Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was precisely the combination of the relative ease of crossing the River here and the natural protection the hill offered against invasion that decided the earliest settlers. You only need take a look at Gellért Hill, right beside the River Danube as it flows majestically through the centre of the modern city. The Eravisci, a tribe of highly cultured Celts, had already settled at Gellért Hill in the third and fourth centuries B.C. They worked with iron, decorated their earthenware pots and even minted their own coins. Later, the Romans built a settlement at today’s Óbuda. They called it Aquincum and it was an important station along the limes which ran alongside the River Danube.
The capital city of Hungary, Budapest, was created out of the unification of the separate historic towns of Buda, Pest and Óbuda in 1873. Whilst the area had been inhabited from early times, it was from this date that the city’s expansion into a world capital really began. Budapest is bisected by the River Danube, with the city as much a natural geographical centre as it is the country’s transport hub. Covering an area of two hundred square miles and divided into 23 administrative districts, it is home today to a population of 1.8 million people.
The Second World War, however, had a catastrophic effect. Apart from the horrifying cost in terms of human casualties, the architectural splendour of the city was brought to ruin. Every one of the bridges over the River Danube, for example, was blown up by the retreating Germans. The authorities managed to replace within four years, as work to rebuild the city progressed apace. There was a further administrative enlargement in 1950 when more neighbouring towns were absorbed; the city now comprised 22 districts (more recently this has become 23, as boundaries have been redrawn). The city’s buildings and transport network suffered afresh in the 1956 Uprising, but were again repaired. Large-scale building of blocks of flats took place in the 1960’s, followed by construction of two new Underground lines. The Lágymányosi Bridge, the new National Theatre and the National Concert Hall have all appeared since the fall of Communism.
Budapest possesses a rich and fascinating history as well as a vibrant cultural heritage. Recognizing the unique value of its traditions it has managed to maintain its magic and charm, and is rightly known as the Queen of the Danube. It has also been called the City of Spas, as there are a dozen thermal baths complexes served by over a hundred natural thermal springs.