The History of Budapest
Existing for centuries separately as Buda and Pest, the capital of Hungary has been populated since prehistoric times. The Romans already made use of the crossing point, the Danube being the border river of the Roman Empire. Ruins from the time attest to the importance of the settlement, remnants (for example those of an amphitheatre) of the Roman city, Aquincum, can still be seen in Óbuda. Attila the Hun also had his seat nearby. After the Hungarian conquest, Buda, Óbuda and Pest underwent continuous development. By the 13th century Buda saw a castle erected on one of its hills, whereas Pest, which means oven in Slavic languages, was already a prosperous trading post, mostly populated by German settlers. Until the time of the Ottoman occupation, the city had been growing steadily, with the castle in Buda getting more and more elaborate and intricate. Both this and King Matthias’ famous court attracted visitors and intelligentsia already at the time of the Renaissance.
After a 150-year period of Turkish rule, Buda was liberated in 1686, and centuries of recovery and gradual flourishing ensued. The Turks left some buildings behind, among them numerous thermal baths which, for geographical reasons, were established mostly near the riverbank, where thermal springs reach the Danube. (The incredible thermal activity in Budapest is linked to the equally stupefying network of caves under the Buda hills still not fully explored.) Distinctive landmarks of Budapest, the Chain Bridge and the Hungarian National Museum were built in the reform period preceding the 1848/49 freedom fight against the Habsburgs. Buda, Pest and Óbuda were united in 1873, at a time when Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the midst of an enormous economic and cultural boom. Most of the uniquely harmonious 19th century look of the city center dates back to this era. Among others, Heroes’ Square, St. Stephen’s Basilica, The Parliament, Liberty, Margaret and Elisabeth Bridge (destroyed in World War Two and later rebuilt) and the second underground line in the world were built during this period.
The trend continued to a certain extent until the Second World War, which saw the capital suffer terribly because of Hitler’s policy of trying to save Berlin in Budapest. The siege of the Red Army lasted for 102 days, leaving the city shattered. In the freedom fight of 1956 the town was further damaged in some parts. Healing these scars and the violent urbanisation of the communist era is still a work in progress. However, Budapest seems to have emerged from its volatile past more beautiful and vibrant than ever.
Cultural Life in the Capital
Despite the turmoils, Hungary has long been one of the most popular tourist destinations for city breaks in Europe- the magnificent view of the Danube with its total of fourteen bridges, its splendid 19th century historicist city centre and the palpable sense of history on its streets appeal to everyone. Lofty, burgeois Buda’s skyline is dominated by the Castle District, the oldest surviving artchitectural ensemble in the town, while Pest is considered to be more contemporary, artsy and urban. A buzzing cultural life which offers programmes to lovers of music, theatre and arts alike has traditionally been an important component in the charm of the city. A new state-of-the-art music hall, MÜPA is attracting world famous stars and regular concertgoers alike, offering a wide variety of genres and events. Most recently an ongoing food revolution (materializing in Michelin stars) has put the city on the map of taste bud pleasing destinations.
Hungarian designers are also well on their way to reach the upper echelons of fashion and design, with the recently launched Design Terminal harmonizing such efforts. Dance houses (places where folk music of the Carpathian Basin is played and danced to) have become a constant feature of Budapest night life in past years. The dance house method is so successful that it has recently been recognized by the UNESCO as part of the cultural world heritage.
Though the capital boasts many exquisitely beautiful buildings, the Parliament dominates the skyline of Budapest with its majestic grandeur, having represented Hungarian sovereignty for more than a hundred years. Built in the style of eclectic historicism (with an outlook inspired by the Gothic Revival Style) between 1885 and 1904 to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian conquest, it is the second biggest parliamentary building in Europe and the third in the whole world. Stretching between Margaret Bridge and Chain bridge on the Pest bank, the Parliament is home to Hungarian MPs (sessions are held in a richly decorated council chamber) and also to the Hungarian coronation regalia; the crown, the scepter, the orb and the sword, all dating back to the Middle Ages. The building itself is 268 meters long, 123 meters wide and 96 meters high.
As a gesture of patriotism, the Parliament was made of building material almost exclusively from Hungary- only the gold itself used for decoration weighs around 40 kilograms. Open to visitors the whole year, its main staircase and the cupola hall (where the coronation regalia is on display) leave observers mesmerized, especially the breathtakingly beautiful frescoes, fine execution and utmost attention to detail in general.
