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Country of the Week: Hungary

In Countries by Kyle RammlerLeave a Comment

This week we’ve arrived in Central Europe – or more specifically the fascinating country of Hungary! Read on to learn more about its tumultuous history, culture, and much more.

  • Capital of Hungary (and Largest City): Budapest
  • Population of Hungary (2015): 9,855,571 (88th)
  • Total Area: 93,030 km² (109th)
  • Official Language: Hungarian
  • Currency: Hungarian forint (Ft) (HUF)
budapest hungary parliament river danube evening city

The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest

History of Hungary

Where else would our story begin than the occupation by the Roman Empire. For about 400 years, Rome held power over the region – until their ultimate collapse resulted in a variety of different barbarian tribes moving in. For many years, the population of what is now Hungary was a diverse bunch. By the end of the 9th century however, another ethnic group (the Hungarians – makes sense now doesn’t it?) settled in the country and began to unite under a single federation.

As the Hungarians turned the country into a single entity, the people soon began to make a name for themselves across Europe and beyond. With raids on the nearby Byzantine Empire as well as to the west, Hungary became a feared and major player on the regional stage. With the establishment of the Árpád dynasty, the country had a line of kings to match their stature. Following a countrywide conversion to Christianity, Hungary also became involved in the crusades – even leading the 5th Crusade to the Holy Land. Not all was success and conquest however. The Mongol invasions devastated much of the land in the 1200’s, with nearly a million killed.

Hungary and the Ottomans

As Hungary entered the 14th century, the power of the kings began to be curtailed, which would soon lead to an elected monarch as opposed to one who ruled through divine right. This would soon be followed by a weakening of the country as a whole, especially at the hands of their great rivals – the Ottomans. While first defeated and divided, Hungary did manage some crucial victories against the Turks – however much of the country was devastated.

Hapsburg Hungary

The chaotic 18th and 19th centuries saw the country come under the sway of the powerful Hapsburg dynasty. The supporters of the Hapsburgs clashed with Hungarians for many years, taking a toll on both sides. Eventually, a compromise was signed in 1867, that resulted in the dual monarchy known as Austria-Hungary. This union resulted in the creation of one of the largest and most powerful countries in Europe.

Hungary in WWI

Nowhere is Hungary’s newfound global significance more evident than in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – an event that jump started the first World War. Fighting on the side of the Central Powers, Hungary had some early successes though they were ultimately defeated. In the end, defeat also meant the dissolution of the union between Austria and Hungary.

Hungary in WWII

Hungary had their own problems to deal with during the interwar period. Border disputes and later Nazi influence took the country down a dark path. Once WWII broke out, Hungary was on the side of the Axis powers. Once things began to take a turn for the worse, Hungary sought to retire from the conflict, even negotiating to surrender with the Allies – a move that prompted German occupation. In the end, the combination of war as well as the Holocaust left the country devastated.

Hungary during the Cold War

The end of the war didn’t mean things were looking up either. Immediately occupied by the Soviet Union, Hungary soon turned towards communism and became a member of the Eastern bloc. Imre Nagy attempted to forge an independent path for the country in the 50’s, though this led to his replacement soon after – and a more staunchly pro-Moscow outlook for the state. Despite this, Hungary was often viewed as one of the more liberal members of the Eastern bloc, with a relatively high GDP and standard of living.

Hungary after the Cold War

In 1989, a multitude of problems resulted in the collapse of communism across the Soviet Union and its allies. Hungary was no different, and soon the Third Republic was established. Over the next couple decades, Hungary looked towards the West – joining NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004. While there remain some concerns about civil rights, Hungary has for the most part developed into a successful and vibrant country.

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Fisherman’s Bastion – Castle hill, Budapest

Hungarian Culture

Hungarian culture varies region to region, however there are overarching themes and traditions that are found throughout the whole country. Folk dance and music is popular and is done in many different varieties – with some styles dating all the way back to the Middle Ages. The country is also renowned for its architecture – with Historicism and Art Nouveau the preeminent styles.

Hungarian Food

Hungarian cuisine has developed a following across the world, particularly when it comes to goulash. Paprika also comes from the country, and is commonly used to season dishes. Beer, wine, and plum brandy are also found throughout Hungary.

Sports in Hungary

Soccer is the most popular sport in Hungary. The best era for Hungarian football was the 1950’s, when the Golden Team was one of the best national squads in the world. Before the revolution caused the breakup of the team, they made it to final of the 1954 World Cup before losing to West Germany (a game in which they were favoured). Other popular activities include swimming and water polo. The country is also one of the most successful in the history of the Summer Olympics – partly thanks to excelling in water sports.

goulash hungary food soup culture

Goulash is one of the most recognized Hungarian dishes

Famous Hungarians

Harry Houdini was born in Budapest, while film stars Drew Barrymore and Adrien Brody both have Hungarian roots. Jerry Seinfeld also has Hungarian heritage on his father’s side, and both of Calvin Kleins parents are Hungarian. Joseph Pulitzer, of Pulitzer prize fame, was born in the country to Hungarian parents, and so to is George Soros – who gave a large endowment to the Central European University in Hungary.

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Cattle relaxing in the countryside

Geography of Hungary

Hungary is located in Central Europe without any sea or ocean borders. Instead, it is the Danube and Tisza rivers that have been the dominant natural features over the years. The entire country lies within the drainage basin of the Danube. That being said, there is variety to be found – with lakes, plains, and mountains all covering different parts of the country.

By far the largest city in the country is the capital – Budapest. Technically it is the amalgamation of the western ‘Buda’ and the eastern ‘Pest’, which are separated by the omnipresent Danube.

vineyard wine region farm hungary

Hungary is also known for its vineyards

Facts About Hungary

  • The Rubik’s Cube is a Hungarian invention
  • The Hungarian Grand Prix in 1986 was the first behind the Iron Curtain
  • The literacy rate is 99%
  • ‘Cowboys’ of a sort can be found in Hungary
  • There are early remnants of the Hungarian language in a Nova Scotia museum
  • There are two words for ‘red’
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Crossing the Liberty Bridge in Budapest

Last Word

Keep checking back this week for more on Hungary as we visit the country’s best destinations and delve into the ins and outs of its currency.

Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems (see them all HERE).

Stay informed. Stay Current.