For a city divided by a river, bridges in Budapest are obviously very important in the life of the city.
The Danube is the second longest river in Europe, and it is the most international river in the world: it connects 10 countries, four capitals (Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade) and countless cities.
Bridges in Budapest are reminders of the city’s rich history, each of them reveals a glimpse into our past.
Let’s learn about them:
Chain Bridge - also known as the Széchenyi Bridge
It was the first permanent bridge of all bridges in Budapest, and its construction was the idea of Count István Széchenyi.
Before its construction, the closest bridge was in Vienna so people had to use boats or they simply walked across the Danube when the river froze. But if the ice melted while you were on the other side, you were stuck. This happened to Széchenyi and he missed his father’s funeral because of it. This made him come up with the idea of a permanent bridge.
Construction of Chain Bridge
As there was not a single Hungarian architect that time with the expertise of designing a bridge, Széchenyi had to invite a British engineer, William Tierney Clark to design it. The Scottish engineer Adam Clark was here too, to supervise the construction.
Its name “Chain bridge” refers to its structure as it is a suspension bridge. Its deck is suspended on chains which are connected to the chain chamber. The chains go through the top of the pillars, meaning that the chain is made of one long piece that runs from one anchored end to the other. The deck is suspended to the chain-linking pins on hangers.
The most advanced and modern methods were used and this construction was one of the greatest engineering miracles of the time and it was the 4th-longest bridge in the world.
About 6000 wooden stakes were laid into the ground. Driving the poles into the ground took two years.
800 people were working on the construction and about 60 specialists from Britain were living here to supervise them.
It took almost ten years of work to build the first permanent link between the two sides of the river.
As a result, Buda and Pest were finally united.
The role of Chain Bridge in the Hungarian Revolution
The bridge was ready by 1849, right after the defeated Revolution for independence from the Austrian Empire, ruled by the Habsburg dynasty.
How was it possible? Adam Clark was the man who prevented its demolition twice.
(No wonder that the square at the Buda side of the bridge is named after him. Clark also moved to Budapest with his family.)
The Habsburg Army was planning to blow up the bridge to prevent the Hungarian revolutionaries to cross from Pest to Buda.
Clark came up with a very clever idea that could originate only from an engineer: he flooded the chambers of the bridge to increase the stability and the water also absorbed some of the shock waves. The bridge survived.
A bit later the Hungarians planned to demolish the bridge, this time they wanted to stop the Austrian Army from getting to Pest from Buda.
Since the Hungarians also wanted the bridge to survive, they just disassembled its platform with the guidance of Clark. It was done carefully so later the bridge was easily reassembled.
Clark also helped Kossuth Lajos to cross from Pest to Buda with his army. While the bridge was still incomplete, the army was able to cross it.
The bridge was inaugurated by Haynau, an Austrian general who played a very significant role in the counterinsurgency of the Hungarian revolution.
The inauguration was held just 6 weeks after the execution of the Hungarian martyrs making the celebration of the bridge a humiliating gesture. Only a few people were watching the opening of the bridge, not counting those soldiers who had to be there.
Széchenyi was not there at the “celebration”. Actually, he did not have the chance to cross the bridge named after him.
Lions of Chain Bridge
The lions that are now the symbols of the bridge were only built to the bridgeheads years later, in 1852.
They represent power which is fitting when you think about Széchenyi as he stuck on the wrong side of the river, hopelessly waiting for the river to freeze. The bridge tamed the river finally.
It is empowering to cross the Danube now, whenever you feel like it. 🙂
There is a city legend about the tongue of the lions. It is said that the lions – that were carved by János Marschalkó – did not have tongue and after realizing his mistake, Marschalkó jumped in the Danube and died. Of course, it is not true – and the lions do have a tongue. 🙂
“I am not a butcher to hang tongues of the beef.” – laughed Marschalkó.
The Castle Tunnel
Going around the Castle Hill was tiresome. So after the completion of the Chain Bridge, the idea to connect the two sides of the hill with a tunnel came up. The tunnel was opened eight years later, planned by Adam Clark.
It immediately became a significant part of Buda, contributing to the erection of new buildings in the area.
Until 1918 there was a fee to use it, but it was a very fashionable thing to walk through. Nowadays it is not advisable to use it as a pedestrian because of the harmful emissions of cars.
It is the second oldest bridge in Budapest and was designed in Neo-Baroque style by a French architect, Ernest Goudin.
This bridge is bent in the middle in a 30-degree angle. It is a great sightseeing spot.
The construction of Margaret Bridge started 20 years after the inauguration of Chain Bridge.
It connects Margit Boulevard (Buda) to Szent István Boulevard (Pest) and in the middle of it, it has a small side-bridge that leads to Margaret Island.
Originally it was covered with wood-blocks and the pavements had oak flooring. The pillars a were illuminated by chandeliers.
The center pillar is decorated with the Hungarian Holy Crown and the coat of arms.