Altogether there are 242 statues placed on the outside or inside of the building. The Parliament has two identical council chambers, as Hungary had a bicameral legislature at the time when it was erected. Many other notably buildings in Budapest can be linked to Imre Steindl, designer of the Parliament, such as the Humanities Faculty of the Loránd Eötvös University or the Saint Elisabeth church in the seventh district.
Founded in 1367 the University of Pécs was the first higher education institution in Hungary. Today, with its 10 faculties (law, medicine, humanities, health sciences, adult education, Gyula Illés, economics, arts, Mihály Pollack engineering and information technology, natural sciences) and around 30.000 students out of which about 1700 came from foreign countries. The University of Pécs is also one of the greatest in Hungary. The numerous highly prestigious foreign language university courses, the competitive prices, the livable and lively environment and the magnificent mediterranean moods make this city in Southern Transdanubia a popular destination for university students.
Downtown Parish – Széchenyi Square
During the conquest the Turkish rebuilt it to be a mosque – and after they were gone its Turkish outlook was kept. Today, with a Turkish half-moon and a Christian cross as the top ornaments the construction stands as proof of the multiculturalism, the colorfulness, and hospitality that characterize Pécs so much.
Being the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2010 (with Essen and Istanbul) and having received great financial support from the EU resulted in major urban development projects that changed the layout of the whole city. The totally rebuilt main square, the Kodály Conference and Concert Centre, the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter, the South Transdanubian Library and Knowledge Centre and the fully renovated Museum Street all stand to attract and serve the requirements of the most visitors both from inland and abroad.
Szeged is a gem of Southeast Hungary, with a distinctive local history and culture. It is the third biggest city in the country, close to the Serbian border and the River Maros flowing into the River Tisza. The town consists of three islands, corresponding to its three quarters, Alsóváros (Lower City), Felsőváros (Upper City) and Belváros (City Centre). Due to the high number of sunny hours in the region, it is also called ’’The City of Sunshine’’. Proved to have been populated since 5000 B.C., it was an important Roman military settlement on the way between Pannonia and Dacia provinces. In medieval times, salt shipping from the Transylvanian salt mines made Szeged prosperous. The city suffered considerably under Ottoman rule in the 16th and 17th centuries, and started to reclaim its once enviable status afterwards.
An important bastion in the 1848/49 freedom fight against Habsburg rule, by 1900 Szeged was the second most populated town in Hungary. Its leading position among Hungarian cities is and has been predominantly a consequence of outstanding agricultural conditions in the surrounding areas- with ground paprika being a trademark product of the region. After World War I. the main square of Szeged, the so-called Dome Square, was built in its present day form. The use of red bricks as building material both for the dome and the arcades results in a decidedly Northern-European outlook. The Dome Square hosts the Outdoor Festival of Szeged, Hungary’s biggest outdoor music event held annually since the 1930s. Szeged Jazz Days, organised for more than forty years is another significant cultural attraction of the city.
In addition, the National Theatre and Móra Ferenc Museum are important contributors to the colorful cultural life of Szeged. Moreover, the town is also a center of sporting life in the region, with a strong emphasis on traditions in kayaking and canoeing. The University of Szeged was moved to the city from Kolozsvár (present day Cluj Napoca in Romania) after the First World War. One of its teachers and founder of the Faculty of Science was Albert Szent-Györgyi, Nobel Laureate in medicine for his discoveries in connection with Vitamin C. Today it has 11 faculties, among them Faculty of Medicine, Arts and Sciences. The Medical Faculty offers training not only in Hungarian but also in English and German. With almost 30.000 students, currently the university is planning to expand its facilities to meet the demands of the 21st century.
With a population of 200.000 Debrecen is the second biggest city of Hungary. Located in the Great Hungarian Plain, in the eastern part of the country, the city has a flourishing cultural life, with a distinctive local flavor. The surrounding fertile lands contributed to shaping the economy of the town (mostly based on the food and light industries) as well as to a characteristic way of thinking often called ’’peasant-bourgeois.’’ Debrecen is also nicknamed the ’’Calvinist Rome’’ because of its strong Protestant community. Populated since prehistoric times, once a Roman military settlement, it gained city status from King Andrew II in 1218. Debrecen has always benefited from the fact that it is located at the crossroads of numerous trading routes. Traders of the city reached various European destinations for centuries predominantly with products of local agriculture and handicrafts. It developed steadily after the Ottoman occupation in the 16th and 17th centuries, turning into the most populated city of Hungary in the 18th century.
