Conventions

Budapest's first permanent bridge over the Danube: the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, adorned with its huge stone lions

Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Budapest
Greater Budapest

The Chain Bridge is one of the most beautiful and well-known landmarks in Budapest. Although the mere sight of Budapest’s first permanent bridge over the Danube speaks for itself, it is well worth taking a peek through the ‘keyhole of history’ for a better appreciation of it. So here goes.

The man who came up with the idea of the bridge, commonly referred to as the Chain Bridge, was István Széchenyi, who is also referred to as “the greatest Hungarian” due to his key political, cultural and economic roles. Although it is clear that connecting Buda and Pest became increasingly urgent in the 19th century for numerous reasons, the construction of the bridge also owes much to Széchenyi’s personal experience: on hearing news of his father’s death in December 1820, the Count rushed from Debrecen to Vienna, but had to delay his crossing over the Danube by several days on account of the horrible weather. That was probably when the idea of building a permanent bridge – “mending the homeland divided by the Danube, along with its heart” – came to Széchenyi, with the bridge also meant to serve uninterrupted traffic between the eastern and northern parts of the country.

The man behind the Chain Bridge

For a long time, the Chain Bridge – an outstanding creation of the 19th century – was the only permanent bridge over the Danube in Budapest. The originator of the idea was István Széchenyi, while the bridge itself was designed by William Tierney Clark and constructed by Adam Clark, with much of the financing undertaken by banker György Sina. The bridge was built between 1839 and 1849, with the four iconic stone lions at the two abutments carved by sculptor János Marschalkó.

Troubled history, exquisite result

The beautiful Chain Bridge, an essential landmark that must be included in all promotional materials about Hungary, has a truly tragic and troubled historical background. Without going into details, we have compiled a few things you should know when visiting this spectacular landmark:

 

In 1848, one year prior to completion, the pulley’s suspension chains snapped and pulled down the work platform, along with the people on it (including István Széchenyi himself). Although most managed to swim ashore, one worker unfortunately lost his life, which halted construction works for some time.

 

The revolution against the Habsburg Empire, which began in 1848, also threw a spanner into the works in terms of the construction of the bridge as the two sides took turns in attempting to blow it up – with more or less success – in order to halt enemy troops.

 

The inauguration of the bridge, which was completed in 1849, took place as part of a decidedly humiliating ceremony, as the ‘festivities’ were conducted by Austrian General Haynau, at whose order 12 Hungarian military officers, who later went down in history as the ‘Arad Martyrs’, had been executed just six weeks before.

 

As such, the opening of the bridge was not a happy event, with few people in attendance; the originator of the idea, István Széchenyi, was also absent. In fact, he never actually got to cross the bridge as by this time he was being treated in a mental institution, where he later took his own life.

 

The next blow came in World War II, when the bridge was blown up in 1945 by the retreating German troops.

 

The rebuilt bridge was opened in 1949, a hundred years after its first inauguration.

The legend of the lion tongues

The most well-known legend attached to the bridge concerns the giant lion statues found at the two abutments. For a long time, the rumour was that the sculptor, János Marschalkó, forgot to carve tongues for the beasts and when made aware of the fact, took his own life in his embarrassment. The good news is that it is just a legend: the lions do indeed have tongues, and you can even see them if you take a peek inside the mouths of the stone predators.

move around like a hungarian