A Brief History of Hungary
- The west of Hungary was formerly a part of the Roman Empire, the province of Pannonia. After its fall, the Hun tribes, invading the Carpathian Basin, gave the country their name as we know it - Hungary. Hungarian is the direct descendant of the language spoken by the Huns. It's unusual, nay unique, in that Hungarian is not related to any other major European language - except Finnish. It's believed that the Finns and Huns originated from the area - the Ural Mountains.
- This is one of the oldest countries in the world. It was founded in 895 and the Christian Kingdom of Hungary was established in (exactly) 1000, under King Saint Stephen. He was crowned on Christmas Day and Pope Sylvester II gave him his crown, which became one of the most powerful symbols of Hungarian nationhood. It's on the coat of arms. The Árpád dynasty ruled for nearly 300 years. During this time, the kingdom expanded to the Adriatic coast and entered into union with Croatia.
- After that, Hungary had a torrid time. It was invaded by the Mongols, lost significant territory during the Ottoman Wars and had to submit the remainder to Austrian Hapsburg rule.
- Eventually, fortunes improved. The land lost to Turkey was restored and the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 created a joint monarchy.
- The Habsburg monarchy was dissolved after World War I. There was a very brief Hungarian republic, then another kingdom. During this time Hungary shrunk dramatically again. In all, it lost almost two thirds of its area to neighbouring countries. What was left, came under German occupation in 1944, then under Soviet control, until the end of the war and then a communist republic, a satellite state of the USSR.
- Hungary became an independent nation again in 1989, and joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004.
Facts and Factoids
- Hungarians,call themselves Magyars and the country Magyarország, ‘The Land of Magyars‘. They write their last name first and first name last. You may only give your child a government approved name. You can choose from an extensive list of names or submit a form for approval.
- The world’s highest denomination notes ever, were issued in Hungary, with a face value of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 Hungarian pengos (one quintillion pengo).
- The car industry generates the country's biggest income Audi Suzuki and Mercedes-Benz all have production units here. Labour is relatively cheap. Agriculture (fruit and vegetables) contributes the second largest amount. Tourism is third.
- There are cowboys (called csikos) in Hungary. (Read more here.)
- Hungarian inventions include the ballpoint pen (Biro was Hungarian/Argentinian), holography, the thermographic camera, digital computing the first functional helicopter and (of course). the Rubik’s cube.
Is Hungary Expensive?
I thought Hungary was supposed to be cheap. The cost of living is relatively low. Labour is not hugely well paid. The tourist areas definitely are not cheap. The funicular - a one minute journey is 11 euros. Cakes Five euros. Toilet one euro. Entry to many of the numerous museums up to €28 (converting from the local forints, though costs are often displayed in euros and even USD.) And Hungary has the highest rate of VAT in the world - 27%.
Hungarian Food and Drink
Hungary's most famous food is the meaty goulash soup - served thinner than it is in British versions, which tend to turn into stews. Other mid/eastern European favourites appear, duck, sour cherries (combined is good), dumplings, pickled cabbage, schnitzels, salamis and strudels. Until we got into Indian food, Hungarian cooking was the spiciest in Europe - this is where they grow paprika. Lots of cake and Palatschinke (like crepe suzettes with lots of walnuts doused in chocolate. And, as in the Czech Republic, plenty of chimney cakes. The chimney shapes are made of sugared dough, not cake, and filled with anything from fruit to ice cream.
The wines of Hungary are also very well known. Possibly the most famous is the red Bulls' Blood. This is what the Hungarians told the Ottoman Turks they were imbibing - with predicable consequences. Sweet, Tokay white wine was promoted by a surprised French king, Louis XIV. More recently, it's won the wine of the century award. I also mustn't forget palinka - fruit brandy.
And don't clink your beer glasses. This is what the Hapsburgs did every time they executed a Hungarian General. So, it doesn't go down well.
What to Do In Hungary?
Hungary is a small country, so it is possible to see in day trips from Budapest, if you don't want to move your base. The Great Hungarian Plain, to the south, and especially, the puszta area, to see the endemic domestic animals and the local cowboys (Csikós). Lake Balaton, the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe and a tourist destination for the Hungarians. And the cities and towns along the Danube bend: Esztergom, the home of the church, in Hungary, Visegrád, for its (partially ruined) castles and pretty Szentendre, the home of Hungary's artists.
Budapest is far more magnificent than I remember. There's been a lot of renovation. It is a great city and could consume several days on its own. Gorgeous architecture (the House of Nations - Hungarian Parliament is stunning and a challenge to maintain). Budapest lays claim to several 'most beautifuls', plenty of museums, edgy and cheap nightlife (Ruin Bars) and more thermal springs than anywhere else in the world.. Read about my trips here.