Its importance is mirrored by the fact that twice –albeit for short periods of time- it has been the capital of the country. Severely damaged in World War II., the city has regained its status as the attractive and lively center of Eastern Hungary since then. Debrecen is divided into different parts, such as the famous ’’Nagyerdő’’ (literally Grand Forest), a popular leisure time destination for city dwellers. It also has a vibrant sporting life; is home to one of Hungary’s leading football clubs (DVSC) but other team sports such as handball are also popular, which is demonstrated by the excellent performance of local sports clubs. The city boasts several sports and events facilities, such as the Phoenix Convenient Center (Főnix Csarnok), Hungary’s second biggest such hall. Championships of various sports are also regularly held in the city.
As for culture and education, Debrecen has long been a bastion of Hungarian culture. It has given the country a long line of poets and writers, such as the late Magda Szabó, one of Hungary’s most recognized literary export in recent years. Its theatre has been in operation for more than two hundred years and the newly erected Kölcsey Center has been hosting some major art exhibitions in Hungary since it came to existence.
Education is also firmly at the core of the city’s high-held traditions. The Reformed College of Debrecen, a boarding school, founded after the Reformation was one of the most important higher education institutes of Hungary for centuries, based primarily on German and Swiss models. Its legal successor is the University of Debrecen, with more than 1500 teachers and 30 000 students, as well as 15 faculties including Faculty of Medicine, Arts, Pharmacy, Economics, Engineering and Sciences, plus 25 doctoral schools. Research is also the top focus of the institution; there are 12 research groups at the University that are also supported by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. International cooperation is also a major priority; as a result of its harmonized efforts the University of Debrecen has become a truly international institution: the number of international students now exceeds three thousand. Its slogan, ’’More than a degree’’ sums up well the opportunities students of the university are provided with. Debrecen profits from its location tremendously, as motorway M3 links it to Budapest. In addition, it also has its own airport. Thus visitors coming for the prestigious annual Debrecen Flower Festival easily find their way into the city- not just in a physical, but also in a literal sense.
Kaposvár is a city in the south of Hungary, a county seat, with a population of roughly 67 000 inhabitants. Kapos is the name of the river in the valley of which the town lies, whereas ’’vár’’ means castle in Hungarian. Kaposvár, similarly to Veszprém, was amongst the most important cities at the foundation of the Hungarian state around the first millenium.
Although mentioned in records as early as 1009, Kaposvár started to flourish in earnest in the 19th century both as a meeting point of transport lines and as home to different industries. Continuous development meant that by the beginning of the 20th century it was a thriving city both in infrastructural (water pipes were first installed here in Hungary) and cultural (its theatre has played a crucial role in Hungarian thespian life for decades) terms. Two great masters of Hungarian late nineteen and early twentieth century painting, József Rippl-Rónai and János Vaszary respectively hailed from Kaposvár, where museums celebrate their art and life. This trend carried on after World War One, and the city has been growing in importance up till now. From an economic point of view, the town has traditionally been a stronghold of both heavy and food industries. Kaposvár is considered to be one of the most beautiful Hungarian cities, especially in its now fully restored glory. Inhabitants also take great pride in the fact that it is often referred to as the city of flowers, which is achieved also as an act of local patriotism. In addition, a great many events are hosted every year by the town both on its main square - Kossuth square- and elsewhere.
Kaposvár University was established in 2000 by merging several existing universities and colleges. It has four faculties; Faculty of Animal Sciences, Faculty of Economics, Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Pedagogy. The Faculty of Arts contributes greatly to the buzzing cultural life of the city, among others, by a close cooperation between the actor training and the Csiky Gergely Theatre of the town. Today the university is one of the most significant ones in the Transdanubian region.
With a population of 167.000, Miskolc is the most important city in the north-east of Hungary, located at the crossroads of major trading routes. Traces of man-made culture dating back to more than 70 000 years prove that it is in one of the oldest populated regions of not only Hungary, but Europe as well. Due to its geographical position, Miskolc was a gateway to the north and northeast of the Hungarian Kingdom in medieval times. Harnessing trading opportunities resulted in a steady development. In the 18th and especially the 19th century this manifested itself in a number of notable buildings, such as the County Hall (1820) –Miskolc having also been the center of the county- and Town Hall (1870), recently enhanced with an adjoining modern building. The 19th century also saw a number of modern inventions find their way into the city, such as telephone cables (1878) and the first tram line (1897).Partly as a continuation of this trend, partly as a result of government policies, Miskolc became a heavily industrialized city in the communist era.