During WWII Margaret Bridge was also blown up. Among all, the greatest disaster was this one. It happened in the daytime when hundreds of people were crossing it on foot or by vehicles.
The number of casualties will never be known, but it was hundreds (40 German soldiers also died). It was presumably an accident, caused by a leaking gas pipe and a cigarette thrown into the water.
The pillars of the Buda side were blown up by the retreating German trops in 1946.
The bridge was rebuilt in 1948.
It was renovated in 2009-2010 to give back her original beauty.
Third permanent bridge in Budapest and the first that was designed by Hungarians.
It is the shortest bridge that crosses the main branch of the Danube.
It was completed in 1896, that is the Hungarian Millennium.
Because the bridge was an important one for transportation, it was strategically bombed by the Allies in WWII. Only the middle of the Liberty Bridge was blown up, but it still became unusable.
The bridge was soon fixed and slightly remodeled into the more industrial green bridge today and renamed after the liberation from the Nazis.
Besides of its green color and the evening lights of the bridge, the coolest part is definitely are the four falcons of the Turul statues on the top of each major pillar.
These statues mirror the one that can be found at the Buda Royal Palace and is a symbol of national pride.
Elizabeth Bridge was named after Queen Elizabeth, wife of Francis Joseph I. Elizabeth – who was beloved by Hungarians – was assassinated in Geneva in 1898.
The downtown of Pest had to be transformed to build this bridge and when it was finished, it became an icon admired as a world wonder.
From an architectural point of view, the investment was of great importance: the old downtown of Pest had to be redesigned (the Pest town hall had to be demolished). The downtown church that is located at its foot survived only because of the great outrage of locals.
The 11,170-tonne bridge, named after Queen Elizabeth was inaugurated on the 10th of October, 1903 by Prince Joseph himself.
The suspension bridge had a 290-meter opening across the Danube without pillars. This unique solution was an engineering wonder that time.
The width of the bridge was 18 meters with an 11-meter carriageway and two 3.5-meter-long pedestrian walkways.
The history of the miracle building took a sad turn during the siege of Budapest in World War II.
The retreating German troops detonated the bridge on the 18th of January, 1945.
The Germans placed four detonators in the chain chambers, and while “only” one of them exploded, it made enough damage to break the bridge’s skeletal structure on the Buda side of the Danube. The bridge became unusable.
A temporary pontoon bridge called Bözsi was built between Petőfi Square in Pest and Döbrentei Square in Buda, providing a connection between the two sides for four years.
Elizabeth Bridge today
For a long time, experts have been arguing about whether to repair the damage or to build a completely redesigned bridge. Before the works began, the wreckage of an old bridge covered with several meters of mud had to be resurfaced, which took about two years.
The construction could begin in 1961, meaning that Elizabeth Bridge was the last of the demolished bridges of Budapest to be rebuilt.
This snow white cable bridge is the only modern bridge in downtown.
Its two towers are joined by suspension cables. The vertical suspenders are kept in place by the weight of the bridge.
On the Pest side of Elizabeth Bridge stands the most ancient church of Budapest, while Ferenciek square is just a few minutes walking away.
On the Buda side Gellért Hill is right at the foot of the bridge.
Two baths – Rác and Rudas – can also be found here.
Some other bridges
Originally it was built between 1933-1937 to lead from the Grand Boulevard to the south side of Buda.
Árpád Bridge (1950)
The busiest bridge of all, it carries 150,000 vehicles daily. It crosses Pest and Buda at the north side of Margaret island.
Rákóczi Bridge (1992-1995)
Originally it was named after its location (Lágymányosi Bridge) but it was renamed in 2011.
It has a special lighting system with plastic mirrors that disperses the light evenly along the entire surface of the bridge.
With its 1862 meters, it is the longest bridge in Budapest. It was built between 2006 and 2008.
It connects the northern districts of Budapest.
Its highest point reaches 120 meters.
In 2006 there was a public online poll to find the perfect name for the bridge.
Stephen Colbert American comedian asked his viewers to vote on him.
He got 17 million votes, that was even more than the votes on Chuck Norris.
Fortunately, there is a Hungarian law that states that a bridge can only be named after someone who is already deceased.
For Colbert, this cost was too much.
The bridges of Budapest and the WW2
The retreating German army blew up all of the Danube bridges at the end of WW2.
After the bridges collapsed, temporary bridges were set up until their rebuild.
The Chain Bridge was substituted by Kossuth Bridge (there is a memorial plaque where this bridge once stood), while Margaret Bridge was substituted by Manci Bridge (this cute name is the equivalent of Maggie) and Elisabeth Bridge was replaced by Böske/Bözsi Bridge (nickname of Elisabeth).
Because I really do not want to end this post with negative feelings, here is a video showing us what NOT TO DO on any of our bridges.
This is not proper use of the bridges, for sure. 😃
I hope that after reading these interesting facts about the bridges in Budapest you will be able to enjoy not only their sight but you will also understand better what they mean to us.
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