More than 10 bridges now cross the Danube in Budapest. From historic architectural monuments to modern highway bridges, they are an unmistakable landmark of Hungary's capital.
Before its mouth into the Black Sea, Budapest is the last city to straddle both banks of the Danube. Since the early 19th century, a total of 11 Danube bridges were built, connecting these two banks or the districts of Buda and Pest. The partly time-honored masterpieces of engineering art are among our top 10 sights of Budapest.
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The impressive Chain Bridge in Budapest, actually called "Széchenyi Lánchíd", is an important symbol of the Hungarian capital. It was the first fixed bridge over the Danube, connecting the two cities of Buda and Pest.
Emergence of the Chain Bridge
In 1839, the construction of the bridge began at the suggestion of the Hungarian reformer and president of the Budapest Transport Committee, Count István Széchenyi, after whom the bridge was named. In the past, the then independent parts of the city could only be reached via a floating bridge. This was made of wood and could not withstand the ice drifting on the Danube, so it had to be dismantled in winter. It was completed 10 years later and was the first bridge over the Danube below Regensburg's Stone Bridge.
The Chain Bridge measures 375m in length and connects Széchenyi István Square in downtown Pest with Adam Clark Square in front of Castle Hill in Buda, named after the construction manager of the Chain Bridge, a British engineer.
The name "Chain Bridge" caught on because the impressive suspension bridge is held in place by gigantic chains anchored to two support piers that are more than 202 meters apart - a masterpiece of bridge-building at the time that won international admiration in the engineering world.
Chain Bridge: Budapest landmark
The bridge is just under 7 meters wide and carries both car traffic and pedestrians safely across the Danube from Buda to Pest and vice versa. Both ends of the bridge are flanked by two massive lion statues. Supposedly, the sculptor of these guardian lions, Marschalko János, committed suicide after realizing only at the opening that he had modeled his majestic works of art without tongues.
The classicist supporting pillars are also splendidly decorated and their shape is reminiscent of triumphal arches.
In 1915, the volume of traffic in Budapest increased and the original bridge was reinforced with a 5,000-ton steel structure. What was still wooden on the Chain Bridge was now replaced by iron. In 1949, the Chain Bridge was reopened for the third time after falling victim to German demolition squads during World War II - exactly on the 100th anniversary of the bridge's first inauguration.
The 150th anniversary of the bridge was celebrated with a new spectacular lighting. Especially at night it offers a romantic sight and is a magnificent as well as popular photo motif.
The Margaret Bridge was built as the second of the nine motor bridges after the Chain Bridge and offers a magnificent view of Budapest and its sights. Straight ahead, the Chain Bridge with its triumphal arches leads across the Danube, the imposing Parliament Building with its countless turrets is enthroned on the Pest side and the Castle Palace and Matthias Church on the Buda side. All four monuments are beautifully illuminated at night.
Creation of Margaret Bridge
The bridge takes its name from Margaret Island, over whose southern tip it passes. The island, in turn, was named after Margaret, the daughter of the Hungarian King Béla IV, who lived in a Dominican monastery on the island since her ninth birthday. The king thus kept his promise to found a monastery after the victory over the invading Mongols and to make his daughter a nun.
The architect and construction manager of the bridge was the French engineer Ernest Goüin. The Margaret Bridge was completed in 1876 after four years of construction, but the branching wing bridge to Margaret Island was not installed until 1900. Before that, the island had only been accessible by boat.
The 600m long bridge is anchored seven defiant stream piers in the Danube. It is most notable for its sandstone figures on the bridge piers, which are best viewed on a boat trip on the Danube. It is also a magnificent sight from the Buda Castle Hill when it is wonderfully illuminated together with the other Danube bridges of the city.
Blasting in the Second World War
The Margaret Bridge was even blown up twice by the German demolition squad, to which all Budapest Danube bridges fell victim. The first time, in November 1944, the detonator was armed for practice purposes and the fuse was lit by accident by a passing ship, causing two arches to collapse. At that time, about 800 people were still on the bridge, of whom an estimated 600 were killed. The intentional and complete blowing up of Margaret Bridge then took place in January 1945 during the withdrawal of the German Wehrmacht from Budapest.
However, the reconstruction was not long in coming. Already in August 1948, the two-year construction work was completed and the Margaret Bridge could be reopened. The last renovation was completed in 2011.
