Edit Blog Post
Published: August 17th 2005
Of all the places I have visted thus far in Europe, Hungary is the one that still bares so many scars of history; in both it's buildings and in it's people's collective memory. Hungary for me is really like the inspirational kid from the wrong end of town - a tough childhood, but determined spirit through it all, who has pulled himself up by the boot laces and is about to shine. There's something about this country I just love, some intangible combination of elements that I can't quite articulate. But I'm definently going to come back to try and find out precisely what it is!
Hungary, perched between modern day Austria and Turkey, occupies a key area of land caught between the east and the west. The first empire to occupy these lands was of course those dammed Romans who held all the land west of the Dunube (Don't even THINK about going power boating
on this river!) up to the mid 5th century. Enter the Huns and possibly one of the most hotly debated topics over the ages in Hungary; Am I a Hun Honey?
You see Attila the powerful king of
There are actually people on the Dome.
the Huns and predecessor to Genghis Khan drove out the Romans and occupied the lands of Hungary as he marched westwards to conquer much of central europe and establish his empire as the biggest of it's time. The Huns held military superiority over their culturally advanced adversaries by effectively utilizing advantages in mobility, ready state of combat (aggressiveness) and weapons. It's easy to imagine why one - living in a country named hun
gary would wish to believe that they are a decendent of such great warriors.
Although nobody has ever conclusively proven where the Hungarian people actually come from (some believe they have come so far afield as Japan!) - it is widely accepted that the Huns dispersed back to their homeland (modern day mongolia and western China) before the Magyar people arrived 400 years later. Additionally the word Hungarian
was actually used by foreigners to describe the Magyar tribes - so it actually has more to do with coincidence rather than resemblance!
This seems quite conclusive, so why is there still speculation over where the Hungarian people come from? Well the speculation has been partly fuelled by the raft of people throughout the ages fortifying the legend
The view from the dome of the basilica
that the Magyar people were direct descendants of Noah (as in the ark) and thus have occupied the land ever since. And since the Huns were here prior - there must be a direct link between the Magyars and the Huns.
But that’s not all. The other spanner in the works is the puzzle of where does the Hungarian language come from? You see it is not Indo-European and is only distantly related to Finnish and Estonian. You will struggle to pronounce ANYTHING correctly. So put these two pieces together and you've got a bunch of people vehemently arguing that they are direct descendents of the Huns.
But for my mind, I think we've now fairly safely established that there are no Huns in Hungary.
The Magyars founded Hungary in 895 and the Kingdom of Hungary was established in 1000 by King St Stephen I in Esztergom about 70kms north west of Budapest. Esztergom sits on the western side of the Danube, the other side being Slovakia. Esztergom is the home of the adeptly named Esztergom Basilica which is the largest church in Hungary and still the tallest.
Its dimensions are mind boggling really - it
That'll be the door Reg
stands a massive 80 meters high and is over 100 meters long. It has an echo of 9 seconds!!! You can't help but feel in awe when you approach this mammoth structure. I was in photo override! The interior is just mind bogglingly HUGE and contains the worlds biggest canvas painting plus you're usual church paraphernalia such as organ, cross, altar & pulpit. If you survive the huge climb the view from the top is just amazing.
Esztergom was the capital of Hungary from 1000 to 1361 when it was moved to Buda. The Hungarians lived in peace until 1526 when the Turks invaded. This really marks the end of a golden age in Hungarian history; let the scarring begin.
The Turks occupied most of Hungary for 150 years; the remaining unoccupied lands in the west were quickly gobbled up by the marauding Hapsburg Empire and in the east Hungary lived on in what was called the principality of Transylvania. Eventually Austria and her Christian allies retook all of Hungary.
Constant conflict between Austria and the occupied Hungary led to the popular freedom fight (1701-1711) and the war (1848-1849). Eventually Austria regained control with the help of
This is the statue of the king of Hungary being anointed
the Soviets. As I mentioned in my Austrian post the Hapsburg Empire eventually had to concede autonomy to Hungary in 1867. Hungary then fought alongside Austria and was eventually defeated in WWI.
Totally defeat, disarmed and incapacitated the world, like a vulture circling a near dead animal, carved Hungary up. The lands of Hungary were given to Czechoslovakia, Croatia, Bosnia, Austria and Romania- the biggest benefactor. Hungary was now 1/3 of its original size. That still hurts to this very day for even the young Hungarians and they still have feelings of contempt towards Romania.
In 1919 the communists briefly took power before being toppled by the Romanians who occupied Budapest until 1920. After which right winged military elements entered and re-established Hungary.
In the 1930s, still reeling from it's loss of land and hell bent to get it back, Hungary aligned itself with the Nazi's. As a reward Hungary briefly regained some of its land off Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania. However the soviets were soon on their doorstep and took control of Hungary. After a very brief period of democracy Hungary became a soviet state. A subsequent revolt was crushed by the soviets. But just like
The painting at the end is the biggest canvas painting in the world, measuring 13.5m X 6.6M
the previous Austrian occupiers, the Soviet Union had to afford Hungary some leniency and the black market flourished.
This however was no rosy state of affairs. The Hungarians were forced to give up their religion & even the notion of statehood. They're capital was filled with communist propaganda and the secret police were installed; possibly the most paranoid of the entire Soviet Union. Thousands of executions of both well-known people and everyday men occurred in their headquarters; now made into a must-see museum called the terror house. Torture techniques to extract false confessions were a common theme as was setting family members against each other. The secret police got so paranoid that they even used their own torture techniques against the head of the secret police and executed him.
Eventually after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 Hungary established a multi-party democracy and market economy. In May 2004 it has entered the European Union with an aim to adopt the common currency. This may however take longer then originally predicted.
No place better articulates Hungary's newfound entrepreneurial spirit than the Szobor statue park. After the fall of the Soviets some of the bigger Soviet statues
were dumped here. This has now been turned into a tourist attraction, complete with a gift shop selling satirical soviet propaganda.
Nowadays the streets are filled with people wearing the latest in fashion, driving the hottest cars and enjoying the best bars. A Hungarian (George) told me that Hungarian people were pessimistic people, fair enough seeing they've been invaded, occupied and abused since 1526. But since their acceptance into the EU there is a new found air of optimism and hope for a brighter future. And in some sense, the entering of Hungary and its surrounding neighbours who took much of her land represents, in the peoples mind a reunification by peaceful means of the Kingdom that once was.
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