Although still a center of commerce, recently it has been reinventing itself as a touristic and cultural capital of the region. Surrounding mountains and forests– Miskolc is located on the Bükk Plateau, part of the North Hungarian Mountains- provide an ideal opportunity for nature lovers to relax. In addition, visitors can enjoy the spa complex – complete with cave spas- in nearby town Miskolctapolca, a popular destination for those wishing to unwind. Miskolc consists of several districts, such as Avas, a hilly area with a charming Gothic church and Diósgyőr, where one of the most spectacular medieval castles of Hungary can be found (pictured below). Another important quarter is the so-called University Town.
Legal successor of the University of Selmecbánya (present day Banska Stiavnica in Slovakia), the University of Miskolc was initially established in 1949 to meet the needs of local industries; thus launched with training for metallurgical, mining and technical engineers. In the 1980s faculties of law and economics whereas in the 1990s those of arts and musical training ensued. In nearby Sárospatak one of the oldest and most renowned high schools, later higher education institutions of Hungary, Sárospatak Reformed College bears witness to the important role the North-East has traditionally played in shaping the country’s culture.
Veszprém, termed the ’’City of Queens’’ (as it was the city of residence of the first Hungarian queen, Gizella, and also because queens were crowned traditionally by bishops of the city), located in the Bakony mountains, is a regional center in the mid-west of Hungary. Home to approximately 60 000 people, Veszprém has been populated for more than seven thousand years. According to certain theories its name comes from Slavic and means ’’hilly’’, referring to the five hills the city is built upon. This magnificent position also allows the historic center to be seen from the distance. The mighty castle of the city (one of the oldest in Hungary) played an important role at the birth of the Hungarian state, Veszprém being the site of raging battles between pagan and Christian forces. Still in place today, its cathedral is built on a foundation dating back to the 10th century, with a 14th century gothic chapel. The nearby Gizella chapel (named after the queen) dates back to the 13th century and is endowed with the marvelous original frescoes even today. Its continuous development in the Middle Ages was halted by the Ottoman occupation and it was only by the 18th and 19th centuries that it regained its former splendor. Today the city hosts a variety of events, making it also a cultural capital.
VesztprémFest, held annually, is a music festival, lining up an impressive list of musical talent in a variety of genres. The festival stages concerts simultaneously on the streets, thus the sight of the charming architecture is entwined with the equally enchanting sounds. Veszprém was the first Hungarian city to have a university level educational institution already in the 13th century. Today the University of Pannonia offers various courses at five faculties including faculties of engineering, economics and social sciences. Besides, it incorporates Europe’s oldest higher education level agrarian academy, the Georgicum (although it is located in another town, Keszthely). With doctorate schools and more than 9000 students, the university occupies an important place in the higher education of the region.
Hortobágy National Park
A World Heritage Site since 1999, Hortobágy National Park was the first such area to be established in Hungary in 1973. Approximately 0.3 square miles and stretching over the territory of four counties, Hortobágy is the largest grassland plain (that is, ’’puszta’’, in Hungarian) in Central-Europe. Hortobágy is a steppe foremost not in climatic, but cultural terms since in its present shape it bears testimony to the traditional grazing lifestyle of successive pastoral generations. Canalization of waterways and deforestation have altered but not changed fundamentally this landscape. Thus the puszta image has become associated with Hungary, especially as this phenomenon is unknown in Western-Europe. Several types of habitats are to be seen in the park; saline and loess plains, marshes and flood areas all with their distinctive flora and fauna. Though not a wetland anymore in its entirety, the Hortobágy river flows through the region and the whole area still abounds in bird species nesting and brooding here. 341 species of birds have been recorded as seen on the territory, with the flight of the wild geese and cranes as a particular attraction each year. The park offers various opportunities to observe animals living in the national park; from wild birds to herds of horses and cattle. Traditional species, such as racka sheep, mangalica (a type of swine) and gray cattle can also be observed in the framework of extensive farming methods. The chance to meet remnants of the pastoral culture is also provided to visitors as both its material and spiritual heritage of Hortobágy forms an intrinsic part of Hungarian traditions. Horse herds also regularly hold various shows where they display their remarkable talent and acrobatic skills in driving the herds. On exploring Hortobágy one can also marvel at the ancient wells, the shadoofs, or ’’gémeskút’’ and burial mounds (kurgans), dating from the Bronze Age. These hillocks, still visible today, attest to the existence of earlier settlements in the area. Among iconic buildings in Hortobágy it is worth mentioning the so-called ’’Nine Hole Bridge’’. Insatiable tourists should not miss another nearby wildlife and wetland reserve, Lake Tisza, to enjoy to the full the rustic charm of Eastern Hungary.
