simply grow out of the natural exterior of the city, as if it has stood there since antiquity. Although it is still used a major transport crossing point, recent plans indicate that it will close for a major renovation, with the potential for it to become fully pedestrianised. However, the exact details of when this will happen are unclear.
Things to do nearby
On the Buda side, you have the iconic funicular, Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion in close proximity. Also. if you want to get a birds-eye view of the city and the chain bridge, then be sure to check out Leo Cocktail Bar and Restaurant.
On the right-hand bank of Pest, as you face the river, you’ll find Pontoon, a summer seasonal live music venue and riverside bar. On the cusp of even fall when you will be able to watch the Chain bridge surge into its electrified nighttime state. You’ll wistfully sip the night away while the city illuminates behind the bridge and you will never look at Budapest the same again.
Margaret Bridge (Margit Híd)
Key People: Ernest Goüin
Completion Date: 30th April 1876
Slap bang in the centre of the Danube, sitting above its majestic namesake Island is the second oldest bridge in Budapest. Named after Princess Margaret, a Hungarian aristocrat who’s was Born in fairly inopportune circumstances. As the Mongol invaders began a campaign of terror and destruction in Hungary around 1242. At the time, her father, King Bela IV, was fearful of this invasion. So he promised that his daughter to would become devoted to the lord, in exchange for protection.
So she was sent to live in a convent on what was then known as the Isle of Rabbits. Once the Mongols left Hungary, Bela tried to force Margaret to marry a Bohemian prince. Yet she refused, preferring to stay at the convent devoted to Catholicism for the rest of her days. Her legend was soon born and the Island of rabbits became Margaret’s Island.
The construction of the iconic Margeret Bridge was completed in 1876, three years after the three city’s of the region were unionised to create Budapest. The stunning bridge has a unique aesthetic that makes it stand out. The first thing you’ll notice is its distinct bent shape. There are essentially two connecting flanks, which join an enormous white pillar at a slight angle in the centre. This is connected to a third flank shuttling people down into the island.
Like many of the other bridges, it was destroyed during the war, but also due to an explosion in 1944. However, this was quickly restored, with the original material from the damaged bridge being lifted and incorporated in the new structure. In the late 20th Century, the Margeret bridge began to succumb to wear and tear. In 2012, the crossing was renovated, back to it’s best.
Gleaming white and limoncello under a high summer sun; sparkling majesty across the Danube. There are a series of ‘Bent Cross Crowns’ along the side of the bridge and it is from the centre of these crowns that a spectacular view is found. Nowhere else in Budapest do you have such a clear perspective of Budapest’s architectural masterpieces. From the Parliament, the Citadel, Buda Castle, and Fisherman’s Bastion which can all ne seen simultaneously.
Things to do nearby
On the Buda side, you have Lukács and Király Baths two of the best thermal baths in Budapest where you can relax and soak up the medicinal minerals in the water. Or if you’re feeling some food, then check out Törökméz. A brunch spot that has fast become a favourite amongst culinary crusaders from Budapest and beyond.
On the Pest side of the bridge, there are plenty of awesome cafes and eateries where you can fuel up before embarking further on your Budapest adventure. Our top picks would be Madal cafe for a double espresso or cappuccino and a palate-pleasing pistachio croissant.
Elisabeth Bridge (Erzébet Híd)
Key People: Pál Sávoly
Completion Date: 21st November 1964
This iconic Budapest Bridge was named after the beloved Empress Elizabeth. Although an heir of the hated Habsburg rulers, Elizabeth, was someone that the Hungarian people loved. Unlike her counterparts, she took time to understand and respect the Hungarian culture and values. Spending a great deal of time at the Gödöllő Palace on the outskirts of Budapest.
Known by the people affectionately as “Sisi”, the empress was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Geneva. In 1903, 5 years after this tragedy, the bridge was completed. Just like the others on the list, Sisi’s bridge was destroyed by the Nazi’s at the tail end of World War II. Uniquely, however, this bridge was not rebuilt to its original specifications and a completely new bridge was created instead. After laying barren for nearly two decades the new Elizabeth Bridge was finally inaugurated in 1964.
The Elizabeth bridge is not the most aesthetically appealing and more on the modern side when compared with other bridges in Budapest. However, despite its modernity, it is still iconic and due to its difference, stands out from the crowd. There’s something simple and graceful about her towering white suspensions. They allow the rest of the city to sparkle – a foundational, harmonizing component for the luscious symphony that is Gellért Hill. Elizabeth is a minimalist counterpart to the more decadent and baroque style of other architecture in this city.
Things to do nearby
On the Buda side, the bridge connects onto Döbrentei Square, a short distance from the famous monument of Saint Gellért. Not too far from here, you’ll also find the famous Rudas Thermal Baths, where you can relax and enjoy one of the best views across the Danube.
On the Pest side, the bridge connects directly onto the newly renovated Március 15. tér. Also known as the entrance gate to the Danube promenade, this square is packed full of fun things to do. Firstly you have the Inner City Parish Church, a beautiful building dating back to the 13th Century. If you’re feeling some grub, then head to local favourite Kiosk where can eat and drink to your heart’s desire.
Liberty Bridge (Szabadság Híd)
Key People: János Feketeházy
Completion Date: August 20th 1946 (Originally on October 4th 1896)
Liberty Bridge is the shortest of all the bridges in Budapest, but big in personality and as many would argue, the most beautiful of them all. This powder green leviathan is a great and elegant crossing, adorned with fine details such as the Hungarian coat of arms and designs of the turul birds. It’s emerald colour compliments in scintillating fashion with the mustard yellow trams running in each direction.
The bridge was completed for the 1896 Millennial Exhibition which celebrated 1,000 years of Hungarian history. It was originally named after Sisi’s husband, Emperor Franz Joszef, who actually placed the last silver rivet on the bridge before it was officially opened. The full reconstruction was completed in 1946 and was renamed Liberty Bridge following reconstruction after being completely destroyed in World War II. Unlike Sisi, Franz Joszef was not beloved by the Hungarians, so his name was easily dropped.
The bridge is a wonderful spot to relax in its own right. There is no better place in the entire city to share a bottle of bold Egri Bikaver than on the flat curve of the Liberty Bridge at sunset.
Things to do nearby
On the Buda side, the bridge connects to Gellért tér, a stone’s throw away from some of Budapest’s most iconic spots. Firstly there is the uber relaxing and decedent Gellért Thermal Baths. It doesn’t stop there, to get one of the best panoramic views across the city, climb atop Gellért Hill.
Finally, on the Pest side, the bridge leads directly onto Fővám tér, a cracking public square home to Budapest’s iconic, Great Market Hall. Here you can stroll around and scintillate your senses to the sounds, smells and flavours of a traditional local market.
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