Szabadság híd was the third Danube bridge built in Budapest after the Chain Bridge and Margaret Bridge. It leads at the foot of Gellért Hill from Szent Gellért tér Square to the Small Ring in the Pest district.
Creation of the Freedom Bridge
The Hungarian engineer János Feketeházy was in charge of the construction. The Freedom Bridge was opened on October 4, 1896, after two years of construction, on the 1,000th anniversary of the land seizure.
Originally, the Freedom Bridge was called Franz Joseph Bridge, after the reigning Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph I. The initials FJI on the bridgehead in Pest still commemorate him. The last - silver - nail was hammered in symbolically by the emperor himself. By the way, this nail has been preserved until today. However, after it was stolen in 1956, it is now protected under glass.
Reconstruction as a bridge of freedom
During the Second World War, the Franz Joseph Bridge was blown up in 1945 during the retreat of the Germans, like all other Danube bridges. However, the damage to this bridge was relatively minor, so that it was faithfully restored and only one and a half years later, on August 20, 1946, it could be reopened as the first of the destroyed bridges - this time under the present name Freiheitsbrücke.
Even the original ornaments, the royal coat of arms and the Turul birds were preserved and could be used in the reconstruction. The latter are mythical birds from Hungary's history and sit in fours with outstretched wings on golden spheres above the bridge piers. Such a mythical bird can also be admired on a pillar in the castle palace.
The snow-white Elisabeth Bridge was the fourth of Budapest's Danube bridges. It leads from March 15 Square to the Buda district, where it opens between the famous Castle Hill with the Castle Palace, the Fishermen's Bastion and Matthias Church, and Gellért Hill. Its namesake was the Austrian Empress Elisabeth I, better known as Sisi, who was also crowned Queen of Hungary.
The Elisabeth Bridge is striking for its filigree elegance and modern architecture. Between two high, snow-white gates on both banks of the Danube, 61 steel cables, each made of 115 wires, support the slightly upwardly curved roadway, which, with a length of 380m, leads 290m over the Danube. The bridge is just under 30m wide in total and includes 6 lanes and two walkways that are a good 4m wide.
Origin of the Elisabeth Bridge
Originally, the Elisabeth Bridge was to be a suspension bridge, but no suitable material for the wire ropes could be found in Hungary. So it was decided to construct a chain bridge, similar to the neighboring chain bridge, which had been completed in 1849. After a competition in which 53 designs were submitted, construction began in 1897.
On October 10, 1903, the Elisabeth Bridge was inaugurated, 5 years after the assassination of Empress Sisi. At that time, the Elisabeth Bridge was just as long as it is today, but only just under 18 meters wide and provided space for a four-lane carriageway and two sidewalks, each a good 3 meters wide.
During the Second World War, the Elisabeth Bridge was also blown up when the Germans withdrew in 1945. However, it was the only one that was not rebuilt true to the original after the war because, firstly, it could not be reconstructed one hundred percent, secondly, the cost of the new bridge would have been many times higher, and thirdly, it would not have been able to withstand the volume of traffic that would arise.
However, the construction of the second Elisabeth Bridge began only in 1959. In 1964, the snow-white construction was opened to traffic. Since then, the Elisabeth Bridge has been considered a symbol of the successful reconstruction of Budapest after the Second World War.
The 1862m long Megyeri híd is the longest bridge over the Danube in Budapest and the second longest bridge in Hungary. It was built mainly to relieve the Árpád Bridge, which is the second bridge crossing Margaret Island. Completed in 2008, it is the first cable-stayed bridge built in Hungary. Its imposing, 100m high A-pylons make the Megyeri Bridge unmistakable from afar.
Also unmistakable is the Rákóczi Bridge. It was built to relieve the Petőfibridge, which was reopened in 1952, and completed in 1995. The date was chosen because of the World Expo 95 in Vienna and Budapest, which was not realized. Its 35m high mast pylons look like giant street lamps, especially when they bathe the Rákóczi Bridge in bright light at night.
Southern railroad bridge
Just south of the Rákóczi Bridge is the Southern Railway Bridge, Budapest's first and busiest railroad bridge. The original bridge was built from 1873 to 1877. In 1910, a more stable bridge made of steel was built right next to it, which was able to cope with the increasingly larger and heavier locomotives. The current Southern Railway Bridge was completed in June 1953. In 2008, the superstructure of its counterpart - the Northern Railroad Bridge, originally opened in 1896 - was completely renewed.