Danube - Drava National Park
Europe’s biggest uninterrupted forest in a flood area, the Danube-Drava National Park was established in 1996 in order to preserve this precious habitat. Located where rivers Danube, Dráva and Sió meet in the south of Hungary, close to both the Croatian and Serbian border, it is home to many endemic and protected species. The enormous unchartered territories allow big game to thrive in the area in considerable numbers. The red deer population of the park is the biggest and most remarkable in the country. In the Gemenc forest part of the complex there is a narrow-gauge railway in operation which takes visitors across the wilderness. Accessible parts for visitors include feeding places, where wild boar and dear can be observed freely. Just as in Hortobágy National Park, traditional Hungarian species of domestic animals, such as racka sheep, mangalica and Hungarian grey cattle live in the area. Nearby villages of Szekszárd, Kalocsa, Baja and Mohács offer visitors a chance to explore the south-western part of the country extensively, absorbing also the rich cultural atmosphere of the area.
Central-Europe’s biggest lake is well-known for its prevailing Mediterranean climate, excellent wines produced on the surrounding fertile lands, historical cities on its shores and picturesque castles nearby. Extremely popular with Hungarians but also with foreign visitors, the lake is the second biggest touristic attraction of Hungary after Budapest. The southern shore is well-liked among families – shallow waters enable both bathing and swimming- and is famous for the fantastic view given to the northern side, whereas the hilly northern part is home to vineyards and enchanting villages, partly in the so-called ’’Hungarian Provence”, the Káli and Tapolcai basins. The most notable cities bordering the lake include Siófok, Balatonfüred and Keszthely, the former on the southern shore, the two other on the northern one. The fact that the population of Siófok grows fivefold in summer shows the town’s importance as a major center of tourism.
Balatonfüred and Keszthely have long been popular among middle class visitors, the former being also a hub of wine production in the region, while the latter is famous for its stunning castle. On the Tihany peninsula - a distinctive geographical entity with a particular climate and traditions - a magnificent Benedictine abbey has been towering over the lake for centuries. Lake Balaton is ideal for water sports; one of the biggest sailing events of the region, the ’’Blue Ribbon’’, is held there annually and a swimming race from one shore to the other is highly anticipated every year.
The recently completed bicycle road along the shore is also extremely popular, giving tourists an opportunity to explore the whole region in a few days. Wine producing has traditionally been the main agricultural activity around the lake; volcanic soils, a reminder of the one-time volcanic activity, combined with the mild climate render the area home of top-class wines. Endemic (such as the furmint) and popular wine types can both be found in the territory, which is also famous for its exceptionally well-preserved local folk architecture.
The Danube Bend
The Danube Bend is a reach of the Danube in Northern Hungary stretching from the city of Esztergom to Budapest, while changing its eastbound course to south band decisively. Historical cities, charming villages, romantic hilltop castles and emerald pastures on the shore dazzle travelers descending on the river. Important cities from the north are Esztergom, Visegrád, Vác and Szentendre respectively. The region has traditionally been a favorite with medieval kings, being roughly in the center of the Carpathian Basin.
Esztergom has been the seat of the archbishop of Hungary for a thousand years as well as a site of bloody fights since it was a gateway to the northern region of the Hungarian Kingdom. Located on the riverbank, the city with a population of 30 000 boasts the largest church and foremost cathedral of the country. Its commanding castle has played a key role in fights protecting the homeland, especially against the Turks during the 16th and 17th centuries. Visegrad means upper castle in Slavic, reflecting its stunning location on the top of a hill on the riverbank. Though already in existence in the Iron Age due to its sentinel position, it was established in its medieval form after the destruction wrought by the Tartars in 1241, when such edifices sprung up nationwide as part of a large scale defense operation.
A popular tourist destination, it hosts annually the so-called ’’palace games’’, that is, a chain of events and programmes depicting a knight’s life in medieval times. Proceeding on the left bank of the river, Vác appears next as a city with a rich cultural heritage and a strong sense of community. Approximately as populated as Esztergom, it is an important hub of Catholic Church activities, not only as the center of the diocese, but also as home to a Catholic college. The town is predominantly built in the Baroque style, with a magnificent main square. Szentendre was once populated by Serbian merchants travelling upwards the Danube, consequently it still has reminiscent of a slightly Mediterranean culture. The picturesque town on the right bank of the Danube has also been a popular destination with artists since the 19th century as the enchanting mixture of architecture, history and the sight of hills and water made it an ideal spot for painters and sculptors.
