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Hungary Travel Guide

Hungary — History and Culture

Hungary’s more than 2,000 years of violent history has unified its people and influenced its culture. Heritage and tradition are important to Hungarians, and are displayed in the country’s national celebrations, folk music, dance and in the strong family ties reaching across generations.

History

The region now known as Hungary was a part of the Roman Empire until its fall in the 4th century, after which the powerful Hun controlled the land. Subsequently, a number of smaller Middle European empires passed through until the 9th century when the Magyar tribes formed a unified federation. Christianity arrived during the next 100 years and the first Hungarian king, later to be beatified as St Stephen, ruled over the Catholic Apostolic Kingdom.

The country was unified with Croatia after a short war in the early 12th century and, in 1217, King Andrew II led a huge royal army to the Holy Land as part of the Fifth Crusade. 25 years later, his power was crushed by a Mongol invasion, during which 20 percent of the population died. After they finally retreated, the country, along with the rest of medieval Central Europe, fell into several centuries of warfare including unsuccessful invasions by Ottoman forces.

By the early 16th century, Hungary lost its international importance due to weak kings and peasant unrest, and a revolt in 1514 gave the Ottoman Turks the momentum they needed at the Battle of Mohacs in 1541. Hungary was divided into three, and the Turks remained in control until the late 17th century, when a joint army known as the Holy League recaptured the Buda region and went on to reclaim the country for its people in 1717.

Serbs, Slavs and Germans were bought in to repopulate the land, and Hungary’s ethnic composition was forever changed. Local conflict continued with an uprising led by Francis II, who briefly became Ruling Prince of Hungary, and war with the Austrian Hapsburg Empire continued for eight years, followed by the Napoleonic Wars. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, the country attempted reform and fell back into confusion until 1867, when the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary was formed, the Hungarian Constitution restored and Franz-Joseph crowned king.

Austro-Hungarian armies played a part in WWI and, by 1918, Hungary’s economy had collapsed and military anarchy ruled the streets. A year later, the Communist Party took power and the Hungarian Soviet Republic was declared, although by 1920 power was restored to the monarchy and the country was a parliamentary democracy. Hit hard by the Great Depression and with WWII looming, the country again fell victim to autocratic tendencies, resulting in it joining forces with the Axis powers and entering the conflict.

Soviet forces invaded Hungary in late 1944, finding a devastated country and a decimated population. It remained a Soviet Communist bastion until the successful 1989 uprising, as a result of which Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to accept Premier Karoly Grosz’s demands. Free elections took place in 1990, and Soviet forces finally left in June 1991. Hungary’s hard-fought independence paved the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet era and the Cold War.

Culture

The rich culture of Hungary is strong in folk traditions and has its own distinctive style, influenced by the various ethnic groups including the Roma people. Music of all kinds, from classical to folk, is an important part of everyday life, as is the country’s rich literary heritage. Crafts such as ceramics and embroidery, Hungary’s distinct, traditional cuisine, strong fruit brandies, dance and the ever-popular spa treatments all reflect the heritage of this fascinating country.

Hungary’s 10 million people are vibrant, friendly and value the family above all else, with generations living in the same household under one roof and grandparents having a strong say in the upbringing of their grandchildren. Hungarians are a nation of horsemen due to their ancient nomadic past, and visitors often receive an invitation to go riding from their new local friends. Hospitality is a major part of the culture here, and personal questions about your life are all part of the getting-to-know-you process.

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