The Blue-Grey Danube

#budapest #danube #architecture #bridges #river #city

By Tímea Hajdú

“As if it flowed from my own heart in spate
Wise was the Danube, turbulent and great.”
(By the Danube by Attila József, translated by Vernon Atkins)

The blue-grey Danube River separates the two parts of Budapest. The city has two souls, Buda with its castle and green hills is royal and proud and Pest with its theaters and universities is artful and earthbound. The two cities were only united in 1873. The river played an important role in Hungarian history. It brought us both happiness and sorrow. It brought relief when it stopped the Tatars in the 14th century. It brought glory when Matthias -who is considered to be the last great king of the nation-, was crowned on the ice of the Danube. It brought sorrow when it stepped out of its riverbed and flooded the city in 1838. The icy flood was vividly described in the Hungarian writer Mór Jókai’s book Kárpáthy Zoltán. The Danube also brought death when a city destroyed by bombing had to wake up and see that all of the bridges were gone, and the once beautiful scenery destroyed. Today the river flows through the rebuilt and modern city murmuring the secrets of those long forgotten and carrying hopeful messages in bottles thrown in by children.


The Bridges
For hundreds of years, the two cities were not connected by a stone bridge. Hungarian kings first dreamed of building a stone bridge in the 15th century. Wars and constant changes in the leadership of the country hindered the building of a permanent bridge. Pontoon bridges and floating piers made transportation between the two cities possible. During the winter when the river froze the coaches could drive on the ice. The first stone bridge called the Chain Bridge was built in 1849. It was designed by Scottish Adam Clark. It was due to the determination of István Széchényi that it was finally built. It was almost blown up during the war of independence. The opening ceremony was conducted by Haynau the leader of the Austrian army. What was supposed to be a magnificent moment became a moment of humiliation, for the greatest monument ever built by Hungarians had to be opened by the man who led the murderous retaliation against the heroes who fought for freedom. The other most famous bridge is the Margaret Bridge named after a Hungarian princess who lived in a convent on Margaret Island, after she was dedicated to God by her father after escaping the Tatars. It was designed by Ernest Alexandre Goüin a French architect.  When the Margaret Bridge opened the famous Hungarian poet János Arany wrote an urban ballad about how all those who jumped into the river from the bridges of the Danube hold their own opening ceremony. The bridge has the most beautiful view of the scenery: the gothic building of the Parliament, the beautiful houses sitting on the hills of Buda, and the river itself which flows carelessly under the bridge. The bridge leads to Margaret Island which is a beautiful park. Every Hungarian child knows and loves the Island it is a child’s paradise; it has a Japanese garden, great green clearings and a “music well”. During the summer children can race around the island in special pedal coaches.


The Riverbank
Before the war, many hotels were built on the Pest side of the Danube. They were the monuments of a period and a culture which ended with the war and never came back. The Promenade used to be filled with afternoon walkers in their white dresses and suits who stopped in the cafes that looked on the river. Today yellow trams travel through both sides of the Danube. The famous tram number 2 travels to the embankment of the Pest side and from the windows, one can see the most famous sights of the city. At one point it rides next to the walkers strolling under the green trees of the promenade near the Vigadó Concert Hall. The walkers can see the sightseeing and the concert boats floating down the river. During the warmer months, there is a public transport boat which stops at major sights. Several restaurant boats dock on the Pest side of the river. One of the most beautiful restaurant boats is the 100 hundred years old Kossuth that functions both as a restaurant and a museum. The embankments of Pest and Buda were all renamed after heroes of the Second World War like Jane Haning and Raoul Wallenberg who saved many Jews and died as martyrs. During the spring several competitions are held on the Danube from university rowing races to air races over the river. During these sports events, the embankments are filled with people again, just like the old days. Strange how rivers seemingly possess the secret of time. The Danube has been here long before us, carving its way through the land. Its presence reminds us of all those who lived here before us, and all those who, filled with hopes and dreams will still look upon the waters, long after we are gone.

Photo credit: Máté Ladjánszki 

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