Hungarians like their statues large and exceedingly fierce. This is Árpád, founder of the Hungarian nation, leading the charge for the seven Magyar chieftains, at the Millennium Monument.
Like much of what’s currently on show in Budapest, the Monument was created in a spurt of nationalist fervor in the late 19th century. Construction began on the 1000th anniversary of the tribes’ arrival (1896) and was completed in 1900. For a lyrical portrait of the red-blooded, violet-scented city at that time, check out Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City and Its Culture by John Lukacs.
Working the crowd.
Our arrival in Budapest coincided with record flooding. Southern Germany was underwater, Prague was scrambling to erect flood barriers and the sullen Danube was lapping at the walls of Pest. Here it is on a sultry June evening, before it swallowed the lower embankment.
Budapest is a city divided. For most of Hungary’s history, it was simply Buda and Pest. In 1849, William Tierney Clark, an English engineer known for his Marlow Bridge across the Thames, finished work on the Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd). It was the first permanent bridge across the river. Yet the two halves of the city were only formerly united in 1873, in a period of increasing patriotic fervor. The country regained its national language but misplaced the vowels.
Thanks to the gargantuan human disaster known as World War II, what you’re seeing is reconstruction (along with the floods, a theme of traveling in Europe). The bridge was almost obliterated by retreating Germans during the Siege of Budapest. By the time the hand-to-hand and street-by-street fighting was finished, nearly 80% of Budapest’s buildings were damaged or destroyed.