Musical Theme: Madárka, Madárka
Budapest is the capital of Hungary. Known historically as "the Queen of the Danube," Budapest is the political and cultural center of the country and an important economic and industrial hub in Central Europe. While inhabited from the Neolithic Period (c.9500 BC), the first recorded settlement in the region of modern-day Budapest was the Celtic city of Ak-Ink, later occupied by the Romans and renamed to Aquincum in the 2nd century AD. Its strategic position along the Danube River made Aquincum a desirable holding for both Rome and its enemies alike.
At the end of the 9th century AD, a group of Hungarians led by Árpád (the second Grand Prince of the Magyars) settled in the area around Aquincum and officially founded the Kingdom of Hungary a hundred years later. While the city grew and prospered, little was done to reinforce or extend the early Roman fortifications, and a Tatar invasion in the 13th century showed the Hungarians that it can be very difficult indeed to hold a city on the open plains. After the defeat, King Béla IV of Hungary constructed reinforced stone walls around the city and even moved his own palace to the protected, hilled town of Buda, located on the outskirts of Aquincum. In 1361 Aquincum/Buda became the capital of Hungary.
The Italian Renaissance greatly influenced the cultural role of Buda, when King Matthias Corvinus built his library there in the 15th century, housing one of Europe's greatest collections of historical, philosophical, and scientific works. Only the Vatican's library rivaled it for holdings and size. This explosive period of cultural growth slammed to a halt when the Turks pillaged the city in 1526, besieged and captured it in 1541, and occupied it for the next 140 years. In 1686 the city was successfully retaken by Charles V and incorporated into the Habsburg Empire. Unfortunately, the city was largely destroyed during the consequential battle.
The eighteen hundreds were dominated by the Hungarian's struggle for independence from the Habsburgs until the Reconciliation of 1867, which created the new dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary and placed Buda as the capital for both these monarchies. In 1873 Buda, Pest, and Óbuda (Ancient Buda) were officially merged into the modern city of Budapest, starting a golden age of economic and cultural growth.
Budapest's happy times ended with World War I and the collapse of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. During World War II the city sustained heavy damage from British and American air raids and was besieged during the Battle of Budapest in 1945. Major damage was afflicted upon the city from the attacking Soviet troops, and tens of thousands of civilians were killed. The communist government of the country did little to rebuild the city after the war's end, and systematically gutted and destroyed many of the surviving historic buildings in the city.
In 1956 a peaceful student demonstration in Budapest led to the start of the Hungarian Revolution when State Security Police fired upon the crowd. The government was overthrown, but the USSR sent a regiment of tanks to Budapest and crushed the revolt and restored the Communist Party to power. The last Soviet troops left Budapest in 1991 as Hungary began the transition to a free society. For the rest of the century, work was done to repair much of the wartime damage and to preserve and rebuild the remaining historic locations. Despite these beginnings of growth and construction, the city has begun recently experiencing a sharp decrease in population as its inhabitants flee to the neighboring Pest county.