Szentendre art colony came to existence in 1929, with the distinctive architecture of the town as a constant feature on masters’ canvases. Even today it receives young and up-and-coming artists wishing to make their names known and a chain of museums exhibiting works of Szentendre based painters and sculptors attest to this creative activity. The Szentendre Skansen, an open-air museum of folk architecture and art welcomes visitors throughout the whole year, with traditional arts and crafts workshops available for young and old alike.
Hungary’s oldest and most revered (Benedictine) abbey, located in the western part of the country, not far from the Slovakian border, is as old as the Hungarian state itself, having been founded in 996 in honor of Saint Martin of Tours. It was established with the aim of constructing a fortress of Christian faith, culture and education for the then pagan people of the Hungarian Kingdom. It has been functioning ever since, rendering it the single most prestigious historic building in the country – having preserved even some of its breathtaking but solemn medieval architecture. Pannonhalma is a symbol of Christianity and Western European thinking in a country often torn by conflicts between retrograde forces and those wishing to achieve progress at any cost.
The stunning basilica of the building complex partly dates back to the 13th century, showing characteristics of the Gothic Style. Recently it has been renovated by renowned architect John Pawson. In addition to the basilica, there is a magnificent cloister and a majestic library (pictured below) in the architectural ensemble, preserving national treasures such as the coronation mantle. Teaching has been a major focus of the Benedictine order in Hungary since the 1800, thus Pannonhalma has been in operation as a secondary school ever since. Also a boarding school, students get the opportunity to get acquainted with the life of the monks, as well as absorb the historical atmosphere of the site. Preserving its traditions, it has been a boy's only institution up to this day, with students enrolling from the age of twelve.
In line with the Benedictine motto, ’’Ora et Labora’’ (Pray and Work!), Pannonhalma is also the center of agricultural activities, mainly wine making. Products from the site can be purchased in a number of shops and a recently opened, cutting edge restaurant also contributes to the appeal of the place.
Aggtelek National Park
Though also home to many protected species above ground, Aggtelek National Park was established in 1985 primarily with the aim of preserving and protecting the spellbinding geological phenomena – karst features and dripstone caves - on its territory. The first written record of the caves dates back to the 16th century and the area has been officially protected for more than sixty years. Located in the north eastern part of the country, the national park belongs to a bigger karst area with altogether 1220 caves, out of which 273 are in Hungary, the rest in Slovakia. The caves in both country were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995, making them only the third cave system to gain that honor.
The diversity of different types of dripstone makes them patricularly worthy of the recognition. There are two caves holding world records in Aggtelek National Park; the Baradla-Domica network of caves (stretching into Slovakian territory) is the longest one in the temperate zone (complete with an active stream) and the Szilice ice cave is the lowest lying such cave in the world at 503 meters. Visitors are welcome throughout the whole year and, depending on the cave, both daily tours and ones where previous registration is required are available. However, the national park does not only showcase diverse karst activities, but has also many rare species living on its territory, for example the fire salamander, seen in the coats of arms of the park.
Tokaj Wine Region
The first closed wine region in the world, in existence since the 18th century, the Tokaj Wine Region has been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 2002. Tokaj, found in the north eastern part of Hungary where the rivers Tisza and Bodrog meet, is just one of the 27 villages and towns belonging to the region. A continental climate and volcanic soils contribute to the production of one of the best wines in the world, the Tokay Asu (or Tokaji Aszú in Hungarian orthography). This particular technique of wine making involves leaving the grapes longer on the bunch, so that they shrink and at the same time their sugar content increases. The result is so outstanding that the Tokay Asu has traditionally been termed ’’the wine of kings and the king of wines’’ (or ’’vinum regum, Rex Vinorum” in Latin). The process is also known elsewhere, however, the local climate, soil, grape types, a particular kind of fungus and the proximity of rivers render the end product truly extraordinary.
Though producing wine has been an activity pursued in the region for more than a thousand years, it was the arrival of Italian vineyardists in the 13th century which proved to be a decisive point in the history of Tokaj. Even the most well-known wine type of the area, the furmint is thought to have originated from Italy. According to records, asu type of wines have been coming from the territory for at least four hundred years. In recent years, after the detrimental effects of mass production in the communist era, winemakers in the Tokaj region have been striving to restore the fame of wines made in the area. With their successful endeavors they have been furthering the cause of Hungarian vineyards and vineyardists in general, helping to fulfill the potential of the whole sector.