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The site has been continuously settled since prehistoric times and is now the home of about one-fifth of the country's population. Once called the "Queen of the Danube," Budapest has long been the focal point of the nation and a lively cultural center. The city straddles the Danube (Hungarian: Duna) River in the magnificent natural setting where the hills of western Hungary meet the plains stretching to the east and south. It consists of two parts, Buda and Pest, which are situated on opposite sides of the river and connected by a total of seven bridges. The famous Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge connecting until then, two completely different towns: Buda and Pest. It was built by Count Szechneyi only in 1849 and was immediately accepted as one of the city's prime landmarks.
Although the city's roots date to Roman times and even earlier, modern Budapest is essentially an outgrowth of the 19th C Austro-Hungarian Empire, when Hungary was three times larger than the present country. Hungary's reduction in size following World War I did not prevent Budapest from becoming, after Berlin, the second largest city in central Europe. One out of five Hungarians now lives in the capital, which, as the seat of government and the centre of Hungarian transport and industry, dominates all aspects of national life. Tens of thousands of commuters converge on Budapest daily, more than half the nation's university students attend school in the city, and about half the country's income from foreign tourism is made here.
Budapest always stood apart from the relatively drab, grey capitals of the other Soviet-bloc countries; it fought to maintain an impression of plenty, with smart shops, good restaurants, and other amenities. The dissolution of the Soviet bloc and Hungary's transition away from socialism brought Budapest new opportunities for prosperity and an influx of Western tourists - along with the stresses of economic transition to the free-market economy. Both the city and the country have come a long way from the times of dictatorship and shortages. As of 1st May 2004, together with nine other former Communist nations, Hungary is a full member of the European Union.
Present-day Budapest actually consists of three cities: Obuda, the oldest section, with Celtic and Roman ruins on the Buda side of the Danube; Buda in the gently rolling hills on the western bank, famous for its historic Castle Hill and beautiful residential area; and bustling Pest with its shopping, government and commercial districts on the flat plain of the east bank.
Budapest prides itself as the city with Europe's largest Parliament, largest functioning synagogue and the continent's first underground railway.
The remains of fortresses and buildings from Roman times, still operating Turkish baths, Gothic and Baroque buildings, and the incredibly rich Art Nouveau architectural heritage all give Budapest a very special flair of the 'Queen of the Danube'.
Budapest is also one of the largest European spas. With almost 100 thermal springs and 12 medicinal baths within its boundaries and some 19 million gallons of thermal water rising to the surface every day, Budapest has now started a major PR campaign emphasizing the sophistication of its spas and baths and laying a claim 'to keep Europe healthy'.
Despite its spectacular development, Budapest has preserved its old charm and magic. It is a city where the pleasing harmony of different architectural styles and superb structures, the cafes, baths, the food and culture, all blend into an unforgettable experience for visitors.
Don't know where a place is? Try this map (opens in new window): Map of Hungary
Other Slovakia, Austria and Germany pages:
Bratislava, Slovakia: Capital of Slovakia, Bratislava lies in the extreme southwestern part of the country, along the Danube where that river has cut a gorge in the Lower Carpathian Mountains near the meeting point of the frontiers of Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary.
Linz, Austria: Linz is rich in historic buildings and the city has become an important cultural centre.
Melk, Austria: Situated on an isolated rock with its commanding the Danube, Melk's Benedictine monastery is the largest in Austria and at its time and day was the most important work of sacral Baroque in Europe.
Travel to Germany: a Europe Tour that's a lot more than Beer, Lederhosen and