Budapest is a very central European and a global city at the same time. This apparent paradox is due to its lively history, its diverse population and the continuous, inspirational blend of cultures.
Its history dates back to antiquity: Óbuda still has the ruins of amphitheatres, baths and houses of the former Roman city of Aquincum. Although the Huns, Germans, Avars and Slavs, who followed the Romans, have not left too many visible traces, Pest’s name still reminds us of the Slav settlements.
The early stormy centuries of the Middle Ages were closed by the Hungarian conquest (9th century) and the founding of the state by which the Árpád kings consolidated the location of Hungarians in the area. This could have only been achieved by a number of external and internal conflicts, wars and pagan rebellions, which is commemorated by the monumental statue at the mountain side of Gellért Hill, bearing the name of the Christian bishop who died as a martyr. Buda Castle itself was built after the destruction of the Tartar invasion (1241-1242), and Buda (i.e. Pest and Óbuda) gradually became the centre of the Kingdom of Hungary under the reign of the last Árpád kings and then under the reign of the Anjou and Sigismund von Luxemburg. It blossomed during the 15th century, especially in the time of Mátyás Hunyadi, who made Buda the capital of a regional great power.
Following the Ottoman conquest (1541), however, Buda turned to the East for one and a half centuries; camels appeared on its streets and the Muslims were summoned to pray from the minarets. In the already multiethnic (German, Hungarian, Jewish, etc.) settlements large numbers of South Slavs settled down, and after the expulsion of the Turks, Germans, Slovaks, as well as settlers from the Habsburg Empire enriched the variety. The other legacy of the Turkish era was the introduction of a well-developed bathing culture, one of the main attractions of Budapest.
Following the decades of peaceful development of the 18th century and then the next century’s busy decades culminating in the revolution of 1848-49, the new golden era was brought by the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (1867-1918). As the three cities (Buda, Pest and Óbuda) united in 1873, creating Budapest, the Hungarian population of the city also blended the culture, customs and tastes of the many folk groups living there into a unique mixture. This still determines the character of Budapest. The fast-growing development of the city, also known as the Queen of the Danube, was only stuck by the two world wars - especially the tragedies of the Second World War (Holocaust and the Siege of Berlin). Although the second half of the 20th century also began with an unsuccessful uprising - indeed, the 1956 War of Independence restored Budapest to the world map for a few days - a more peaceful era of further growth followed. The dynamic decades after the eradication of communist dictatorship (1989-1990) can undoubtedly be regarded as a new golden age of Budapest.
As a result of the historical processes and impacts briefly outlined here, the unique homeliness that one can experience in the other big European cities was created, which is completed by the unique flavours of Budapest. For example, let’s look at the architectural heritage: although the towns of medieval Europe are only recalled by the streets of the Castle Quarter and some old churches, the impressive Parliament built at the turn of the century, the generous lines of the avenues in Pest, the splendour of Heroes’ Square and the many picturesque nooks enchant the visitor. Along with the memories of historic and eclectic architecture, ornate public buildings and mansions, the masterpieces of the Hungarian secession, the exotic synagogues and the many buildings of the modern and socialist modernist styles of the 20th century bear the impressions of recent centuries (and do not think about the war splinters still visible here and there).
But the same variety is reflected in Budapest’s culinary art and its broader cultural life. From classical Hungarian fish soup, sausages and the juicy, delicious dishes and wines of the local cuisine to Transylvanian delicacies, Slovak Strapačky, Wiener schnitzel, German and Czech Beers, and Jewish Flodni, to the many masterpieces of traditional and modern international gastronomy, Budapest’s restaurants, cafés and street vendors have all these on offer. Although the clatters of the fairs of the Middle Ages were replaced by the bustle of market halls, the selection did not diminish at all, and whilst the pleasure quarters of Taban and Óbuda have disappeared, their mood continues to live in many places of Budapest and especially in the former Jewish quarter, today famous for its ruin pubs, and designated as the “party quarter.” The lively café life of the 19th century, and the nostalgically acclaimed atmosphere of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the fin de siécle are today complemented by Budapest’s always lively public squares, its crowded cafés and cultural vibrancy. The multifaceted city does not only serve as a scenery for a multitude of cultural events, museums and galleries, as well as festivals and concerts, but also forms an integral part of these.